Grisham’s ‘Gray Mountain’ and an audio-book conundrum

I was a skeptic about e-audio books. Shocking, I know coming from a Librarian. I struggled with them and I think that part of this was because I never found a slot of quiet time to listen to them.

So, when I did download an e-audio book from my library, I went through the challenge of having to get the darn thing completed before its return date. And then, when I inevitably failed, I never went back to check it out again and finish it.

See in my house, there is not “mummy sit down and listen time.” Should I even think about sitting on my couch or my bed or in a dark, quiet corner of my closet, there is a dog, a kid or a husband interrupting me. Often, bless his heart, it is my other half making random comments about TV shows he’s watching. Nevertheless, there are interruptions, and my dreams of being that put-together person who sweeps her house clean, all while listening to the latest ‘self-organize your life’ book by [insert celebrity name here] are redundant.

But, then I got this new, more recent job, and with it came an overall challenge of reading. Like, in general. I’m either too exhausted to read at the end of the day, or my entertainment falls dependent on gawking at medical dramas on my TV for a bit of escapism. But I love to read. I just was in a funk.

So, I persevered, partly because this was a category on my reading challenge this year, and partly to make up for my recent inability to pick up a book, and I downloaded and listened to an audio book on my way in to work and on my way home at the end of the day. My car became my audio book mecca and my drive was the quiet time in which I could focus.


Now, surprisingly two things happened:

  • As I started to get involved in the plot of my book, and started to value the time that I had to listen to it, my drive to work became immediately less stressful. Not that it was anyway, but I found that I enjoyed the time that I had in my car. That instead of ‘another commute,’ it became a ritual of reading, and that by the time I stepped into my office, I did so with a low blood pressure and an equal sense of calm. It was like I achieved the ultimate “work smarter, not harder” goal of the day. I had accomplished something before I even set foot in the door of my own library.


  • I immediately had people tell me that an audio book is not a real book.


Now, with regard to the second point, I will not re-hash the details of a rather extensive existing debate among experts. There are a multitude of books and articles that say something on the topic in one direction or another.

Actually, for a good overview, try this article written by Markham Heid, Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say

I think that is generally a well-balanced argument for and against and provides some interesting research to start you off.

Interestingly, Heid’s article quotes David Daniel, a professor of Psychology at James Madison University, who notes that:

       Another consideration is that whether we’re reading or listening to a text, our minds             occasionally wander…

         If you’re reading, it’s pretty easy to go back and find the point at which you zoned out.          It’s not so easy if you’re listening to a recording… Especially if you’re grappling with a          complicated text, the ability to quickly backtrack and re-examine the material may aid          learning, and this is likely easier to do while reading than while listening…

And I did experience this. My mind wanders anyway, but it was easier for me to locate my place in a print book than when I was listening to one.


But, overall, I actually got something positive from the audio book experience. I had downloaded this book:

John Grisham’s Gray Mountain narrated by Catherine Taber.


The plot was simple: Samantha Kofer is a lawyer at a large Wall St. law firm on track to a huge career. When the 2008 recession hits, the firm is downsized and Samantha finds herself out of work with nothing more than a promise of possible reinstatement when things get better. Her option in the meantime is to take her company’s offer of providing assistance at a legal aid clinic in the Appalachian mountain town of Brady, Virginia. Confronted with ‘real problems experienced by real people,’ Samantha learns that large Coal Mining companies rule the roost, screw the masses of workers that will now be her clients, and make no bones of threatening anyone who gets in their way. With the charismatic, emotionally scarred and reckless attorney Donovan Gray, and his brother Jeff, and the tenacious mechanisms of the clinic’s head attorney, Mattie Wyatt, Samantha finds herself embroiled into big Coal politics far more than she ever wished.

I listened to the whole thing, which was an achievement for me. The plot was decent, I found that it did get off course and the ending was not cataclysmic. Also, I originally liked the character of Samantha, but toward the end found her a bit of a wet-weak. I was not overly fond of Taber’s narration of the book either, which sounded much like a preppy Cali girl offering the protagonist an audible judgement of everything and everyone around her.

However, I did enjoy listening to it overall, so much so that I often reached my house and did not want to turn my car engine off. I did find it to be a useful and happy use of my commute time. I did find myself calmer for listening. There were points in the book where I was surprised by the turn of events, and I did appreciate Grisham’s amazing ability to construct a clever story.

AND I actually do hope that this book is one of a series, because the ending begged for it [side note, there is not a sequel written yet].

In terms of an audio-book, it was an easy listen and I was able to keep up. And I am converted. I am going to download another for my commute home today. I enjoyed the experience, and I miss it.

So there you have it, my skepticism about my personal audio-book listening capacity is gone. My new pastime is set, and I hope that this proves to be one of many blog posts about amazing novels in audio to come.

Check out Heid’s article and see what you think and consider downloading an e-audio book yourself. Your library will thank you and they are free……

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