Audiobook Review: Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf

by Kim on November 3, 2010 · 22 comments

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Title: Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
Author: Maryanne Wolf
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2007
Acquired: From the library

Review: From what I can remember about the audio, I’m confident that Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf would be a well written, informative, and interesting book. But it just didn’t work well for me as an audio book, despite really lovely narration by Kirsten Potter.

Part of that is my problem – I listened to the book in two separate long drives and definitely forgot most of the first part by the time I got to the second drive. Since the book is a continually building argument about the evolution of the reading brain, not being able to remember the early parts of the book was a disadvantage.

But more broadly, it also seems odd to listen to a book that’s all about reading; there’s some weird cognitive dissonance there that I couldn’t quite get over. Wolf includes a few examples – asking the reader to read a passage and then reflect on it – that just don’t work on audio.

Still, the reason I’m pretty confident that it will be a great book to read is that the last few chapters, which focus on dyslexia research and mysteries of the human brain as it acquires reading, were fascinating — I was totally enthralled with what our brains have adapted to do, and I knew that I wanted to go back and get the full book myself.

I finished the audio book, but on looking back I sort of wish I’d just stopped and decided to read the book later. Luckily, I already have a paperback version, which means I’ll be sitting down to actually read it when the mood strikes.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy November 3, 2010 at 6:22 am

I have the paper copy of this, but haven’t been able to get in to it yet. A few times I’ve picked it up but just wasn’t in the mood. I’m looking forward to actually getting through it at some point. Does sound like it would be much better in print than audio.

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Amy: I’m looking forward to reading it again soon – I think it’ll be much more accessible in print than it was on audio. The parts I can remember were really good.

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Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) November 3, 2010 at 8:03 am

This sounds (no pun intended) like one I’d have to listen to in conjunction with the print version when I’m not in the car. Also, Kirsten Potter is a narrator that I am seeking out, having just finished listening to “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication,” which she narrated beautifully.

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Melissa: I think listening while having the book in hand would actually be really good. The narration was excellent, just sometimes hard to follow. It would be nice to be able to go back and check.

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Erin November 3, 2010 at 8:19 am

I sometimes have trouble listening to nonfiction that builds one main argument throughout the book. I think I process better when I’m actually reading a book, so anything that requires too much focus or sustained memory won’t work so well for me as an audiobook. Proust and the Squid does sound interesting, though!

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Erin: I think I process argumentative nonfiction better reading too — when i can more easily go back, reference, and take notes about what I’m thinking. I’m finding that certain types of nonfiction work better on audio than others, and this one, unfortunately, doesn’t quite cut it.

It was really interesting though — I loved learning how the brain adapts to reading and how we’ve evolved to be able to do it. fascinating stuff :)

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Sara (wordyevidenceofthefact) November 3, 2010 at 8:53 am

Proust and the Squid has been high on my list for some time; I’ve really got to get it read because even though your experience wasn’t all you’d hoped it might be, your review has still piqued my interest even further. Fascinating work she’s done. And I agree completely that the cognitive dissonance would thoroughly irk me!

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Sara: It’s been high on my list for a long time too – that’s why I grabbed the audio from the library when I found it rather than waiting until I had time to read the print. The audio definitely piqued my interest more to read the print.

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bermudaonion (Kathy) November 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I have found that some books just don’t work well as an audio and this definitely sounds like one of those.

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Kathy: Yeah, it wasn’t quite right, but I definitely want to read the book because I’m interested in the topic.

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Lisa November 3, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I really do enjoy being able to listen to books but often wonder how my experience would have differed if I had read the book instead. Sometimes you just have to see the words.

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Lisa: I wonder that all the time, especially when I don’t love a book – I almost always want to try it in print just to see if my experience is different.

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Stephanie November 3, 2010 at 4:15 pm

This does sound like a book that would be better in print.

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Kim November 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Stephanie: Yeah, I think it will be. I’m still looking forward to it.

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Jenny November 4, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I have been wanting to read this for ages – it looks so interesting! I love it when I discover that things I have discovered to be true in my life are actually borne out BY SCIENCE, which I am confident is what will happen when I read this book. :p

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Kim November 6, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Jenny: Yes, I felt that way too! It was really interesting to me to learn how the brain adapts to reading, and the ways that different people adapt in different ways.

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Cass November 4, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Okay, now I’m kind of tempted because I really liked that narrator. Random question but did she say any words REALLY ODDLY? Like in ways you never thought words could be SAID?

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Kim November 6, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Cass: Hmmm… I can’t remember any words she said repeatedly that I thought were really odd, but I listened to this about a month ago and so specifics like that are a littley dim. I think you mentioned her pronunciation on your recent review, right?

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Eva November 5, 2010 at 3:55 pm

I loved the print version of this one, but I can understand the oddness of its audio format! I almost always choose fiction for my audiobooks, or occasionally the more memoir/personal type of nonfiction; with most nonfic, I like flipping back and forth, or looking up from the page to digest thought/mentally argue with author. lol

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Kim November 6, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Eva: I’m starting to think that only narrative-driven or memoir nonfiction will work well on audio — anything more complex and I don’t follow enough to think critically about it,and it’s hard to go back and forth to get into the material.

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softdrink November 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I have a copy of this one. In fact, I think I’ve had it for about a year…but I’m still waiting for the mood to strike.

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Kim November 8, 2010 at 6:53 am

softdrink: I hope the mood strikes soon :) I know what you mean though, books like this one need to be read at the right time or they’re not quite as interesting.

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