There we were, my wife and I, packing up for the return leg of a road trip after a long weekend in Chicago, where we’d spent my birthday. Six and a half hours isn’t the longest car trip in the world, but anything that can be done to make a long ride feel shorter is a plus in my book, so I took a few moments to peruse our local library’s audiobook collection. I had never listened to an audiobook, nor had my wife, but I figured if there was ever a situation built to test one out, this would be it.
I settled on Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, David and Goliath. I figured that nonfiction would be a better bet than fiction for our maiden audiobook voyage, and I knew from reading Gladwell’s other stuff that there would likely be a lot of idea reinforcement going on, so paying white-knuckled attention at every given moment is not entirely necessary.
Once we made the highway, we turned the book on. It’s safe to say my wife was skeptical at best. She’s what I call a comfort reader. It usually takes a long time for her to try something new, but once she does, if she enjoys it, she’ll go back to it time and time again. The best example of this is the Harry Potter series, which she’s probably read front-to-back about five times.
Between Chicago and home, we only paused Gladwell’s narration while stopped for gas or food, or else to briefly discuss or clarify one of Gladwell’s points. The only times we spoke while the book was playing was to say, “Huh” or “Wow” or “Hmm.” Almost seven hours (but what felt like a much, much shorter period of time) later, we were home. My wife’s first thought? When will be able to finish the book? We still had about an hour to go.
The audiobook experience had turned my wife into a raving, gushing madwoman. She loved it. And not just the book itself, but the actual process of listening to it. I’m convinced that if I’d offered to just drive around for a while so she could finish up David and Goliath, she would’ve taken me up on it.
I have to say that I was surprised at how completely she had enjoyed the audio-reading. Like I said, she’s a comfort reader, and Gladwell wasn’t anywhere near her normal wheelhouse. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more sense it makes. As a young girl, my wife struggled as a reader, and she’s never totally shaken the effects of lagging behind so early on. I think she still feels like she’s not particularly “good at” reading, in terms of speed or the ability to encounter something complex for the first time and “get it” right away. Hence going back to what she already knows and loves when she bothers to read at all.
It can’t be easy to feel this way about reading and be married to a guy who is always either talking to you about what he’s reading or trying to convince you that you should read it. It hasn’t stopped me from doing those things, which is kind of a jerk move on my part, but every reader knows how great it is to talk about a book you love with somebody who loves it too. That’s what I’m (selfishly) pushing for when I talk up my latest read.
But David and Goliath? We’ve talked about it a ton. We shared the reading experience in a totally new and undeniably deep way. Audiobooks have made my wife excited about reading for the first time since I’ve known her. In fact, almost right after we got home from Chicago, she drove more than nine hours each way to Alabama to photograph the birth of her best friend’s child. Facing a solo drive of that length would’ve had her near despair two weeks ago, but now? She was excited. She had audiobooks. She was confident the time would fly.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself (too late though, right?), but I think that this has changed something that I thought was going to stay pretty much the same forever. I never thought the gap between my love of reading and my wife’s would ever really close. And I doubt it’ll ever be entirely eliminated (I’m just a bit more obsessive about books than she is, after all), but it’s unquestionably going to shrink, and I’m elated.
I’ll try my best not to put pressure on her (one of the surest ways to ensure she doesn’t read a book I love), but I hope that I won’t have to. I hope this is the beginning of an opportunity to share reading with my wife in a way I hadn’t thought very likely.
In fact, new experiences are already cropping up. Just this morning, my wife got legitimately angry that the audiobook she wanted wasn’t available through our local library. I’m pretty sure she wanted to hurt whoever had already checked it out. If that’s not a readerly rite of passage, I don’t know what is.