Whispersync, Neal Stephenson, and multi-sensory reading

When I was in high school I read a book. It was Mushashi by Eiji Yoshikawa . Based on the life of famous swordsman Mushshi Miyamoto, It’s one of Japan’s prized jewels of 20th century literature and is often compared to “Gone with the Wind”.

I was drawn into the book’s sweeping scenes, huge cast of characters and deep plot. But at over 800 pages long, it took me half a year to finish it. I used to carry the phone book sized novel and read during my lunch breaks and at home when there wasn’t anything interesting on TV.

Fast forward 20 years later and I’m trying to get through another Neal Stephenson novel.

I’m a big fan of Neal Stephenson, having loved reading his earlier books, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, but I’ve had trouble finishing his later works like The Baroque Cycle and Anathem. These books became alot more complex narrative wise and jumped in size, with Anathem clocking in at over a thousand pages.

With a lifestyle overflowing with content that I’m interested in, it’s hard to fit a large, meaty novel into a media diet already filled with TV Shows, Video Games, podcasts, blogs, etc., it’s hard to conjure up enough concentration to properly digest a Stephenson epic.

One option available to me was audiobooks. I have an audible subscription where for around $17 a month I receive one audio book credit. For years I’ve been listening to audio book versions of non fiction and Journalism pieces, since it reads like an radio documentary. Sure I dabbled in a piece of fiction or two, usually those made exclusively for as audio books (e.g, the METAtropolis series.  But I kept feeling that if I just switched entirely to audio book for most of my fiction reading, that I will miss the intricacies and visualness of the word structure.

Take James Ellroy, noted crime novelist. His books like White Jazz are written in a gritty, beat style. Short sentences. The structure is almost poetic. It’s something that you seen almost immediately  when you read it but may not seem apparent if your just hearing someone narrating it. Also, I invested quite the coin into my Kindle Voyage and wanted to get my money’s worth.

Recently I bought the audio book to the Neal Stephenson’s latest book, Seveneves , about human space colonization. I thought this is the only why I can get this book in, but I still felt like I would be missing out on the pleasure of reading his prose

So an option relieved itself from all the Amazon technologies I was using, “Whispersync”. Whispersync allows the syncing of position and bookmarks between a book and it’s audio book counterpart. For example, I can read for a while on my kindle at a cafe and pick up at the same place when I listening  to the audio book at work.

Another feature of Whispersync that I like is what’s called “immersive reading”, in which read the book and listen to the audiobook simultaneously. This can be down with a kindle and audible on you phone, but the best why to do it us on a android tablet or iPad using the Kindle App. When using the app, the audio runs in the background and the text being read is highlighted in real time.

Now I don’t know if immersive reading is a real thing, or is just something cooked up by Amazon’s PR in order to get people to buy both the kindle and audible version of a book (an expensive endeavor to say the least), but I have to admit, when I did it I felt a bit more focused  on the story.

So my plan is to exploit the fact that I have all these devices, kindle, tablets, smart phone, and try to get through Seveneves in this multi-device, multi-sensory way, either by visual reading it, listing to it with my ears, or doing both using immersive . When (or rather if) I finish the book I’ll come back and report on my experiences.


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