Monday, August 15, 2011

Church People: the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon with Garrison Keillor

The definition of the book is being questioned in these days of evolving electronic formats. What some of the debaters may have missed is the definition has been challenged before with audiobooks, first on cassettes and then on compact discs. Oral performance has allowed publishers some options that the printed page did not. Some texts are read like plays using a variety of voices, and music sets a background for some narratives. And publishers market these performances as books. Librarians have gone along. (We would have had to create a new category if we hadn't.)

While gardening on Friday morning, I listened to Church People: the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon with Garrison Keillor, which is a two disc collection of monologues, radio dramas, and songs from A Prairie Home Companion. I enjoyed it immensely but I hesitate to add it to my books-that-I-have-read list. I could say that it is a book because I found it in a "book" section of the library. It might also be compared with some literary collections, which might throw together theme-related magazine essays, poetry, humorous pieces, and plays. But I would feel like I am just padding my list. At 2.25 hours of listening, it is just over the length of a regular Saturday PHC show.

I guess it would help to settle the question "What is reading?" Some people say that listening to an audiobook is not reading. They would say that the reader's eyes have to fix on the words on a page. (Or fingers on braille characters.) That argument can be countered with the tradition of oral readings. People read stories to their children at bedtime. Lectors read to congregations at churches. Writing is an offshoot of oral narration, and the result of learning the story is the same.

It might also be pointed out that people who enjoy The Prairie Home Companion are for the most part bookish people. Keillor certainly revels in the use of words and often recites poems. So Church People: the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon is certainly in the spirit of a book - one that made me laugh frequently. But still I hesitate to label it so.

What do you think?

Keillor, Garrison. Church People: the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon. HighBridge Audio, 2009. 2 discs. ISBN 9781598879292

1 comment:

ravingreader said...

I think audio books count as "books" because a lot of the time they are actually real books just in an alternate form. But I can well understand your reticence to label them that way...