I never had anything against audiobooks. I just never tried one. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the medium, and to be entirely honest, I wasn’t sure why. My main reason was because I love reading physical books. I love holding a book in my hands, turning the pages, reading the print on paper. There is just something magical about it, and it remains my preferred medium for reading.
Another reason I think I was hesitant about trying audiobooks was because there are a lot of factors that go into them that I believed may alter my experience of the book. Would I like the voice reading the book? Would they do different voices for each character? These questions stem from other readers’ experiences. I follow a few book-related groups on social media and some of these topics had come up. Some preferred one reader while others stated they didn’t like others. Some discussed many different readers for the same book. Then it hit me.
Audiobooks are like an in-between of movies and books. With a book, you imagine the voices and build the scenes in your head as your brain interprets the words into images. Movies do all of the imagination for you. They provide the characters and dialogue and locations and scenes. Everything is done and you can just sit back and enjoy. But have you ever seen a movie based on a book you’ve read and just thought “Hmm, I didn’t picture that character as looking like that” or “I pictured that building/location totally different in my head”? Audiobooks do only a bit of the work while letting you keep much of the imagination. You listen, and the voices may be provided, but you get to conjure up the locations and action sequences.
I tried my first audiobook about six months ago. It was a book of nonfiction that I greatly enjoyed. There were two reason I chose this book to start with. One, it was read by the author, Neil Gaiman, who I knew had a great voice I could listen to forever. Two, it was a collection of speeches, introductions, articles, etc., so it was split up into short sections and I could easily listen to one or two on my commute.
What I discovered was that with nonfiction you could zone-out or get distracted for a moment without missing valuable information. Of course, since it is an audiobook, I could easily rewind a bit to listen to any part I miss, but usually I never needed to. I could pick up anything I missed from context.
I don’t zone out often when listening. I only say this because I started listening to audiobooks during times I would normally listen to music or was doing something physical that didn’t require much attention. I first started listening during my commute to and from work. I now use that 30-40 minutes a day consuming a book instead of listening to a mindless radio show or to music. I then started listening to audiobooks when doing yardwork. I would normally listen to music. This is another handful of hours each month that have been transitioned from music to books. I will listen to them when going on walks (I absolutely need to go on more walks). I have even listened to audiobooks while taking a shower.
Audiobooks have allowed me to increase my reading and make better use of my time. Mainly the time I otherwise would spend without getting much out of it. Now I can learn more and “read” more by letting my mind consume material when my body is busy doing something else.
I have not yet listened to fiction. My weird agreement with myself is that I will keep reading fiction through physical books. Mainly because I know I retain more when reading it on the page versus listening. It is easier to follow characters when you see their name (how it spelled can be important) versus listening to it. Also, I’m afraid I may miss something important. Like if I were landscaping when a crazy plot twist happens. I like to focus my full attention to stories I can really get into. I’m not saying you can’t get into nonfiction. I’m just saying you are less likely to have an insane plot twist in a history book.
Also, though I do like memoirs and histories, I don’t read them as often I would like. I read mainly fiction. Therefore, audiobooks allow me to read more nonfiction than I normally would. So far I’ve read an additional ten books this year simply because I started listening to audiobooks. I’m slowly going through most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books via audiobook. Every one so far has been narrated by the author and have been extremely interesting. I’m currently listening to Educated by Tara Westover.
Audiobooks can be extremely expensive, but I have yet to purchase one. I listen to audiobooks through the Libby app on my phone, and I have borrowed each audiobook through either my local library or my university library. I wanted to start using my libraries more and buy fewer books. Not only does it save money, it saves space (tsundoku), and most libraries have a great audiobook collection.
Of course, stories and many histories were passed down orally for hundreds or thousands of years before being written down or lost. Audiobooks are kind of like modern bards, right? Instead of going to a gathering and listening to someone tell the story in real-time, we are able to choose whichever story we want with a tap and listen to bits and pieces whenever we wish. We can pause them as often as we like.
Imagine living thousands of years ago listening to a story surrounded by your entire village and standing up to ask the bard to stop where he is because you need to go to bed. As if the world centered around you. It wouldn’t happen. You’d have to have someone fill you in or simply miss that part of the story. Nowadays, you simply keep your headphones in wherever you go and pause it if something comes up (the world still doesn’t center around you). Technology can be useful. I wish I would have started using audiobooks a long time ago.