Balancing Audiobooks and Podcasts During Quarantine

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Neha Patel

Staff Writer

Neha is an editor living in Dallas, TX who reads a little more than her optometrist would like. She works fulltime as a medical editor but also loves proofreading and copyediting all types of fiction on the side as well as conducting sensitivity/authenticity reads for Indian characters and Hinduism. When she's not reading or editing, she's writing her fantasy novel, bookstagramming at @bookishdesi, or collecting records. More at

There really is something about living in an age of decisions. In the past, if we wanted to read a book, we had to trek to our indie bookstore and make a well-deserved purchase.

But with the digital age in full swing, we can now listen to our books whenever the reading muse strikes. Alternatively, if we wanted to listen to the radio, we needed a clunky box or a car. But now, podcasts have streamlined that entire process for listeners.

Although this access to content makes life easier, it has definitely given me its ups and downs during the quarantine, forcing me to balance what content I listen to and when.

Listening During Quarantine

Although I’m an introvert at heart, I loved going into my office and working alongside my colleagues. The general sounds of the office were perfect for me since I truly enjoy being connected to others without actually connecting. But when the lockdown began, that pleasant background noise was gone. In its place, I decided to finally take advantage of my library subscription and install Libby on my phone as well as diversifying my podcasts.

My initial strategy at the beginning of the quarantine was to marathon my audiobooks and podcasts whenever I had downtime or just needed background noise while working. Unfortunately, after two months of listening to audiobooks and podcasts almost nonstop, I was burnt out.

My solution? To stop marathoning and to instead go back and forth between audiobooks and podcasts in shorter bursts to remain engaged. I know I’m strange, but I now need both throughout the day to mitigate the effects of self-isolation.

Strange? Absolutely. Necessary? Oh yes.

Loving Audiobooks

I fell in love with books the second I knew how to read. The magic was immediately apparent to me, and I felt like anything was possible when I was reading. Unfortunately, my sister didn’t fall in love quite so easily as me.

My mother was worried and beseeched a librarian for advice on how to get her youngest to love books. The librarian’s sage advice was to rent out some books on tape and make my sister follow along with the physical copy of the book. Relieved, my mother did just that and (like magic) my sister too fell under the thrall of books.

Although I myself didn’t listen to books on tape as a child, I do now listen to audiobooks. The difference? I don’t need to lug around the clunky tapes or use an equally clunky cassette player to listen to my books. Instead, audiobooks are right there on my smart device. The convenience has changed how I read and has enabled me to listen to books that normally would’ve taken me years to get to.

Loving Podcasts

I never religiously listened to podcasts until the lockdown began in Texas back in March. In the legendary pre-pandemic world, I generally reserved podcasts for mornings. I woke up at 7:00 AM every day and listened to my daily news podcasts such as What A Day and The Daily while getting ready.

However, when the pandemic hit, I found myself listening to podcasts throughout the day, especially during my daily walk. The episodic nature of podcasts made jumping around within one channel seamless, and I also found tuning in and out to be fairly easy. Unlike with audiobooks, I was okay not rewinding a podcast if I missed a few minutes.

What made podcasts even more appealing during the pandemic was that any topic I wanted to learn about was a simple search away. For example, I decided that I wanted to learn more about wine over the summer (it’s been a tough year). I immediately subscribed to The Wine Enthusiast Podcast and spent a blissful month learning to use fancy words such as tannin and terroir. Unfortunately, my bank account (and liver) started yelling at me, so I stopped my at-home taste tests. But still, I loved the convenience of learning something new.

Podcasts give me the freedom to select exactly what I want to learn and create my own lesson plan a la cart style. Of course, there are some podcasts that are best listened to in chronological order (e.g. The British History Podcast and The History of the English Language Podcast), but you can still forgive yourself for skipping around a little. Podcasts have perfectly balanced me out whenever I needed a break from a particularly long audiobook.

The Value of an Audiobook

Unless it’s a reference manual, most books are written to be read in sequential order. Audiobooks follow this same stringent format. Unlike podcasts, it’s hard to skip around while listening to audiobooks. The design of an audiobook makes it perfect for long-term listening, especially if it’s a longer story that’ll take more than 10 hours to read and will encourage you to fully immerse yourself in the world.

Historically, audiobooks have been expensive to listen to. I myself only ever rented the cassettes (i.e. books on tape) from my local library when I was growing up. Eventually, the process of lugging around the tapes became too cumbersome (remember, this was during the Mesolithic before the apps), so I preferred physical books.

Fast forward more than a decade later to this past March, when I finally took advantage of my library card and registered with Overdrive. The very first audiobook I listened to was Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I had been wanting to read Ng’s novel for over a year because it had been invading my Instagram feed. The audiobook didn’t disappoint, and I was hooked.

During the pandemic, audiobooks have allowed me to diversify my reading. As such, I discovered a love of memoirs, particularly ones narrated by their authors. This gave me the personal connection to the story while retaining the storytelling magic that only books can provide.

The Value of a Podcast

I have always found that I listen to podcasts to feel like I’m in a conversation with the hosts. Yes, I love their content, but I really love the experience of listening to them more. In fact, during my daily walks this past summer, I preferred to listen to my favorite podcasts as opposed to my favorite audiobooks because doing so made me feel like I’m part of a friend group since I couldn’t see my actual friends.

For example, a recent find for me was The Woke Desi podcast. It was the first time I felt seen as an Indian American. Yes, there are plenty of books written by Indian Americans, but The Woke Desi podcast gave me the chance to form a relationship with the hosts, albeit a one-sided one. Books tends to be polished, so while an audiobook has that bookish magic, it wouldn’t have given me the personal connection that comes with hosts talking off the cuff.

Podcasts vs. Audiobooks: It’s All About the Magic

Speaking of magic, the quarantine frustrated me because I slowly began to lose the magic I felt whenever I read (or listened) to a book. That magic was one of the few things that has kept me going through all the rough patches in my life, and I refused to lose it, especially during a rough year like 2020. Podcasts gave me the edge I needed. Their short bursts of wisdom and entertainment got my brain to realign with the written word.

I always thought it was strange that my sister needed books on tape to fall in love with stories, but now I get it. Reading is an inherently solitary act. It’s lonely. And the pandemic has exacerbated that loneliness. Podcasts made me feel connected and like I’m amongst friends. They’re the perfect faux social reprieve I needed before diving back into my (audio)books.