How I learned to stop judging and love audiobooks.

Reading, obviously, is not really reading unless it involves holding a book in your hand, feeling its weight, lovingly caressing the binding and each delicate page… Not to mention the mental work of reading.  The messages passing from eye to brain turning letters into sounds and sounds into words and words into meanings and strings of words into more complex and nuanced meanings resulting in an actual emotional response.  All of this happening in microseconds is enough to fill me with awe and wonder and joy, but I digress.  And then the 21st century happened and all of a sudden all of these jerks out there started reading books on screens and (worse!) listening to books without using their eyes at all!

About 10 years ago, I was going on a road trip from Pittsburgh to Florida and I borrowed a book on cd from the library and I thought, “Okay, I’ll give this a chance, but only because I am driving and it would be irresponsible of me to read a book while driving. Fine.”  I popped it in the cd player and it was TERRIBLE.  I mean, the worst.  The narrator was yelling at me the whole time and the dialogue sounded choppy and all of the girls sounded like boys and I turned it off about 20 minutes in and felt a little smug, because hadn’t I known all along that audio books were a bad idea?

Then, I woke up one day and I was in my mid-30’s.  I had baby weight that I had never dropped and my metabolism wasn’t what it once was and I was working a depressingly stressful job and I felt low.  My husband is  a runner so it seemed like maybe I could be a runner too.  lose weight, relieve stress… let’s do it.  I loaded up my ipod with fun uptempo music and I hit the sidewalks and I immediately hated it.  Running is both boring and difficult and I had no motivation to do it at all.  Music just wasn’t enough to keep my mind off the fact that I was working really hard at something that was zero fun.  I needed something to distract me while I ran and so I sheepishly decided to try listening to audio books again.  It was amazing.  A story was what I needed to keep my mind off my feet and my knees and wondering for the love of everything, how many more minutes until I can stop running?  I listened to the entire Hunger Games trilogy and trained for a half marathon!  I quit my stupid job and found another one!  I lost some weight! Then I quit running and gained all the weight back, BUT my love affair with audio books is still going strong.

Here are some things I love about audio books.

  • You can listen to an audio book anywhere.  My knees can’t handle running, so instead I commute to work on foot every morning now.  If I rode the bus, I could read and that is very enticing on mornings when I don’t feel like walking.  So, I listen to audio books while I walk and get the best of both worlds.
  • You can listen to an audiobook anytime.  Even when it is late and your eyes are tired and your head hurts and you have had a glass (or two) of wine.  Times when the physical act of reading is hard, but you are still game to hear a great story told by a great story teller.
  • A narrator is like a director and a full cast of actors all roled into one.  If you have ever seen the same play performed on two different stages, you will know what I mean.  Same script, right?  Same lines read in the same order, but if the direction is inspired and the actors are talented they can make you think about the characters, the plot, the setting, everything in a whole new way.
  • Audio books are great for deepening your understanding of something super complicated that you read previously.  I read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books.  They are fantastical and epic and so intricately woven that I can’t believe he is making this up as he goes along.  It feels like he is hovering above the intricate web of interconnected characters and that he, god-like, already knows the fate of every single character’s story line and is only choosing to reveal it to us one bit at a time.   I, being only human and not an omniscient being like Martin, may have missed a few nuances in my initial reading.  I listened to the books as narrated by Roy Dotrice after I finished reading them and picked up on so much more (and increased my awe of Martin’s story telling prowess).   And as an added bonus, I didn’t have to trudge around the 5,000 page tomes.
  • I have come to have the pseudo anthropological opinion that listening to books taps into our brain’s hard-wiring in ways that are different than reading, but perhaps equally valuable.  People existed for a long, long time before writing and even longer before the ability to make written text available for everyone. For all of those years upon years, we shared our history and our beliefs and our fictions orally. Story telling and listening to stories are inherently human behaviors.

Listening to audio books is not the same as reading.  You don’t get the tactile sensory input that we bibliophiles love and in listening to a narrators voice, you don’t get to hear your own inner narration, which is a shame.  I no longer judge listener-readers, but I do think that if you do not have a vision impairment and choose to do your reading exclusively with your ears. you are missing out.  And if you are like I was and aren’t willing to listen to a good book, then you are missing out too.

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