Until recently, I always had avoided audiobooks. While some doubt that listening to books counts as reading, that line of thinking never has appealed to me: I just had no interest in the format, since I associated it with the monotonous books on tape that my childhood library hoarded in its cloistered back room.
All that changed this summer when I received free copies of a few audiobooks through my job. Dear Madam President, Circe, Travel as a Political Act. In terms of content and craft Dear Madam President appealed to me the most, with the other two striking me as decently written but nothing special. The recordings of all three titles, though, were expertly narrated. I was amazed by how much better the audiobooks were compared to those I slogged through during my early years of reading.
Listening to audiobooks also turned out to have several benefits that I hadn’t expected. Audiobooks allow you to enjoy books as you finish mindless chores or when you’re on the go; they can be significantly cheaper than print or electronic books, depending on the title; those narrated by the author can offer a more intimate experience of the text, especially when it comes to memoir and other forms of life writing. This summer audiobooks helped me stay consistently reading; I loved being able to read while cooking, commuting, or jogging.
It’s easy to see why audiobooks are surging in popularity, a trend unlikely to go away with the rise of listening services such as Audible and Scribd. Listening on the go has become significantly easier this decade. Publishers have increasingly recorded quality productions of titles, with many featuring trained or A-list narrators, and more and more readers are in turn drawn to the format.
It feels exciting that audiobooks are revitalizing the way people experience books, and allowing them the chance to read more. I also can’t help but feel that the argument that listening requires less attention than reading (print books) is based on a false binary. There are so many ways of reading a print book, and only one of them is to read the text from start to finish with consistently focused attention.
As I rearranged my bookshelves this weekend, I realized how many books from this year I might have placed on the shelves, had I not listened to them on audio. I felt relief more than anything—at the freed space, at the money I had saved, at the titles I had finished that otherwise would have sat in my TBR pile for months.