Listening To Audiobooks: My Struggle To Revive The Lost Art Of Reading
If I had a magic wand, I’d make people read more. Since I’m no sorcerer, I’ll settle for their listening to Audiobooks instead.
We landed on the moon
Picture this iconic scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber: Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd, not a well-read man (to put it mildly) notices a framed picture of the Apollo moon landing and exclaims ‘No way. We landed on the moon’. The movie was set in the 1990s!
We are an at-risk population for becoming Lloyds ourselves if we don’t restore the lost art of reading soon.
Benefits of reading
I’m not going to spend too much time today expounding the innumerable benefits of reading. I just want to point key ones:
- Knowledge: Did I hear you say ‘Duh’? Yeah.
- Empathy: Reading allows you to put yourself in situations that you may never find yourself in. That’s how you learn what it is like to be on the other side. Try telling me that’s not important. Or read this.
- Nuances: Reading allows you to notice nuances that can be missed through other forms of information dissemination. Deep-fakes mean anything?
- Brain development: Science says reading keeps your brain sharp. Undoubtedly.
- Prevents broken-record-syndrome: Of course, when you’ve read something of substance, you sound better in social situations since you have something of value to add to conversations. As opposed to the alternative.
Reading. With a Twist.
Today, I’m on a quest to get everyone to READ because
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.
No one wants a strong body and a weak mind. I think. And hope.
It’s rather ironic that I’m trying to use the written word to make my case. Anyone reading this, in theory, is already a ‘reader’ of the written form. My hope is for YOU, my congregation, to spread this message to the unconverted: aka non-readers.
I’m aware that I’m entrusting you with an unpleasant task. Kind of like asking you to tell your neighbor to care for their unkempt lawn. But, like an as-seen-on-TV salesperson, I’m going to sweeten the deal for you. Your job is not to get those that are allergic-to-written-form to physically read. I have an easier pitch for you today. Audiobooks.
I define audiobooks as the Diet Coke of Reading. Somewhat like reading, but not quite. Connoisseurs are welcome to turn their noses up at the suggestion of ‘listening to books’. For the rest of us, however, listening to audiobooks can be a decent compromise.
As digitization grows and various other information channels compete for our eyeballs, the long-form written content is in danger of going the way of Vinyl tapes; yard-sale material for most people except for true aficionados.
This is why I’m excited about listening to audiobooks. They offer a way to return to the promised land, one that’s on the verge of being lost. Forever.
Audiobooks step in where regular books can’t
Listening to audiobooks, or as it used to be known previously, books on tape help ease some of the constraints that make physical reading difficult or impossible.
The biggest excuse to not read is the lack of time.
Who has the time for literary pursuits? While it was fine and dandy for someone a couple of centuries ago to spend their days and nights in a hammock, reflecting on whether to be or not to be, life is paced differently in the 21st century. You have to finish your PowerPoint presentation, get your workouts in, take kids to soccer and ballet practices, walk the dog, pick up groceries (and last-minute school project supplies), and not to mention also get dinner on the table.
Any sane person suggesting adding Shakespeare to this mix, is quite frankly, running the risk of ‘not to be’. With audiobooks though, you can turn the workouts, dog-walking, grocery-picking, dinner-making time to Shakespeare-listening time.
For some reading books can seem like a lot of work. All that page-turning, eye-focusing, mind-interpreting can become overwhelming. Their attitude to reading can be described, generously, as boredom or simply, as laziness. I know such people. And, surprisingly, I get along with them as well.
These folks would greatly benefit if someone just read out the book or story aloud to them. With some emotion. Cue the audiobook…
Those with physical limitations
Consider these to be in the category almost exactly opposite to the one above. People who love the written word but are unable to read due to physical limitations such as poor vision or dyslexia. Audiobooks are a boon to this group.
Use caution. This isn’t for everyone. Most audio-listening apps will let you adjust the playback speed. Depending on your tolerance for quaky sound and how much concentration you have, you can increase the playback speed to 1.5x or even 2x to cover more content quickly, . Speed-reading physical books on the other hand, at that pace, require training and skills.
Convinced now that listening to audiobooks may not be such a bad idea. Yes, but…
Aren’t audiobooks expensive?
They can be if you choose to own them. But you don’t have to. Just like you don’t have to buy every book you read. You can simply rent audiobooks.
