BOOKS: A Real Tape Turner

The popularity of recorded books has exploded. Is this further evidence of the decline of literature? Or is it a new aural tradition?

The hotshot columnist-author played by Nick Nolte in the summer comedy I Love Trouble runs into a lawyer friend, played by Saul Rubinek. "I'm dying to read your book, man," says the lawyer. "When is it coming out on tape?" It is hardly a surprise that Rubinek's character turns out to be the movie's chief sleazebag. What kind of shallow, no-time-for-anything '90s philistine confuses listening to books with actually reading them?

A lot of people, as it happens. Books on tape are steadily encroaching on those old-fashioned cloth- and paperbound items that used to be the main purveyors of literature in...

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