Our Reading Lives

Why I No Longer Read Physical Books

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 neha-patel.com

I used to read books like I breathed air. In fact, there was a time when I couldn’t even finish a meal without my nose in a book. And before you ask, yes, the logistics were…trying. Now don’t get me wrong, I still read books like my life depends on it; however, the reading journey and experience look way different than they used to. For one, I’ve scaled back the number of physical books I read immensely in favor of audiobooks.

To be honest, I resisted audiobooks for a long time. I just love how physical books feel in my hand and the whole ritual of curling up on my couch with some tea and immersing myself in a new world. Some of my favorite memories growing up are doing just this and then gushing about the stories to my friends the next day in school.

Alas, that’s not what my reader brain wants anymore. I wish I had a specific answer as to why the change; however, to the best of my knowledge, I can say that my transition to audiobooks was a long time coming. The catalyst for change was the pandemic. I live in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex, and lockdown commenced in March of 2020. I remember feeling okay for the first two weeks, but then cabin fever set in. It’s been well recorded now how lonely those days of lockdown were. I’m not usually an extrovert, but I do need human connection to feel like I’m part of the world. Books have always played a key role in helping me do this, but I was always able to talk about them with friends, which was now impossible.

So yes, during lockdown I got a library card and subscribed to Libby and Hoopla and basically listened to audiobooks nonstop during the day. Even when I was working, I had one on in the background to avoid my home from being too silent.

But it was jarring that I was able to adapt from physical books, which I was completely loyal to for my entire life, to audiobooks so quickly. Looking back, I realized that it all began when I finally got my first big girl job. While it was nice (though some might argue a basic human right) to finally have a livable wage with benefits, it also meant that I was officially learning what it meant to be a Millennial “grinding away.”

This meant that my big girl job came with a big girl commute. I quickly realized that I could turn this time-consuming nuisance into something truly productive. I originally listened to podcasts but couldn’t find myself enjoying listening to someone rant about cancel culture or green juice before I had my morning coffee. I was always curious about audiobooks and finally decided to listen to a few during my commute, and it certainly was a game changer. This was a few years before the pandemic, and audiobooks were only reserved for my commute. But I now see this time as when audiobooks began entrenching themselves in my life.

For one, there is nothing worse than getting out of bed early in the morning, putting on socially appropriate clothes, packing a sad salad, kissing my dogs goodbye, and heading to a job that I knew was making someone else a ton of money. My 35-minute reprieve listening to a good book was something I could actually look forward to before diving into the capitalistic grind and made those tired mornings not just bearable, but something to look forward to.

So when the pandemic hit, I already knew that audiobooks worked for me, especially when I needed something to look forward to or to prevent feeling lost.

Now, I could go into the pitfalls of capitalism, but that’s not the point here. It is sad that the original reading habits that had enriched so much of my life growing up were fundamentally changed. That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how great audiobooks have been for me. I’ve since changed jobs and while this new job is so much better for my work/life balance and only has a 10-minute commute, I’m now deep into the 9 to 5 grind and can’t see myself curling up with a physical book anymore. The pandemic taught me that audiobooks are just so much more convenient because I can listen to them while attending to other things.

Now that I’m back in the office (vaxed and boosted and masked), I’ve gone back to a normal routine without the comfort of being able to do chores and other things while home. As such, there’s always something for me to do when I get home from work, and I quickly realized that the only way I could read was to listen to audiobooks.

This journey has been years in the making, and I do appreciate how audiobooks allow me to keep books in my life. I am just saddened that I can only read books by working around my busy schedule.

My key goal this year is to make more time for physical books. And really make time for them. Going back to that habit of just curling up on my couch and just reading…and nothing else. Not reading while unloading the dishwasher. Books deserve so much more than that.