In high school I envied people in jail because I imagined what it would be like to have all the time in the world to read with hardly any interruptions. Back then, I burned through novels in short order, especially during the summers. It was a philosophical quandary among friends to debate which was most gratifying: watching movies, playing video games, or reading. Ultimately, nothing beats a good book.
After high school, my available time to read for enjoyment grew more scarce and it became something I less frequently did. A recent study showed that 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book after they move on and the numbers are even worse for college graduates. After I began my undergraduate studies, college textbooks took precedence over personal novels and after studying for several hours I didn’t feel like I could physically look at another word. By the time I graduated, I read much less for recreation than before I grew into adulthood. It was always easier to turn on the newest episode of “24” or “Lost” than crack open a book at the end of an exhausting day — and this was before Netflix binge watching was a thing. The irony is that I continued to visit my favorite used bookstore and kept adding titles to my bookshelf, figuring I’d get around to reading them at some point. For many books still on my shelf, that time never came. The reason I kept buying books was because on some level, I still recognized that books were superior to TV with the downside that they were much more labor intensive. In a recent article, Melissa Chu explains why this is, ”TV presents ideas and characters on a surface level. Shows don’t have the luxury of describing or explaining situations in great detail, since they need to keep viewers visually entertained. TV programs are fast-paced in order to keep people from switching. Reading, on the other hand, is a more proactive form of entertainment and learning. The reader has to concentrate on what’s being said and to think through various concepts. When we read, we’re forced to use our imaginations to fill in the gaps. Reading also has the advantage of being able to describe everything in greater depth. While television is mostly composed of dialogue between characters, reading can walk readers through scenes, characters’ thoughts, and provide lengthier commentary.”
It wasn’t until after I started a job in 2007 that compelled me to commute 3 hours per day that I accidentally discovered audiobooks. Before this, I had kept the radio locked on NPR or listened to music to match the flavor of my mood.The discovery of audiobooks (which I had previously assumed were for a more senior demographic) enabled me to quickly complete books I otherwise would never have opened. I listen to books faster than I read them and I began to finish books with a rapid frequency reminiscent of my former self. In the process, my preferred literary medium transitioned from a paperback to an audiobook.
Compared to reading it in print, it is a transcendent experience to listen to “On Writing” written and narrated by Stephen King as he talks about getting hit by a car while he was out for a walk. He describes being hit so hard that it shattered his leg and the glasses he was wearing flew off his head and wound up in the front seat of the car that hit him. The frames were destroyed, but the lenses were preserved and he still wears them today. It is a visceral first hand account. I remember listening to “Enders Game” for the first time during a road trip to California. I was genuinely annoyed at having to stop for gas and even when we got to our planned stop in Las Vegas because I was so immersed in the story. Much has been said about how ineffective multi-tasking is, but reading while driving or running is truly multi-tasking in it’s truest definition. And if you think listening to audiobooks is cheating, let this article disabuse you of that notion.
I come across articles and blogs all the time that I have the best intentions of reading, but somehow never get around to it after I’ve saved them to my Pocket extension. I got to thinking, “What if there was a way to listen to these articles and blog posts as if they were audiobooks? This was how Socread was born; a podcast devoted to exploring books, articles, and noteworthy blogs.
For many of us, the future of our reading is in listening. Even today, a lot of quality content is only available in print and consequently, many of us don’t get a great deal of valuable information that would otherwise enrich our lives. If you’ve fallen away from reading, listen to an audiobook or podcast to be better informed, more intellectually engaged, and more thoughtfully entertained.