I'm just going to put this out there right up front: I have a complicated relationship with audiobooks. On the one hand, I am undeniably intrigued by the idea of hearing memoirs straight from the mouths of the people who lived them. I'm thrilled about the idea of diving into beloved favorites like Harry Potter in an entirely new and exciting format. But on the other hand, the idea of sitting idly while someone reads to me just feels wrong somehow. It's just so very different from how I've been consuming stories for over 20 years. It turns out, though, that my audiobook discomfort would be the reckoning I needed to figure out what kind of reader I really want to be.
Let's back up a little bit: it was only this year that I'd realized I've built up some unconscious trepidations about audio stories in general. I have been trying to get into podcasts for years and despite some very stellar (and insistent) recommendations from trusted friends with excellent taste, I have yet to listen to any. And when it comes to audiobooks, I have felt even more conflicted. I imagined that as an able-bodied person who is not only willing but happy to read physical books, it was somehow lazy of me to depend on audiobooks during my limited reading hours. I also imagined that I would be bored, or that my mind would wander, or that for various other reasons I just wouldn't enjoy the experience and that my face would basically look like this the entire time:
So when I finally took the dive and checked out my first ever audiobook from the library a couple of months ago, I was surprised by how things turned out. I had been wanting to read Shonda Rhimes's memoir-meets-self-help book The Year of Yes for a while, so when I saw that the audiobook was available at my library, it seemed like the best way to kill two birds with one stone. And here's the thing: listening to this audiobook was weird at first. The reading speed was much slower than I would have read myself, which at first made it feel like I was wading through literary quicksand. My attention did tend to wander, because I felt like in order to make my audiobook listening time truly useful, I should multitask: I cleaned my room, organized my calendar, and even wrote, which I don't think I need to tell you was a very bad idea.
But then something happened: I stopped thinking so hard about what listening to an audiobook said about me or my reading life or my reading habits and I just... listened. Well, first I upped the reading speed, and then I listened. I focused on Rhimes's words. I let her lessons wash over me, I let her jokes make me laugh — and by the time I'd gotten to end of The Year of Yes I realized that I enjoyed the book way more in audio format than I would have if I'd read it myself. I had actually gotten way more out of the audiobook experience than I'd ever expected.
Will I be listening to more audiobooks than reading physical books moving forward? Definitely not. I will always love losing myself in character voices of my own invention, reading at my own pace, and underlining and highlighting my favorite passages. But I now realize that my audiobook hesitation was built upon my own false ideas about being a reader. Stories are valid in every form, and there is something to be gained from each of the unique ways that stories find us throughout our lives. I'm now much more open to the idea of consuming books in all the many different ways they're available to me, and enjoying each reading experience individually.
If you've been hesitating to check out audiobooks for similar reasons, I highly suggest giving them a try. You might just be surprised to find that you've just discovered your favorite new way to read.