audiobooks – the best thing ever

So I signed up with Audible about one year ago now. Now after a year, it seems appropriate to reflect on this decision.

Problem:
I want to read books, but it is hard to schedule time to read.

Solution:
Do audiobooks during mundane human tasks.
e.g., cooking, cleaning, traveling to work, walking somewhere, eating, etc…

I usually manage to get at least an hour a day of listening to an audiobook without scheduling any time for it. I can just squeeze it in my mundane morning routine, when I’m cooking dinner, or cleaning up.

What has this translated into? I managed to finish reading (okay listening to…) over 30 books. 30 books! Considering that I read about 1 or 2 books a year (a generous estimate) prior to this, I’m pretty happy with this result.

Think about this. As I cooked dinner or traveled on a crowded bus, I got to hang out with Benjamin Franklin as he frolicked with the French ladies (and ignored his poor wife and children), meditate with Sam Harris and many others, watch the world explode with Arthur Dent, become terrified of volcanoes because of Bill Bryson, see life evolve from a primordial soup with Richard Dawkins, and so much more…

As great as audiobooks are, to be fair, here are a few caveats for those getting into it.

Caveats and criticisms:

Focus:
I find that I cannot do audiobooks if I’m also doing anything else that requires significant focus e.g., if I’m walking in an unfamiliar area, I can’t focus on the audiobook. But, you may find a surprising amount of our day is spent doing the exact same repetitious thing we did the day before. These are good times to get a listen in.

No visuals:
Perhaps obvious, but with an audiobook, there are no pictures or video. However, audiobook authors sometimes refer to visuals that are either (usually) supplementary material made available (say on their website) or, occasionally, are not available (e.g., the audio was from an an old DVD video series). I have not found this to be a big deal, but I’m sure some of the explanation is lost to me without these visuals. This is rarely an issue and can usually be spotted by reading comments people leave about the book beforehand.

Now when I tell people about my audiobook love affair, I usually get a few replies.

Common comments from those who already tried a few minutes of audiobooks

“I get too distracted when listening to audiobooks. My mind starts to wander.”
Yes me too! I listen when I don’t particularly care to be where I am, and when I don’t have to think about what I’m doing (e.g., doing dishes). Also, I make sure to select books that I find fascinating. Your mind will naturally latch onto the bizarre case of a man who thought his wife was a hat, much easier if you already bored.

Common comments from the skeptics…

“You don’t retain the info listening as well as reading written text”
Yes I worried about this too. I can’t find many scientific studies on this; however, there is at least one study that suggests you are right (listening to a passage was associated with less memory and interest than other methods). My thinking is that the main benefit of audiobooks is that I can do other things while I listen. I can clean and listen to an audiobook. So even with less retention, it is still better than nothing.

“I can read faster than listen to the audiobooks”
Yes! Agreed. But again, I’m just cooking rice when I’m audiobooking! I can’t read and cook rice. But I can listen to an audiobook and cook rice.

And who doesn’t want to have someone read to them while they cook rice?

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