Reading isn’t an every-now-and-then hobby or a rainy-day activity to me. It’s as normal as breathing. It’s like eating cake — sweet and exciting if you devour it all at once, decadent and tantalizing if you take it slowly, one bite at a time. When I open a book, it’s like the rest of the world completely shuts off, and I am transported into whatever I’m reading. And while holding a brand-new book, flipping through its pages, and taking a deep breath of its intoxicating smell is one of my favorite pastimes, I have to admit to an unpopular opinion: listening to audiobooks is just as an amazing experience as reading the physical book.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. In 2019, the Pew Research Center published a study showing that 20 percent of Americans reported listening to audiobooks in the last year — up from 14 percent in 2016. And it’s easy to see why. Audiobooks aren’t just old people reciting text in a monotone; they are professional actors and actresses who breathe life and drama into the stories.
Hear me out: they both have their strengths and work for different needs. Traditional books give you the opportunity to truly let your imagination run wild, as the words on the page become as large as your imagination will let them. But audiobooks, too, trigger the fantastical words written by authors, just maybe with the help of an highly trained actor. One of the first audio books I’ve ever listened to was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, narrated by Jim Dale. This Grammy-winning British actor is a pro, with a Guinness World Record for having recorded 147 different character voices in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. That’s pretty freaking impressive. When was the last time you watched a movie where one person played that many different characters? Exactly.
As I said before, reading is a beloved pastime for me, so diving in and giving a physical book all of my attention is a welcome experience. But sometimes, I want to enjoy that same feeling when I have other things distracting me. I can listen to an audiobook in the car, while folding laundry, or during a bath — so I never have to (metaphorically) put the book down. There’s nothing like getting lost in a good mystery or steamy romantic scene to make rush-hour traffic go by faster!
Another great thing about audiobooks is that they are more accessible for people with dyslexia or other learning disorders. Dyslexia, which the International Dyslexia Association estimates about 15-to-20 percent of the population has, can make it harder for a person to read. (My sister says the letters wiggle and jump around the page, giving her a headache when she tries to focus on them.) So, when you listen to an audiobook, you get the full reading experience without limitations. Even if you don’t have trouble reading, you still may have trouble concentrating after a long day staring at a screen for work, finding enough time in between errands, or feeling engaged with the material. An audiobook can help with a lot of those problems, as listening to a book can be a calming experience that makes you feel as if a friend is telling you a story.
And while reading a physical book can be a wonderful way to have spend some time alone, listening to an audiobook can be a great way to share that experience with a friend or loved one. My husband and I love watching movies and TV shows together, but he usually turns to his phone when I’m reading (or worse — tries to talk to me). But listening to an audiobook together is actually a bonding experience. We can talk about the characters and stories together because we are hearing it at the same time. He’s actually given quite a few of my favorite authors a try simply because I’ve played it for him on audiobook.
I often tell people that reading for me is like seeing a movie play out in my head, starring me as whoever the main character is. I fall in love with the cute guy at the bar or the mysterious woman on the subway. I feel excited, scared, embarrassed, and sad as the protagonist works his or her way through the plot line. Murderers and villains make me genuinely angry; the good guys make me feel a righteous sense of justice. I have cried, laughed out loud, and have felt actual annoyance at certain character’s decisions while reading. The same thing happens when listening to an audiobook. The characters still come alive in my head exactly the same way.
Words are important, no matter what form they’re delivered in. Soak them up through a paperback or via headphones, and your life will definitely be enriched.
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