Can Audiobooks Save You from a Shameful Life of Not Reading?

Can Audiobooks Save You from a Shameful Life of Not Reading?

I don’t read much anymore. I’ll admit it, even though it’s kind of a bummer. As a kid I read everything within reach, including all my dad’s magazines and my mom’s romance novels.

But that was then. Now I have the Internet. Aside from reading on my iPad on airplanes, I’m usually spending my downtime playing games (only 2: Doge 2048 or Duolingo) or watching shows on Hulu/Netflix/Amazon Prime/ HBO Go. (I still contend that there is less difference between books and shows/ movies than people like to believe there is.)

The problem is partly that books have a lot to compete with and partly that busy adults just don’t have much time to read.

I had accepted this. But then something changed: I got a puppy. Not just any puppy, but a fairly nutso dog that is one of the most athletic breeds out there — an Australian Cattle dog, bred to chase and terrorize cows all day. I have to take her on at least 1.5 hours-worth of walks every day or she barks in my face the second I turn out the lights to go to sleep. Suddenly I was walking all over town, and needing something to listen to other than the Comedy Bang Bang podcast.

I had stayed away from audiobooks for several reasons. #1, they’re expensive. But the bigger reason was that I was sure that in the dichotomy between the written and spoken word, I fell strongly in favor of the written. I turn on the captions for all T.V. shows, because I absorb what’s going on much better when I’m reading them. I ask co-workers to write down instructions vs. come over and explain them to me. Also, I really hated when, in English class, the students would switch off reading passages. I strongly preferred the invisibility and pace of my inner voice.

But then I decided to try it.The first book I picked was Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, or as most people may know her, that girl who defines feminism in a Beyoncé song. This book featured all kinds of accents, which I would never have known about if I had read the book. I was greatly taken by this feature, until the reader started using her American accent, which was high-pitched, nasally and sneering, and I started to question her other accents. Nonetheless, I was sure I had reached another dimension with the book by going for the audiobook vs. the normal book.

Then I grabbed Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please!, wherein she reads it herself and has many guests appear to read, including her parents (!) and Seth Meyers. I loved hearing her parents read their own pieces of wisdom in her book so much. I loved how she read the final chapter to a live audience at Upright Citizens Brigade. I cheered whenever I was in the car and Amy addressed readers who were listening to her book in their cars. Score two for audiobooks. I loved it a heck of a lot more than if I had read the normal version.

Here’s an important point that comes into play: I had absorbed 2 books in about 2 weeks. That was greatly beating my ratio of about 1 book a month on my iPad. (I was also spending a lot more money … Is it permissible to spend $80 per month on books? That makes Netflix seem like a steal.)

Then I got Haruki Murakami’s new book, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which I hadn’t even realized was out already, that’s how far I was from the book world. I have to admit the reader’s voice is quite distracting in this book, and I do prefer reading Murakami in my head. But I’m getting used to it.

My new openness to audiobooks happened at the same time I started to listen to Serial, and people have begun talking about the golden age of the podcast. For anyone who is a media junkie like me, the “golden age” of anything is amazing and validating news.

All in all, these audiobooks and Serial showed me that I was missing out on a huge chunk of the world with my faithfulness to the written word. It’s wonderful and all, but it still can’t always quite compete with hearing a calming voice read to you for hours on end.

I went to breakfast with my sister and her husband this morning, and they were telling me about how much their infant son loves when they read to him. It occurred to me then that maybe there’s something special about getting read to, about having a warm voice emphatically act out passages all for you, that brings you back in a nice way. After all, our parents reading to us is what first ignites our passion for stories.

For now, I’ll continue absorbing stories through audiobooks. Should you try this out? Yes indeed. Should parents read to their kids more? Double yes.

Becky Lang