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My First Time With Audiobooks: Or, What I Listen To When I’m Running

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Matt Grant

Staff Writer

Matt Grant is a Brooklyn-based writer, reader, and pop culture enthusiast. In addition to BookRiot, he is a staff writer at LitHub, where he writes about book news. Matt's work has appeared in Longreads, The Brooklyn Rail,, Huffpost, and more. You can follow him online at or on Twitter: @mattgrantwriter

I never liked audiobooks very much. I’m a very easily distracted person. I find it hard to pay attention to anything other than music when I’m doing two things at once. Even now, when I try to have the television on “in the background” while I’m working, I never get much done. Whenever the TV is off, my productivity goes through the roof. I was just never a great multi-tasker.


I like reading physical books because it focuses me. There are only the words on the page to pay attention to and nothing else. I first tried audiobooks in college, when one of the early Harry Potters came out on tape (yes…tape). I don’t even remember which one it was, but it was a book I’d read before, and so easy to pay attention to. If I got lost my thoughts while listening, I always knew where I was in the story.

Audiobooks had been around for years but were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today. Probably because they cost a fortune and you had to carry them around thick, plastic carrying cases. They weren’t exactly mobile-friendly.

Of course, that’s all changed. Phones now fit hundreds, if not thousands, of audiobooks. You can take them in the car, on the subway, on planes, or on long runs. Which is how I came around to trying them out again.

I’ve been a runner for years. I’ve never gone more than once a week. The only other race I’ve ever participated in was a 10K last April. Running has been more like a hobby for me, but this year, I decided to take it up a notch. Or rather, several notches. This year, in what was apparently a fit of madness, I decided to sign up for the Brooklyn Half Marathon.

::holding knees, rocking back and forth::: What have I done? What have I done?

What became immediately clear as I looked into training regimens was that I needed to up my game and start running several times a week. This increased my weekly workout time from 30–40 minutes to several hours. The next thing that became clear was that I needed something new to listen to. Usually, I like to listen to podcasts on runs. For me, running is not the same as multitaskingmusic didn’t focus me enough. I found that listening to podcasts helped pass the time much better than music.

And yet, after having so many hours to fill, I started going through my usual podcast supply much faster. My favorite shows don’t get posted more than once a week. What’s more, I wanted to find something I could really dive intoa long, meandering listen that could be my running companion as I spent the next several months training. Audiobooks seemed to be the way to go.

So I downloaded Audible and found a complimentary copy of a book I’ve wanted to read since it came outH is for Hawkavailable. Read by the author Helen Macdonald, I immediately relaxed into her comforting voice and charming prose. The story of learning to train a goshawk as she mourns the death of her father, the book has emotional heft, and I can almost imagine that she is telling her story only to me.

I realized that I have been missing out on an entire world of connecting with books in a way that’s different from so many others. An audiobook seems much more intimate than reading to myself. I get distracted and find my thoughts wandering. But somehow I always pull myself back into her story.

Now I find that I’m actually looking forward to running. I want to get back into the story, and I’m motivated to run longer when I get caught up in a chapter. There’s a whole world of audiobooks out there and I can’t wait to try out more. Maybe next I’ll listen to What I Talk About When I Talk About Running next. That’d be so meta.

What do you like to listen to when you’re working out? Any great audiobooks you’d recommend?