My future library. Probably.

My future library. Probably.

I have been an avid reader since my early teen years.  Even before that, I used to write short stories and poems (terrible, terrible stories and poems) and put them together in little books. I am a relatively fast reader who would routinely devour entire novels over the course of a day or two and was constantly in need of new reading material (because that stack of to-be-read was looking a little lonely, you know…).  However, fairly recently (in the last few years, at least), I have taken up audiobooks.

I feel like I should be ashamed of admitting it, somehow.  A thrice-over literature  major and now English teacher who doesn’t read real books?  Le gasp! Quelle horreur! 

I didn’t used to enjoy audiobooks because I could read faster than the speakers could talk, I resented the forced inflections on books that I wanted to place my own voices into, and they were always so much more expensive.

redwall_anniI did find a love for the Redwall series by Brian Jacques on audio.  His full studio cast and his own incredibly rich North English baritone were soothing and delightful.  The stories about heroic mice and evil rats came to life in my imagination, and the voices met or exceeded my expectations.  I still love those audiobooks. My personal favorite is Mossflower, in case other Redwall lovers want to know.

That series was, however, the exception.  Every other attempt I made at listening to audiobooks had me frustrated or disinterested in short order.

My husband, on the other hand, has enjoyed audiobooks for quite some time and after we had been dating for a while, he encouraged audiobooks as a way for us to share books and enjoy them together, particularly on road trips .  Over time, I grew to love them.  Not only was it restful and sweet to sit back and listen to a story being told,  but listening together allowed my husband – then boyfriend – and I to laugh over, yell at, or talk about different parts of the story as they happened.  It became a huge bonding experience, and it’s one we still share.  We have an ongoing book at any given time that we listen to together for a half an hour or so before we go to sleep, and it’s a tradition I treasure.

Other reasons prompted me to pursue audiobooks, as well.

  • The Invalid Reader

I can’t read as frequently as I wish I could these days.  I get migraine headaches that leave me unable to cope with constant eye movement, and lying in the dark with nothing to do is absolutely maddening.  Audiobooks were the obvious answer, and my growing fondness for them has made the shift from page reading to listening much easier. It still frustrates me sometimes when I can’t find a particular book that I want (I have some not-so-well-known favorites that have no audio version) or when the reader just doesn’t sound right to me.  Still, it has helped tremendously this past year to ease the frustration of being a bit of an invalid.

  • The Busy Reader

Another reason audiobooks have become such a delight is that they allow me to multitask.  I freely admit to having more than my fair share of laziness, but I do actually enjoy keeping busy most of the time.  I don’t know if this is a new development in my personality, but I have trouble sitting still and doing nothing.  Even watching movies has become almost stressful if I cannot also be knitting something.

More and more, I have found that multi-tasking makes me feel calmer, like I’m doing more with my busy days and yet still enjoying my time.  And so, I use audiobooks when I take walks, go to and from work, and when I’m not feeling well enough to use my eyes.   When I was in Scotland, one of my favorite pastimes on a nice afternoon (those rare nice days!) was to put on an audiobook and take a walk down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and hike up Arthur’s Seat to watch the sun set.  With a story playing in my ears, I got lost in a magical story world while being surrounded by the wonderful real world.

A particularly ideal sunset from the crags. These days were rare and perfect.

A particularly ideal sunset from the crags. These days were rare and perfect.

With audiobooks, I can also knit and “read” at the same time, so I have become that weird girl on the bus who sits in her seat frantically knitting and randomly laughing or making faces (it’s an audiobook, people, I swear!).  My hands stay busy and my mind stays focused.  Story and crafting at once.  This is something that I cannot do with a real book.

  • The Distracted Reader

And, finally, I realized that the art of listening is one that challenges me and one that audiobooks have helped me improve.  I’m not what they call an audio learner.  I was the child who got so lost in daydreams in school that a teacher once sent me home with a note telling my parents I needed to get my hearing checked.  I was the college student who needed to take notes on anything and everything, who needed to ask and answer questions, who needed, at the very least, to doodle in the margins just to keep her hands busy or she wouldn’t remember a thing from class.  I am not a natural listener.  And so audiobooks are teaching me to pay attention and follow at a pace that I’m not setting.  It was surprisingly difficult at first, but I’m getting better at it.

Me being studious while bathed in glorious light... because this is what it means to read a book.

Me being studious at the library while bathed in the glorious light of intellectual discovery (or possibly sunlight, but who’s to know for sure?)

Real books will always hold my heart.  Holding them in my hands, connecting with them, and telling myself the story will always be best.  I can’t gaze lovingly at my shelves of audiobooks.  My audiobooks don’t become worn from use, a witness to how many times some of them have come off the shelves.  I can’t arrange and display audiobooks so that fellow readers can pour over them and rejoice, gleefully, over a series that we both love.  A “library” of audiobooks is a sad, lonely thing.

And yet…

It’s the stories in the books that I love most.  Audiobooks can still give those to me.  No matter how busy or sick I am, I still have access to those stories.  That is something special.

I have a deep love for stories that translated from obsessive reading in my adolescence into academic zeal in my college years; from a focused passion for Irish and Welsh stories in my English master’s degree into a life changing adventure in Scotland for a second master’s in Celtic studies.  And now I teach on them as often as I can and try to share just a little of the glorious wonder of storytelling to groups of (albeit reluctant) students.

I am deeply grateful for audiobooks, secondary as they are to real books, for the stories they can still tell me.  Consequently, my first book review on this blog will be on a recently finished audiobook.

Where to Find Audiobooks, You Ask?

  • Librivox – I love Librivox because it offers old books (anything that is now public domain is fair game) for free!  They can be accessed through iTunes as podcasts, through their own website, or even through YouTube.  The downside is that the readers are volunteers with no training and they range anywhere between very good to very, very bad.  If I find a good reader, I often end up plundering any books that reader has done because I know I will at least not want to murder the reader by the end of it.  A bad reader can destroy a good book.
  • Your local library – I haven’t done this in years, but libraries do have audiobooks on CD that you can borrow for free.  Sometimes it’s hard to get something current and, of course, you are often limited to what they have in stock, but it’s a good place to browse if you know what sort of thing you are looking for.
  • Audible.com – These audiobooks are not free, but for someone who consumes them voraciously, as my husband and I do, it is a good way to get immediate, decently priced access to current and older books with professional readers.  They can be bought individually for a higher price or bought more cheaply on a monthly plan, which is what we do.

I hope my fellow book lovers out there can understand and accept my justifications for switching largely to audiobooks, but know that my love of real, hard copies will never die.  In the meantime, are there any other audiobook lovers out there?  What is your latest favorite, audio or otherwise?  What have you had time to read (with all the spare time I’m sure you have)?