I have forever been a hard copy reader.  Most of the news I consume is from paper newspapers.  Rarely will I read an iBook or any other electronic novel.  I disdain reading documents on the computer at work and instead print out anything longer than a few paragraphs.  Many of these preferences are due to the fact I consider myself a visual learner who constantly needs to see, feel, and visually absorb solid material in front of me.

With all of that being said, however, I am still a millennial who listens to his share of podcasts, reads blogs, and constantly checks various social media accounts (Twitter being chief among them – give me that instant news and those local alerts!).  I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, the Political Gabfest, a few weeks ago and continued to hear advertisements for Audible, which is owned by Amazon.  They had a promotion at the time for a one month free trial that included two free audio books (I think they’ve limited it to one free book now).  As someone who loves reading, I thought I would give it a shot.  It was “free” after all (typically $14.95/mo), so long as I remembered to cancel the subscription before the one month trial expired!

The main takeaway from my free trial: reading a real book is still ideal, but listening to one is enjoyable too.  If you have a long commute to work or if you want to put your feet up in the evening and listen to something other than degenerative cable television, give it a try.

My biggest issue was staying attentive.  It is easy for your thoughts to drift and wander as you listen.  With an audio book, I found that I was not as actively engaged as I am when reading a real book, probably due to the fact someone else is doing the hard work for me (i.e., reading!).  I had to rewind the tape a few times to capture what I missed in a momentary lapse of consciousness.  The user interface in the Audible app makes this easy, and it even has different settings for your car.  You can skip ahead in chapters, bookmark your spot, highlight areas you want to return to, and constantly view how much time you have remaining in a chapter or even in the remainder of the book.  Below is a screenshot of the interface:

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As for the book, Manhattan Beach served as a great trial run for my first audio reading experience.  I had read numerous reviews from the New York Times, Time Magazine, and other similar publications that recommended it as one of the best books of 2017.  The author, Jennifer Egan, is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and after reading (or listening to!) Manhattan Beach, you will understand why.  The novel is historical fiction, and the two male and female readers do a great job reading you the story.  Their inflection and voices create an engaging experience.

The story follows Anna Kerrigan as a girl who grows into a young woman during WWII.  She takes a job in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to help support her family.  Her father, Eddie Kerrigan, disappears randomly one day without a trace, leaving Anna to care for her mother and disabled sister.

While most of the story revolves around Anna’s search for what happened to her father and his involvement in the criminal underworld of New York City, it is also about female empowerment.  The novel is a good reminder of how women were forced to step up during the war to do manufacturing jobs that previously were reserved solely for men.  It also illustrates the inherent bias men had against women for certain types of jobs in the Navy, such as being a diver.  Anna overcomes these biases and other blatant forms of sexism to become the first female diver at the Navy Yard.

Her strong-willed personality immediately attracts the attention of Dexter Styles, a crime boss who married into New York high society.  Anna had encountered Dexter with her father as a child, and then she runs into him again as a 19 year old woman, bringing her childhood and adolescence full circle.  They develop a relationship that goes beyond what Anna initially viewed as a link to her missing father.  The dynamics of this bond and how it impacts Anna, a single woman in New York City at the time, is insightful and intriguing.

Although there was some criticism regarding historical accuracy following Manhattan Beach’s publication (e.g., there were no female divers at the time), Egan’s prose brilliantly provides a riveting perspective of a single woman coming of age during WWII, without a father, with a mother who has to pay undivided attention to Anna’s sick sister, and in world where women were undervalued compared to men, until they were desperately needed in the war.  In my opinion, Egan’s story telling earned its place in the canon of quality New York City literature.

So if you are looking for an entertaining spring or summer book, perhaps consider reading (or listening to!) Manhattan Beach.

Happy reading and audio listening.

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