Audiobooks Save Me: A Commuter’s Tale

This is a guest post from Laura Marie, a writer and teacher in Ohio. She reads one or two audiobooks every week, loves falling into a good cooking memoir, and debates feasibility of tech from sci-fi books with her husband.


Everyone I tell about my 50 minute, 35 mile commute cringes a little. Never mind that many of these people don’t like their work, the pay, or the hours, but since I spend 10 hours a week in the car, they think I’ve got it bad.

I think I would agree with them if it wasn’t for a little thing: audiobooks. I mean audiobooks from Audible, Hoopla, and Overdrive. I mean battered CD’s from the public library (until my 20-year-old Civic stopped reliably playing CDs a couple months back), and little amazing Playaways (have you seen those things? A tiny mp3 player just for one book? Amazing.).

Last year, I read close to 50 books, and most of those books were audiobooks. There are days where I don’t remember anything from what happened outside my car in the rolling cornfields, but rather I simply remember what exists inside the car, the adventurous scenes or the suspenseful dialogues.

I don’t remember everything perfectly, because I have found that I can zone out more in an audiobook than I can with a physical book. It hasn’t stopped me though; I now have a prioritized list of books I want to read. The ones I want to take in word-by-word, I read in physical form. However, with a lot of non-fiction and genres I haven’t read much, I try an audiobook version first. It often grabs me, but if I get to a boring part, I zone out through until things get spicy again.

10 hours a week often is a number that inspires imagination for me – if I got a job closer to where I live, what could I do with all that time? The truth is, though, a built-in margin of each day that is purely for pleasure reading is something that I would probably cut out if I had a job closer to home, and I do love my job. It makes sense to keep searching for audiobooks.

What I’ve learned through trying to get as many of these audiobooks for free as possible is this: work ahead. On Overdrive, I reserve copies of books that I know look awesome even though I probably won’t get up to the top of the waitlist for 6 months. I try to keep my holds queue full most of the time so that every few weeks something delicious comes off the wait list and into my digital “arms”. On Hoopla, I find more obscure books but often enjoy them a ton, and there’s no waitlist – that’s my go-to when I’ve dilly-dallied in my queue-ing or when I hit a dry spell where it seems like nothing is available. Audible is perfect when there is one particular book you want, and you don’t want to pay market price for it (the credits system is amazing!); I like it for books I know I’ll read again, including books I assign in the classes I teach that I might want to brush up on before I teach them again.

Much has been made of podcasts lately (I love them), but I’m trying to get myself to commit to audiobooks because, in part, I want long-form non-fiction and fiction to keep being published, and audiobooks may increasingly be the way that people can spare the time to read. Not everyone has to drive a ton for work, but millions of workers commute for just as much time as I do via public transit, and I personally hope that such a trend increases in the United States; better public transit might be a great way to reduce dependence on fossil fuels! In which case, I’d recommend greater dependence on audiobooks as a way to both use that time, make that time fun and interesting, and check off more of the boxes you want to check as an avid reader.

Meet Annotated: a new podcast about books, reading, and language. Download it for free on Apple Podcasts or Google Play.
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