Check your local public library system for audiobooks.
Depending on your library facilities, you should be able to place all the audiobooks you need on hold as soon as you find out about their existence. You get in the digital queue. The material will be released to you electronically when it’s your turn. Can it get easier than this?
The best part about listening to loaned-material is the fact that you need to return it by a set date. Like with most things in life, there is no greater inspiration than a deadline. So, it’s likely you’ll listen to the audiobook on time.
I speak from experience.
The listen-rate on my rented audiobooks is well over 90%
The listen-rate on audiobooks I own is probably under 40%. Because I know I’ll get to it. Someday.
Getting started with audiobooks
Not just non-readers, even hardcore regular book-readers may benefit from adding audiobooks to their repertoire. I have personal experience with this. I flirted with audiobooks for about 3 years before truly getting to enjoy them. Some of those early experiences were like dates gone horribly wrong, almost making me swear ‘Never again’.
Here are some key pointers on how to get started with audiobooks and the type of content that’s best consumed in audiobook format.
1. Good narration
Read reviews before you download your book. If you find more than 10% of the reviews mention issues with the narration, move on.
With physical books, you narrate it to yourself, so you’re never going to criticize the narrator’s tone of voice because you know you’re perfect. Not so, when someone else is the narrator. You’ll be amazed at how just a little intonation or change in voice can be so jarring to the ears.
Pick books that don’t require a call to physical action. If at the end of every page, the author asks you to draw images or write lists out, then those are not necessarily the best audio-books to start with. It can be annoying when you’re driving on the highway and you’re told to draw your mental image of a red-hooded cat flying on top of a plane across the ocean. I’ve tried to listen to books on human psychology that do that.
3. Decent pace
Especially, if you’re getting started with audiobooks, a good-paced book is essential. With physical books, you have the option of skim-reading and skipping overly verbose texts. With audio, it’s hard because you don’t know when or where to stop. So, pick books that move quickly.
I’m not just saying you should listen to Marie Kondo’s book ‘Magic of Tidying up’ in English instead of Japanese if you’ve never heard a word of Japanese before. But it helps if the book is written in a tone that you’re comfortable with, especially when you get started with audiobooks. For instance, if the book is in a professorial or preachy tone and you’re used to reading Harlem romances, you may find it a bit difficult to get into.
5. Clear-cut plotlines
Too many characters (fiction) or too many concepts (non-fiction) could be harder to keep track of in audio format since you don’t have the luxury of referencing back to pages over and over again as you do with physical books. In one story I listened to, I thought an important character had died in the second chapter only to realize in the eighth chapter that I had my character names mixed-up. Suffice to say, my storyline for the book was very different from the one the author had imagined.
In some cases, it’s okay to listen to nuanced audiobooks (especially non-fiction) first to get a feel for the text. If you truly like it, I’d suggest getting the actual book later (physical or e-book) for further reading/research/reference/reiteration.
Aren’t books better, though?
Stating the obvious: Given a choice, physical books are still the best. I’m no Luddite, but it is still true that reading physical books increases retention compared to reading e-books or listening to audiobooks. But technology is changing that paradigm rapidly. Until then, when our choices are something v nothing, it is wise to choose something.
Why you should take my advice
Because this is one walk I’ve walked. I’ve always loved to read. On average I’ve read, and more recently listened to, 80–100+ books a year over the last decade. At one point in time, I was about to do a la-Austin powers (Powers makes a reference to his father inventing the Question mark) impersonation and make an outrageous claim that I’ve read all the self-help books that have ever been published. But then I figured it would convey the wrong meaning: How broken was I? So, I let that slide.
Anyway, over the course of this decade, I kept stacking more to-dos in my life. As a result, my reading time was starting to suffer, forcing me to jump on the audiobooks bandwagon.
I’m so glad I did. In the last couple of years, especially, the stats are skewed in favor of audiobooks as opposed to physical books, though the snob in me is desperately trying to restore the balance. I’m wise enough now, though, to not let perfect be the enemy of good. Neither should you.
So, make time to read. Or start by listening to audiobooks.
You need quality input to make your outputs matter. Even if it’s small talk. Otherwise, as you know
Empty vessels make a lot of noise.
Originally published at https://partably.com on August 18, 2020.