How Audiobooks Changed My (Reading) Life
If you have ever pined with jealousy over hearing people say they read 50 books last year, I feel you.
I’ve always been (what I would call) a voracious reader, but no matter how much time I spent reading, I could never seem to crack 50 books a year, or even 40. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading print books and e-books, yet my reading goals were still ahead of me like lines in the sand that re-drew themselves each time I stepped closer.
When I expressed my disappointment with myself to a friend, she suggested I try audiobooks. And like any good reader set in her particular reading ways, I shrugged off her advice. I told myself that listening to audiobooks wasn’t really reading and they didn’t count. I told myself I wouldn’t appreciate the beauty of the language or be able to focus as well on the plot. I told myself that my mind would wander and I’d grow bored. I told myself that listening to audiobooks would offend my collection of print books. I told myself that the practice of listening to audiobooks didn’t have as much artistic integrity as physically sitting down to read a book. I told myself that if reading was really important to me, I wouldn’t do so in a medium that allows for multitasking because I would want to give the book my full attention.
I came up with every excuse in the book (pun intended) to leave audiobooks alone. Yet, I happily write this article having invalidated every excuse I once had for not giving audiobooks a fair chance.
I held fast to my anti-audiobooks stance until my now ex-boyfriend started a masters program at an out-of-state university and I had to drive five hours one-way to see him. A handful of visits later, I found myself hating every song on the radio and my iPod. I tried calling friends and family, but most people didn’t want to talk for five hours straight.
(Somewhere in there I listened to Shutter Island, which had me on the edge of the driver's seat.)
Then one day, while driving to my then-boyfriend’s, I called my grandmother. She said she didn’t have much time to talk, so I used the time we had to explain my predicament with keeping myself entertained on a ten-hour roundtrip drive. And, you guessed it, she suggested I try audiobooks. I started to toss out any one of my multitude of excuses, and before I could decide which excuse to pull from the hat, she said, “You’re going to be in the car anyway, so you might as well make good use of your time.”
Valid point, but I told her I didn’t think audiobooks counted.
“Do you remember reading Of Mice and Men?” she asked.
I did. I was in tenth grade and we’d been assigned the book to read over a long weekend. However, my family decided to go on vacation to Gatlinburg that weekend. While a vacation over a long weekend might sound perfectly reasonable to you and millions of American families, we never go on family vacations. Thus, I didn’t want to read when I was supposed to be enjoying a rare vacation. Not to mention that I couldn’t read in the car because I get severe carsickness. (Some things, unfortunately, never change.)
Knowing I had to have read the book before going back to school and knowing my tenuous relationship with carsickness, my grandmother read Of Mice and Men aloud for me.
“Well, do you count yourself as having read Of Mice and Men or not?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question, I knew. She counted me—and I counted myself—as having read the book, and because she read it to me, it was basically an audiobook.
I realized then that I had been using my apprehension of audiobooks to mask a fear of judgment. I worried what the Literati would think of my listening to a book instead of manually reading it. Not only that, I feared strangers would think I was illiterate for listening to audiobooks, among other unfounded fears.
At first I only listened to audiobooks on the ten-hour road trip to see my boyfriend. Then I began listening to audiobooks on the thirty minute commute to and from work. Even if I didn’t touch a print book, I was still reading a minimum of 30 minutes a day. (Since the commute was an hour roundtrip, I could've spent an hour a day reading, but, hey, I have to catch up with the latest cheesy pop hits and NPR sometimes.)
I read 36 books in 2013. So far, I’ve read 44 books this calendar year, and Goodreads tells me I’m definitely going to meet my goal of 50 books, so I increased my goal to 60. The only thing I’m doing differently is adding audiobooks to the mix, and I have no plans to return to my old ways of excluding audiobooks. I’m enjoying them too much.