The Joys of Audiobooks

by Stephanie Whetstone

My son is always wearing headphones. Whether he is on the computer, taking out the trash, or walking around the block, his ears are covered by black, oval puffs, connected by a headband. The blue light on the edge shows that he is wirelessly connected to some device.

“Take those off,” I say, waving my arms to get his attention.

“Huh?” he says, then frees one ear so he can hear me. But he’s not listening to music or a podcast. He’s listening to a book.

I have extracted him from another world, one he can slip into any time.

“You should try it!” he says, but I shake my head. I am a reader, a lover of the page. Still, I do not want to seem old and irrelevant, and I know this is a test my son is presenting. “It’s great!” he says. “I read all the time!”

I am a “book person.” I love the physical object of the book, the intimacy of reading. But let’s be honest: I often read at night, just before going to sleep, and it takes me a while to get through a book. My son “reads” over 50 books a year.

“Okay, I’ll try it,” I say, sure that I will hate it. I don’t want to buy digital books from Audible, like my son does. It seems odd to buy something that is not an object. Then no one will see know who I am by looking at the books on my shelves. There will be no bookshelves, no public display of my intellect. Isn’t this part of being a “book person?” Of course, I realize how vain this is. I will buy one and try it, I think. But is this really “reading?” Isn’t it somehow “cheating?”

I think of my visually impaired neighbor, who “reads” more than anyone I know. I read a great article on the subject by a visually-impaired writer I know. I also remember that the ancient Greeks told their great epics in the oral tradition, long before they were on the page.

About the same time, a friend and I are walking, and she mentions that she gets audiobooks from the Princeton University Library Dixon Ebooks Collection and the Princeton Public Library and listens to them while she walks. I am shocked. A person my age, listening and moving, while she could be sitting still, proverbial cup of tea beside her, reading. What a great idea! You don’t often fall asleep while walking. “You need to download an app, like Libby,” she says.  Then you can listen to library books for free!” I download the user-friendly app, connect with my library card information, and voila! I am connected to two massive collections wherever I am. I am now devouring books like candy, like I used to read them when I was a girl and had all the time and quiet in the world. I am hooked on audiobooks!

In recent months, with libraries closed due to COVID-19, audiobooks have been an especially wonderful gift. I can get that new novel in the comfort and safety of my own home. Or, I can at least put a hold on it, since many others in our community have learned about the joys of listening to literature. I can be read to, which is one of my earliest happy memories. Anyone who has read to a child knows the joy in that.

Now I walk around like my friend and my son, ears protected, gaining steps, washing dishes, working in the garden, transported to another world, which right now seems the best way to travel.