April 13, 2017

Over the last few years I have fallen in love with audio books. At first I felt as though I were betraying my beloved print books, sort of like I did when I read my first book on Kindle then downloaded the Kindle app onto my iPad which has become my constant companion. (I tuck it under my arm wherever I go, almost afraid to leave it behind.) Like a good Baptist, southern girl, if I think about it long enough, I can drum up a bit of guilt for this betrayal, with not one but two new technologies.

I have begun to feel, though, that embracing the experience of listening to a book is actually not an act of disloyalty–quite the opposite really. A while back I realized that I had fallen into the bad habit of skimming (!) even the best of books. Life, and its nonstop hurry, had finally bled over into my longest standing form of relaxion and peace. I was rushing through a gourmet meal to get to a cheese sandwich. I was disrespecting the authors by looking right past their carefully crafted sentences to get to their plot points.  But when I listen to a book, I am most often in my vehicle with only the road and the beauty of the countryside to distract me, so I become absorbed in the words. I visualize the imagery. I experience the story like a four-year-old curled in her mama’s lap. How could such immersion be a betrayal?

As I was driving down the road, listening to Commonweath by Ann Patchett, it dawned on me. Listening to a novel could be exactly the best way to experience it. I couldn’t rush through it. In the car, on the long road through the countryside, I could see the beauty of the seasons changing and focus on the story unfolding from the speakers. I couldn’t skim over one sentence to get to the next. I had to take in one word, one scene, one chapter at a time. I even developed the habit of turning off the story in traffic so I wouldn’t miss anything.  And isn’t this how most of us originally experience the art of the story–through the loving voice of another?

So I’m going to rid myself of guilt where reading is concerned. When it comes down to it, how can any way of appreciating another’s hard work be a betrayal? I’ll enjoy story time in the car, and when I sit to read–be it paper or Kindle–I'll make a conscious effort to read more slowly and savor the turns of phrase, the intricacies of plot, and the depths of the characters.