I didn’t always listen to audiobooks. I’m very much a visual person, who needs a map in my hand. When it comes to books, I like to hold them. I like being able to skip back and forth when I’m confused. I even like being able to read the ending before I reach it, so that I can focus on the process rather than worry about how it ends. Bottom line? I like to see the written word on the page in front of me.
Then, several years ago, a bookseller at my local Indie held out an unabridged CD that she highly recommended, and I considered taking the leap. Up to that point, most books, my own included, were abridged – likely to minimize the cost of making an unabridged version at a time when the audience of listeners was small. Then costs came down, narrating audiobooks became a business for would-be actors, the audience grew, and abridged versions were ditched.
And still, I didn’t listen to audiobooks. Believe it or not, I’ve never, to this day, listened to one of my own books on tape. I already know the story, right?
That day, though, when my Indie bookseller suggested listening to a book, something clicked. Bluetooth made listening in a car very easy, and, at that time, I was spending five hours each weekend driving back and forth to the lake to join my husband. Making the most of car time was an incentive. But there was more. I have this … thing about keeping my mind agile against the ravages of age. I’ve always done crossword puzzles. And writing books is surely a mental challenge. But suddenly I wondered if I could train my mind to listen. Listening meant focusing on every word, staying ever-present, not wandering off. It required mental discipline. I saw that as a new challenge.
What began as a mental exercise turned into a joy. I lost my audio virginity with that first bookseller recommendation, Lianne Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, which I loved. Other books followed, like Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, Jojo Moyes One Plus One, Nutshell by Ian McEwan, Frederick Backman’s A Man Called Ove, and most recently, Judas, by Amos Oz.
I used to listen only summers, driving back and forth to the lake. But that’s changed. Now I listen whenever I’m in my car for more than 10 minutes. I’ve become a true advocate of the audiobook format.
Recently, though, while I was pushing the merits of this, a friend commented that listening to a book was cheating, that it wasn’t really reading, that it was more like theater and can’t be considered the same as using one’s eyes and turning a page.
She was right in a sense. A good reader (or multiple readers, as some books now have) adds an element to the reading that might not otherwise be there. Books that come to mind are One Plus One and A Gentleman in Moscow, both of which were standouts for me because of the skill of the narration. More generally speaking, I’m able to finish books that friends of mine are not, simply because the reader makes them enjoyable. Is this wrong? Is listening to a book cheating? Is it really reading?
When we read to a child at bedtime, is it really reading? Yes! It’s using an author’s words to draw a child into a story, is it not?
I see audiobooks the same way. Actually, even more so, if you consider the fact that when I listen to one, I hear every word. Oh, it took me a while. That first time, I had to pull back my wandering mind time and again. I had to do it less with the second book, and less with the third. Okay. I’ve listened to a few audiobooks that are bad. I returned one to Audible that, though highly reviewed, was not my style at all. I stopped listening to another that, while beautifully written, was so intense, so frustrating, so politically infuriating that I simply couldn’t bear it. On the whole, though, I’ve read more books because I’ve listened to them, than I would have otherwise.
Is this wrong? Cheating? Or is it simply my wanting to go back to a childhood where there was no one to read me books? So maybe, just maybe, there’s an emotional benefit for me, a pampering, if you will.
And then, consider this. For those of you who say you don’t spend enough time in cars to listen, what about walking? We all need exercise. Walking costs nothing, we can do it most anywhere, and, wearing a set of ear pods, we can listen to books and enhance our minds while our bodies get healthier. We can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. How can this be wrong?
Your thoughts here?