Rediscovering the Magic of Audiobooks

I was a hardcore audiobook junkie as a kid. I would go to the library every Saturday with my dad and haul an armful of cassette tapes (later CDs) home with me. I have wonderful memories of lazy summer afternoons in Maine listening to Laura Linney narrate the story of “an attractive girl of eighteen…driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible,” for the hundredth time. In fact, many of the books I remember as childhood favorites I only ever read by listening to them. The Westing Game, Inkheart, Dealing with Dragons, and later on when I was a teenager Eragon, were all experienced solely through sound. Even my first introduction to Shakespeare was through a children’s radio drama that did an episode based on The Merchant of Venice.

Somewhere along the way my audiobook consumption dropped off and then stopped altogether. Until last month I hadn’t listened to an audiobook in years. I had been wanting to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, but couldn’t get my hands on a library hardcopy (I hate reading ebooks) and buying it just wasn’t in the budget, so I checked out the audiobook through Overdrive. I was a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. I love to highlight, underline, and post-it-note my books, especially nonfiction, and I wasn’t sure if I would absorb as much from the audiobook version. As it turns out, returning to audiobooks was the best thing I’ve done in a long time. There are two things I’ve always loved about audiobooks this experience recalls to mind and one new thing that I’ve grown to love about them at this particular stage of my life.

Audiobooks bring stories to life in a uniquely magical way. A paper book is magic enough, but oral storytelling is magical in a sort of primal way. The spoken word is the earliest form of human storytelling and teaching. Whether I’m listening to a full blown dramatization or your standard author-narrated audiobook, the transportation into another world is instant and brings to mind visions of cave-dwellers gathered around a campfire listening with baited breath to a long-forgotten tale.

Listening to an audiobook is like spending the afternoon with a close friend. As the saying goes, you can never be lonely with a good book. I don’t think that’s always true, but you can come pretty close with a good audiobook. Listening to Kathe Mazur’s personable narration of Quiet was like sitting at a coffee shop having a friendly conversation with the author. Reading a good book certainly alleviates loneliness, but not nearly as much as listening to a good audiobook. 

Audiobooks have become a form of meditation for me. I’ve written before about how I can’t meditate because I have the attention span of a five-year-old (my neurologist has since confirmed that yes, I really do have an attention deficit problem). I think this may be the unconscious reason why I stopped listening to audiobooks in the first place. I felt like my mind would wander off too easily and I would miss half of what was being said. What I’ve found over the last few weeks is that, yes, my mind does wander off quite frequently, but when it does I either pause the audiobook until I can focus better or gently bring my attention back to the narrator’s words, much like one would bring their attention back to their breath in meditation. In this way, audiobooks have become a sort of mindfulness exercise, and I’ve found it to be beneficial to my psyche.

So if it’s been a while since you listened to an audiobook, give it a go! Finding free audiobooks is almost as easy as finding free ebooks thanks to Overdrive and free trials through Audible, etc. You’ll be glad you did.

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