Recently I’ve become disenchanted with audiobooks–not with audiobooks as a form of experiencing a story but more with my own ability to experience a story through an audiobook. For the last several years, I’ve listened to audiobooks on my commute to and from work. It’s about a 20-minute drive, so I can get a good chunk of listening in each day. It’s been a nice way to enjoy books that I wouldn’t necessarily have time to read in print, and some books are especially well-suited to audio. (Books by David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell are among my favorites.)
As much as I’ve enjoyed audiobooks in the past (and I do “count” my audiobooks as books I’ve read), I’ve been frustrated lately at the fact that the format gives me less control over the experience. I listen when I’m driving because that’s one of the only times I can pay attention adequately, but this defined amount of time forces me to settle for poor stopping and starting places. I stop reading when I reach my destination, whether there’s a natural break in the story or not. And if I get distracted lose the narrative thread, it’s difficult to pick it back up on audio. I can’t easily flip back and check character names and plot points, nor can I easily revisit passages that are important.
None of this is to say that listening to audiobooks has no value, but just to explain why I’m taking a break for them.
So what am I listening to instead? There are days when I’m content to listen to my own thoughts, but most days, I listen to podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts during walks and gym workouts for years, and I love them. My current favorite is Radiolab, which features quirky stories usually involving science. A recent episode focused on the digestive tract, and it was both disgusting and fascinating. I’m also a fan of This American Life, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, The Moth, Freakonomics, and On the Media.
Since I’ve started listening during my commute, I’m exploring a few new possibilities. One of these is the Pop Culture Happy Hour, which is fun because I often feel a little behind on all things pop culture, and I enjoy host Linda Holmes’s Monkey See blog at NPR. I’m just wondering whether getting all this current information about movies and TV and such will make me feel even more behind or, worse, make me feel pressured to try to squeeze in more TV and movie watching (At the cost of what? Sleep? Reading time? Blogging? Exercise? Cooking? Not giving up that stuff, so there we are.)
I’ve also started to listen to a couple of bookish podcasts. I enjoy these podcasts, but I’m not sure how devoted I’ll be to them because I fear that having too many bookish podcasts in my schedule will cause me to feel overloaded with book talk. Still, they’re worth checking out. One is The Readers, hosted by UK bloggers Simon of Savidge Reads and Gavin of Gav Reads. It’s an hourlong(ish) chat about general bookish topics and specific books Simon and Gav are reading. It’s a fun show, but I have to be in the right mood for it because the chats often meander, and they tend to cover topics that get talked about a lot on blogs I read. When I’m in the right mood, it’s charming and hilarious, but I’m not always in the right mood. They’ve just announced their summer book club with a nice mix of titles. Although I like the list, I have no definite plans to read along, so I’ll be interested to see how those conversations go for people who haven’t read the books. Another show I’ve started listening to is Books on the Nightstand, hosted by Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman of Random House. They usually open with a discussion of some general book-related news and conclude with a recommendation or two. The news discussions are interesting, and the recommendations sound good, but I haven’t read enough of them to know how similar their tastes are to mine. The show is shorter and more to the point than The Readers, so which one I prefer depends on what kind of conversation I want (and how much time I have).
When not listening to podcasts, I’m also listening to more music. I love music, but I rarely take the time to really listen to it anymore. I have it on in the background at work and sometimes at home, but I can’t tell you how many albums I’ve bought through Emusic and never really sat down and listened to with any degree of focus. What are the lyrics like? Which specific songs from the album do I like best? How does this album compare to others? I have no idea because I just pop them into iTunes and set it to shuffle. I realized just how much I’m depriving myself of last Friday when I saw one of my favorite singer-songwriters, David Wilcox, perform with a new-to-me singer-songwriter, Susan Werner. The show was great, and part of the pleasure was that we were just sitting and listening. I’m not likely to start sitting and listening to albums straight through, but I’m usually able to listen well enough in the car and on walks to get acquainted with the music.
So that’s how I’m filling the audiobook void. I’m interested in checking out some more podcasts, although I do fear overfilling my schedule. Rebecca has just posted a list of a few bookish ones she enjoys. Do you have any suggestions for good podcasts, bookish or otherwise? Or do you prefer the radio or music or audiobooks–or even silence?