I have slowly become an audiobook nut. My interest started from time spent during business travel. I had been reading hardback books up until then and I had discovered the many pitfalls awaiting the business traveler who reads hardback books:
- Bulk: Hardback books are heavy and they take up quite a bit of room in your backpack. If you are like me, you always need to carry the book that you will finish during the trip and the next book that you will start. Sometimes, they both need to be in the backpack instead of the suitcase. By the way, I still check my suitcase for every flight and would encourage the rest of you to do the same. This leads to more room for my backpack in the overhead and a much happier me.
- Bulk of another sort: Big guys like me have a hard time being polite about body contact with adjacent passengers on airplanes. Spreading my elbows to hold my paper book usually brought me into undesired contact with my neighbors. Depending on the gender and stature of my neighbors, the problem could either be mine or theirs. But, there was a problem in any case and I thought that was unfair.
- Soup: Many business travelers will tell you that they dislike eating their meals alone. This has never been true for me because I have always read my book during meals. Unfortunately, this has led to an embarrassing amount of food being transferred to the pages of the book. The worst culprit was soup — and I am a big soup fan. For some of my friends, reading a book after me was an interesting archaeological experience. For others, it was simply distasteful.
- Romance: I am not ashamed to admit that I have come to enjoy a good romance novel so long as it has significant elements of detective fiction included that appeal to my macho needs. In my hardback phase, this caused me to be embarrassed about carrying around copy of a book by Karen Robards or Tess Gerritsen. Having the covers discretely displayed on my MP3 player has given me the courage to broaden my reading horizons substantially.
- Cost: When I started this reading frenzy, I was a jet-setting business executive spending half of his time in Chicago and the other half in New York City. The cost of new hardback books seemed reasonable and I enjoyed having them fill up my newly purchased bookshelves. However, by the time that I traded in my jet-setter job for jobs as a researcher, administrator, and instructor at the University of Illinois, my book budget had declined dramatically. I originally got my audiobooks from Audible.com (about $9 per book with a big contract). I now get my audiobooks through my local public library (shameless plug for Glenview Public Library) taking advantage of their participation in MyMediaMall (a consortium-based subscription service free to Glenview Library cardholders). Getting access to the books that I want takes a bit more planning than the days when I downloaded books from Audible.com. Copies per library are limited, so patrons have to learn how to use the “hold” system effectively. Yet, the cost shift makes it more than worth it. One aspect that I particularly like is that when I am downloading books for free, I can be much more adventurous about trying new authors and titles. If I hate a particular choice, what have I lost? I just don’t play it all the way through.
- Disposal: Both my wife and I took great pride in our book collection until it began to crowd us out of our home. We filled up all of the pretty new bookshelves in the living room and then went on to acquire and fill up less decorative bookshelves for the bedroom and our basement offices. We always thought that our book collection could serve as a great lending library for our friends. When interest in that idea was low, we tried to give them away to our friends. When interest in that idea was nearly as low, we tried to donate the books. My friends from the library world will probably not be surprised when I say that the public libraries in our area did not want our books. Those associated with book programs for prisoners will probably not be surprised when I tell you that reading programs for prisoners will not accept hardback books. Luckily, we were approached by a friendly and helpful group named Books4Cause that was collecting donations of books for its Good Books for Africa program. I was working at home when their representative boxed up 500 of our books and hauled them away. My only concern was that the predominance of murder mysteries might give the African beneficiaries a skewed view of American life (perhaps not a skewed view of our taste in entertainment). We still have quite a few books left (reference and unread entertainment books). But the house (the living room especially) looks much better.
Many of my friends (both inside and outside of the library world) are still not very excited about audiobooks. Many are concerned that listening to books is cheating in some way. The biggest worry seems to be that the level of dramatization added by the narrator will affect the listener’s visualization of the characters and the plot. Some feel that it turns reading into a lazier experience that is more like watching TV. Personally, I liken it more to listening to radio drama. I have never thought of listening to radio drama as lazy. [To my younger readers, I want to emphasize that the big days of radio drama were significantly before my time.] Most of all, I like the way the convenience of audiobooks has expanded my reading time. I listen while driving, while waiting in any kind of line, while on airplane and train trips, while walking, while painting the house, while falling asleep, and while doing any repetitive work that doesn’t require a high level of continuous concentration.
So, I love my audiobooks. If you haven’t tried an audiobook yet, I suggest that you do.