Can I be honest for a minute? I always thought audiobooks were kind of like “cheater reading.” I mean, yeah, it’s technically “reading,” but is it really if you’re just listening? Semantics are important.
Lately, I’ve noticed I’m not the only one who seems to share that sentiment. On numerous discussion threads about the number of books read in 2017, I saw comments like, “do audiobooks count?” and “if audiobooks count, too, then I read…” and “I read # books and # audiobooks.”
In my mind, audiobooks were reserved for the occasional family road trip or served as a stand-in for white noise at bedtime. They were, perhaps, for people who had trouble reading “real” books for some reason--maybe dyslexia jumbled the words and turned them upside down or maybe the print was too small. They were for people who spent a lot of time on the road or people who were auditory learners. And as far as I could tell, none of those people were me.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been great at collecting books and sometimes (read: rarely) even great at starting them, but I’ve never been great at finishing them or reading consistently. My typical reading rate averages about one book/year. I’m the girl who just can’t seem to find the time to sit down and read, and when I do sit down, reading isn’t how I want to spend my sedentary minutes. The conundrum I persistently encounter is this: while I love the idea of reading and long to consume some of the great thoughts bound up in those pages, I’m less than enthusiastic about the practice of reading.
I think to myself, I’ll read more when:
We’re on vacation someday and I don’t have to worry about toddlers drowning in the ocean.
We spend summers at the pool and the kids all know how to swim.
The kids are all in school and I can participate in a book club, or at least have some time to myself.
I find a niche of literature I’m passionate about and want to read.
I get more disciplined someday and make it a part of my life.
But so far, someday hasn’t arrived.
Reading, for me, has always been a form of study, collecting knowledge and inspiration, versus entertainment. When I do read a book, the process takes on a life of its own, or rather, I seem to draw life from it like a parasite does from a host. I pore over its pages and digest them slowly. I read, re-read, and re-read again the important, inspiring passages to make sure I didn’t miss a thing, that I absorbed it completely. I underline, bracket, and make notes in the margin. I couldn’t imagine “reading” in a way that didn’t involve tangible books filled with manila-colored, well-loved, tattered pages.
Following my once-a-year read last year (The Glass Castle), whose completion I attribute only to constant peer pressure from my mom and sisters and a deadline of the movie’s release, I found myself interested in the Enneagram after listening to a podcast featuring the author of The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey To Self-Discovery. Although I’m a personality nerd and love all things related to what makes people tick and why they do what they do, I hadn’t yet hopped on the Enneagram bandwagon. But now I was intrigued and wanted to know more about it, which involved more….reading.
Don’t get me wrong, I do read regularly. I read news articles on the internet, I excessively Google and read all about whatever health ailment or symptom is currently freaking me out (I’m an expert “WebMD,” and if they granted doctorates based on this fact, I would graduate Summa Cum Laude with honors), I read blog posts, and I read Instagram captions, even if they extend into the comments. Short, sweet sound bites are not my problem, but books are another story (ha, couldn’t resist).
When a friend passed along a copy of The Road Back to You, at first, it went through the same inaugural process all the other books do that find their way into my house--it sat on the end table, where paper soldiers go to die, and gathered dust. Then I finally got around to downloading the Hoopla app on my phone and noticed the book (in audio form) there. Please note: Hoopla uses your current library card, even if you have massive fines that prevent you from taking actual paper books out of the library, and you don’t have to remember to return them. Basically, it’s the library slacker's dream come true.
“Is it stupid to check out the audiobook even though the actual book is sitting right here?” I thought. “Shouldn’t I just sit down and read it?”
In an act of internal rebellion against the forces of logic and sound minimalist judgement, I did it anyway. Since it was read by the author, I listened to Ian Morgan Cron tell me all about how we owe it to the people we love to understand our truest selves and live accordingly. He taught me about the many “Perfectionists” in my life as I stood at the sink and washed dishes, something they would’ve never let pile up in the first place, I imagine. He shared things about my type (#4) that I didn’t yet realize to be true as I drove to my mom’s house for lunch and picked up the kids from school. Gradually, it became habit to consult Ian while I folded laundry or as I puttered around the kitchen.
The book came to an end, and I stared down at my phone, silently marveling at my accomplishment. I actually finished a book. Like, read the whole entire thing in a timely manner. Because I wanted to. This was largely uncharted territory for me. Emboldened by my small victory, I opened the app to browse for my next read (--> something, again, I never thought I would say without feigned seriousness) and stumbled upon Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, which was written and read by one of my high school classmates. I didn’t know she’d written a book?!?
As soon as I heard her at-once familiar voice, I was hooked. I listened as she took me back to the year we graduated high school, to her summer job for thereafter at a local historic village, and on all her adventures in food culture and history that followed. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine anything better than listening to a book read in the authors own voice, complete with nuance and emphasis and emotion inserted in all the appropriate places. I told all my friends about it and recommended the book to everyone. Sarah kept me company as I made dinner (I will never look at the ordinary spices in my kitchen cabinet the same again), entertained me with her stories as I drifted to sleep, and made me laugh out loud in the car with her sense of humor and wit.
I’ve always set a book down feeling like I knew the author a little better, but this was different. The audio aspect sets a more personal tone, as if they’re talking to me, as if we’re friends gathered over a warm cup of coffee or lunch on a Sunday. And I realized that I’ve had trouble finishing books all these years, not because I didn’t like to read or want to read, but because I’ve only looked at the practice one-dimensionally. As it turns out, there’s more than one way to read a book. Instead of struggling to make time to sit down and read, trying to force-fit physical page-turning into the cracks of my very full life, I’ve simply inserted a different form of reading into the margin that already exists.
In the last few months of 2017, I finished 5.5 books: two paper books and 3.5 audiobooks on Hoopla. It’s now mid-January and I’m currently 1.5 books into the year. Maybe someday I’ll get around to reading more “real” books, but for now, this works best for me. I’m not only reading because I want to--I’m actually enjoying it, so I'll call that a win.
In the spirit of the new year, what views do you have (reading or otherwise) about the way things “should be done,” and how is that holding you back? Maybe you, like me, can find a different way to fit things into the space in your life that already exists.