On the Companionship of Audiobooks and Podcasts

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Megan Mabee


Megan Mabee has been filling notebooks with her story ideas and favorite book quotes since she first began reading. She enjoys board gaming, rewatching Miyazaki movies, and building Legos with her preschooler. Megan holds a Master of Library and Information Studies degree from UNC Greensboro and a Public Librarian Certification. Megan has worked in a college bookstore and high school library, and she now loves talking books in the public library where she works and as a Bibliologist at TBR: Tailored Book Recommendations.

There are so many benefits of audiobooks and podcasts, but my favorite would be the companionship I feel while listening to them. After a long week, I often reach Friday feeling like a marathoner hitting the wall, or a car driving into town on empty. Cousin Eddie’s RV skating on fumes into the Griswolds’ driveway in Christmas Vacation comes to mind. When my internal fuel light feels low, listening to audiobook narrators and podcasters fills me back up. My soul feels recharged. The sense of companionship, comfort, and ease, these storytellers and broadcasters plant within me is hard to put into words. Let me start from the beginning.

My Meet-Cute With Audiobooks

I first fell in love with audiobooks as a kid during long road trips. My family moved so many times that we often packed ourselves into the car for a long ride. Whether on our way to a new home or visiting friends and family, road trips became a regular routine. Even on vacations, we often opted for traveling by car over plane. As a family of six, I can’t blame my parents for wanting to save on airfare or avoid dealing with four children in an airport. Now a parent myself, the ordeal of getting my son through a plane ride is harrowing enough that I have a new level of respect for my parents.

During our many road trips, I’d squeeze myself into our minivan with my parents and three brothers. Leaning my head against the window, I’d watch time slide by as slowly as trailing wisps of clouds. As the second youngest in the family, I had not leveled up to backseat status. Instead, I’d set up camp in my usual middle row spot next to my little brother. Beneath my feet, I’d have ten favorite library books squashed on the floor (options are important). However, I could only focus on the printed word for so long before risking some degree of carsickness. If I wanted to switch to music, I could turn to my walkman. Even so, I could only handle the same ten tracks of The Academy Is for so long. Though I do still stand by the beauty of William Beckett’s voice.

yellow Volkswagen van on road
Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

Of course, our family did have each other as travel companions; I feel very lucky to have grown up in such a large family. On long trips though, conversation could only take us so far. Then, on one such road trip, my parents introduced us to books on tape, and my life would never be the same. It wasn’t just relief from the tedium of car rides that changed my life, but the discovery of the companionship audiobooks could provide. With a book on tape playing, I could curl up in my middle seat and forget my cramped surroundings. I’d let the narrator’s soothing voice wash over me and transport me to another world. The audiobook narrator had become a beloved new travel companion.

As time passed, audiobooks and podcasts have become only further enmeshed in my life. These days, I usually download audiobooks on my phone from my public library’s digital collection. Sometimes, I’ll check out the book on CD from the library too. Now that I have a place of my own, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the feeling of companionship I feel when I listen to these audiobooks and podcasts.

So, What Makes Audiobooks and Podcasts So Companionable?

Sure, audiobooks and podcasts offer a pleasant way to pass the time when you’re in the midst of mind-numbing traffic. And, as a toddler mom, I don’t know how I’d find the hours in a day to read all of the books I’d like to without audiobooks. However, it’s the feeling of companionship that keeps drawing me back to these forms of media. I’ve included a few reasons why below.

The Tone is Everything

It Sounded Better in My Head Book Cover

The tone of voice of a great audiobook narrator can make you feel like you’re having a chat with a friend. For example, while listening to Australian author Nina Kenwood’s YA romcom It Sounded Better in My Head, I couldn’t stop laughing. Natalie comes across as such a funny and relatable protagonist as she experiences the awkwardness of first love and the emotional and physical scars from life with a skin condition. Australian Katherine Littrell narrates the audiobook, and her voice really places you in Natalie’s shoes in Melbourne. I listened to this book, and from the very first page I felt like Natalie and I were friends.

The tone of an audiobook can also hold exceptional power when it’s read by the author themselves. When I read a book in print, I can feel companionship with the author by connecting with the messages I draw from their words. When I listen to an author read their own words aloud, that sense of companionship grows. This is especially the case when the author narrates a memoir about their own experiences.

Hunger a Memoir of My Body

Roxane Gay’s reading of her book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body is a perfect example of this. Listening to Roxane Gay narrate her words made me feel like she was speaking directly to me about her story. I felt as if I were lucky enough to be a student of hers attending one of her lectures. Hearing her voice the horrific trauma she endured, as well as the judgements about her body she faces everyday, felt like she was inviting me into a personal conversation with her. The listening experience of her audiobook has had a profound and lasting impact on me. Roxane’s powerful story has helped me find the right words to call out toxic cultural messages and harmful standards of beauty in our society.

The Sense of Routine

If I Were You Podcast Cover
Photo on Headgum

Along with tone of voice, the routine of listening to audiobooks and podcasts fills me with an incredible sense of companionship. Tuning back into a weekly podcast, or pressing play again on an audiobook feels like meeting friends for coffee again. One of my favorite podcasts is an advice podcast called If I Were You with Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld. I’ve followed the weekly episodes for years now, and they never fail to make me laugh. I love the inside jokes that have accumulated between Jake, Amir, and us fans over the years. It feels like belonging to a whole new community of friends.

The Comfort of Background Noise

As a mom, in between the moments of noisy toddler adventures, life at home can sometimes become pretty quiet. Having an audiobook or podcast playing in the background while I cook, or do chores fills me with a comforting sense of companionship. I feel less alone when I’m laughing from something funny one of my favorite podcasters said, or listening with bated breath to my audiobook narrator during a suspenseful moment. There’s also something to be said for having another adult voice to listen to when your day is filled with conversations with a toddler.

The Give and Take Relationship

Feelings of companionship from audiobooks and podcasts can also arise simply through the relationship that forms between the listener and the speaker. Audiobook narrators and podcasters are speaking out into the void in the hopes that someone will listen. As listeners, we are receiving those stories and giving the narrators and podcasters an audience to hear their words. Stories are brought to life this way, and new communities formed through this give and take relationship over the airwaves. The companionship we can all gain from these relationships is significant and meaningful.

A Few Final Thoughts…

The companionship I have soaked in from audiobooks and podcasts has made such a difference in my life. Every day I look forward to those small moments I can tune back in to what I’ve been listening to. These books and podcasts keep me company and fill my days with laughter, comfort, and joy. There are so many good books and podcasts out there, and I can’t wait to listen to more.

How have audiobooks or podcasts impacted your life? If you’d like to deep dive a bit further into this topic, check out the following: