filled star filled star filled star star unfilled star unfilled
waitingforthesecondstar Avatar


Thank you to Celadon Books and BookishFirst for an ARC of this book, in exchange for a review.

Most people are aware of the fact that we no longer listen well, but what does that mean exactly? What does it mean to listen well, why don’t we do that, and what are we missing when we aren’t listening? In this investigative text, Kate Murphy sets out to answer those questions and many more. Written in an exploratory fashion, aiming to be informative, this book offers up some excellent points on the topics of what it actually means to be a good (or bad) listener.

The construction of this book is sporadic, although always directed at the central topic--what is listening, and why do we fail at it so often? Each chapter covers a type of listening, or a situation for listening, and other ideas surrounding these themes--like the mechanics of hearing and when it’s okay to stop listening. Each chapter is informative, though the organization is occasionally questionable and difficult to follow seamlessly. For example, the chapter on how we hear is near the very end of the book; it feels like the science behind how we are able to listen should come a bit earlier. Regardless, the chapters are packed with research and personal experience from the author, so even if reading the whole book feels a bit daunting, you could find a chapter that interests you and read it on its own.

Narrative voice was very journalist-istic in this book (which makes perfect sense, as Murphy is a journalist!). The writing reads similar to a report, but not in a dry or boring way. Rather, it feels like you are diving deep into information that someone has painstakingly collected for you. I appreciated the amount of information, as well as the resources at the back of the book.

One thing about the writing that I was less than excited about was that there were times where I felt Murphy’s opinions were coming through, rather than concrete research or evidence. There was a reference to a “millennial” that seemed a bit derogatory. Also, the chapter focused on social media and connectivity felt a bit accusatory rather than constructive. These moments pulled me out of the reading and made me question the arguments, because they felt more biased than I was expecting. While most of the information seems to hold up and is useful, I happily skimmed passed other parts that felt too subjective.

Another element of the book that didn’t sit well with me was the hyper-focus on listening at the expense of the hearing impaired. I get it--this is a book about using our ears to understand others in the world. But the language surrounding the value of hearing and the significance of listening seemed ableist at times, particularly as certain arguments seemed to suggest that if you cannot hear, you cannot understand people as deeply (and that is factually inaccurate). I wish the book had focused more on communication as a tool rather than on a specific type of communication; doing so would have alleviated some of the harmful language surrounding hearing abilities.

Despite these less than ideal parts of this book, I think Murphy has a strong argument and an important topic for the start of 2020. This book is valuable, because it challenges us to think about how we take in the communication of those around us. The topics it addresses are timely, but also timeless. It serves as a springboard into understanding how we’ve stopped listening, and could spark readers to spur habits, practices, and activities that will ultimately improve their ability to listen to others. I recommend it to those interested in learning more about a sociological topic, as well as to anyone who is curious about how communication works (and doesn’t work) today.