I’ve always prided myself on being a reader. Even back when I was an elementary school chunk wearing Husky Jeans and feeling I was far less tough than I should’ve been, books were a big part of my life. From the baby hamper in my room filled to the brim with Golden Books, to swiping my dad’s Stephen King novels to devour in the 7th grade, to obsessing over Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Irving in my late teens and early 20s, books were where I went to escape in those quiet moments at home. They picked up where obsessing over action figures in my pre-teen years stopped. They filled that void where the real world would sometimes(often) disappoint.
So the idea of listening to a book on tape just seemed lazy to me. Why do you need to have someone read a book to you? I mean, as a kid I did have some of those story albums. “At the sound of the beep, turn the page” kind of thing. I enjoyed those. I had two Star Wars albums like that, one for Empire Strikes Back and one for Return Of The Jedi(still have them, in fact.) There were some Disney records as well. But there was a visual aspect to those in the full color books that came with the records you could follow along with. And I was a kid. Why would any grown adult listen to a book? Have some self respect, man.
Well, consider my self respect shelved.
Me, being a lifetime reader and devourer of words has succumb to the temptation of audio books and I will never go back. Not that I won’t read a book analog-style again. I’m still reading books the old fashioned way, with my eyes and fingers flipping pages, but I’ve broken through my stubborn distaste for the “books on tape” disdain and realized how magical that can be.
I do have a dilemma, though. If I’m listening to a book, am I really reading it? Am I cheating by having actors reading my beloved Stephen King novels to me as I drive to work, walk on my breaks and after work, or driving around town as I do errands? I mean, I’m not actually “reading” but being read to.
I tried the Audible app a few years ago but it didn’t click. It felt weird. I couldn’t really lock in and it felt like I was wasting valuable time where I could’ve been doing something else like listening to music, or reading it myself. It felt, well, lazy. As if I was riding on a Rascal through the grocery store with two perfectly good, working legs. I’ve got eyes that see really well, and my hands can flip pages like a champ. So why am I not using the gifts God gave me and reading a book like I did in my teens? Analog, baby.
Well my oldest started working at a small town library earlier this summer, which gave her access to checking out books whenever. She downloaded this Libby app on my wife and I’s phones and signed us into her account which gives us access to checking “real” books and “digital” books out. I thought I’d give it a whirl and see what happens, so I checked out the audio book for Stephen King’s It. It was one I never got around to reading in my youth. I checked it out of our local library a few years ago and got maybe a 3rd of the way through before I had to return it. It’s a long book, in case you weren’t aware. Like, really long. I enjoyed it but if I’d kept at the reading of it I would’ve been reading that thing for months.
So I got the audio version, read by actor Stephen Weber. It was a total of 45 hours long. I thought for sure I’d have to re-up my rental once three weeks hit, but I finished it in just under three weeks. Man, I loved it. I wasn’t sure if I’d engage with it or not but I locked right in. There was something very nostalgic about having a book read to me. From being a little kid sitting in my bedroom flipping the colored books to the sound of the beep listening to Disney’s Peter and the Wolf, to being in Mr. Teeple’s 5th grade class and he reading us the Soup series of books(a sort of Huck and Tom-lite series of books written by author Robert Newton Peck) to us every afternoon, to even more recently listening to podcasts, words being spoken and me locking into them is a magical thing.
I’ve come to the realization very recently that there’s no shame in devouring audio books. I’m out and about so much during the day that why wouldn’t I fill those times inside a novel? I’m realizing there was so much time wasted during the day that I could’ve been enjoying a book, albeit via my ears instead of my eyes, instead of just the same album I’ve heard a million times or another podcast conversation. I still love listening to albums and podcasts, but I’m really enjoying these books. I’m 3/4 the way thru with King’s Mr. Mercedes and I just started it a week ago. It’s read by actor Will Patton and it’s another I’m burning through at a breakneck pace. I’ll jump into that book’s two sequels next.
One of my best friends is an avid reader as well. He’s currently reading all of Stephen King’s books, in order of published year. It’s quite an undertaking, and quite impressive if you ask me. He’s tried the audio books and so far he’s not locking in. Says he just starts drifting after five minutes or so. I don’t think the medium is for everyone. I think listening to podcasts for the last 8 years has got me in a groove for listening. The books on tape(figure of speech, kids) feels like an extension of that.
My grandma was an avid reader, and in the 80s she worked at her town library until her eyesight got too bad and couldn’t do it anymore(my grandma Hubner checked out Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions for me when I was 15. She put me on the path.) She switched to books on tape so she could still enjoy the books. I know she missed being at the library, but at least she could still enjoy a book without two magnifying glasses over her eyes.
I’m still reading the old fashioned way, you know with my eyes. I’m currently reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I read it in high school, along with most of his books. But after watching the documentary by Robert B. Weide recently I wanted to revisit Vonnegut’s works. They meant a great deal to me in my teens and still do today, so I felt it was time to revisit Mr. Vonnegut with a few years of living under my belt and see how or if I connect to them differently.
It really doesn’t matter how you feed your brain and in whatever form that sustenance may take. Just feed it, that’s what conclusion I’ve come to. There’s no right or wrong way to sponge up a book. Read it, listen to it, or soak it up through osmosis. Just get it in your head. Escape this reality for a bit and get lost in the written words. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, whatever tickles your fancy. Just turn off the hate spigot called the interweb, filling buckets with political, social, and nonsensical opinions. Want an opinion? See what King, Vonnegut, Irving, or whatever author is to your liking has to say. Just let your brain work its muscles.
Read it or listen to it. It’s all food for the mind.