Reading is a process of decoding words and letters.
You see the words, and you translate the letters into meaning--as if translating a secret code--and your brain takes in this information, and then filters it into understanding.
From the assortment of letters and words, you make meaning.
Listening to a story, though, is a different process, which is why, perhaps, I found it difficult to listen to my iPod on a recent flight to New Jersey.
Maybe it was difficult to hear the voice because of the sound of the jet engines, but I think it had more to do with not being able to see the words.
There was no page, no way to visualize images from words.
There's some special alchemy that happens in my brain--maybe in every writer's brain--that craves the sight of words on a page, craves the feel of paper in my hands, the momentum of sentences tumbling into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, building suspense and expectation, the mystery of what might come next, which word, which image.
There's also the miracle of how words create visual images and emotional responses.
How does that happen?
You see in your mind an image created by words--boat, dock, sea, sky.
The more precise the description, the more concrete the words, the clearer the picture: row boat, weathered dock, storm-tossed sea, eggshell blue sky.
And the sight of these words creates not only images but emotions.
Listening to the iPod, I didn't have the page, just the words and the reader's voice. I had to struggle to create the sound of the words in my mind while listening to the sound in my ear.
My imagination wasn't involved in creating the sound of the voice from the page. Only the ear was necessary to translate the sound into meaning.
Anyway, I found the iPod's earbuds annoying, a much different experience than listening to someone's voice on a radio when the distance between the voice and my ear gives my imagination a little more room to work.
At times--while driving and listening to a podcast that I've downloaded from my computer to my iPod, then hooked up to my car radio--I'm grateful for the new technology.
But most of the time, once I get home, I'm eager to turn off the iPod and return to my books, to feel the weight of the pages in my hands, to touch the paper and see the words and images in my imagination again.
What about you? How do you feel about reading a story versus hearing one? And does hearing the story--rather than reading it--change the way you feel about the story? (And why does hearing someone tell a story in person differ from hearing that same story told over a radio?)
Let us know when you get a chance.