A number of years ago, I began my illustrious side career as taxi driver. I shuttled my kids to school, various music lessons, drama, hundreds of soccer and baseball practices, student council meetings and friends’ houses. The numerous hours allocated to driving substantially cut into my personal reading time, and one-half of every roundtrip was spent alone in the car. After having exhausted every last FM radio station and my expansive iTunes library multiple times, I somewhat reluctantly turned to audio books for sanity and entertainment.
There were fits and starts with this new form of story consumption. I was skeptical that I could pay attention to a story while driving, and I struggled when certain readers had voices and cadences that didn’t keep my attention, or worse, downright irritated me. But over time I tweaked my selections, and I have come to embrace this form of reading. I actually look forward to driving now!
It was a huge surprise to me to find that I remember plot and subplot structures, character flaws and descriptions, themes, clues, and imagery far better with an audio performance than when I read a paper version of the same story. I believe there are a few reasons for this.
First, I can’t jump ahead. Ever read a suspense novel and can’t stand the thought that the character might be killed off? And then you find yourself peeking at who’s still alive on the last pages? Well, guess what? You can’t do that with an audio book! It’s maddening, but because I have to stay firmly in the current section of the story, it makes me acutely aware of how the author is teasing the story line and emotionally engaging me as a reader.
Second, you read (or hear) every last word. There is no speed-reading or skimming or “let me see what’s going on at the beginning of the next chapter” sorts of cheating. By noting adjective and verb choices as well as passages of descriptions you love and those you might find tedious, you’re able to see what works for the story and how those techniques may or may not apply to your own writing.
Third, pauses are emphasized. I can (and need to) shut off the recording for a few minutes between sections to analyze how the author has wrapped up phrases, chapters or complete sections. This reflection helps me discover how the author has left me hanging until she presents the next morsel for me to consume.
If you’ve never tried audio books, here are a few hints to help you get started:
- Pull out that list of recommended reading you’ve compiled from conferences, friends, and book reviews and select three or four books that are available in audio form. Request all of them through your library loan service.
- Give each audio book only 5-10 minutes to see if you can enjoy the reader’s performance of the story. If you don’t like the reader, you’ll hate listening to the story. (You can go back and read a paper or electronic copy of that book instead!)
- Once you’ve listened to a few novels, start a list of readers you love. I’ll listen to any story told by Simon Vance, Jenna Lamia, and John McDonough, to name a few. But it’s important to generate your own list based on your preferences. Also, be sure to ask around. I’ve collected reader names from friends, as well as my local librarian who also enjoys audio books.
- Designate certain books for the car. I have an active imagination (I’m a writer, remember?) so I can’t read scary things before I go to bed. Since this is when most of my reading occurs, I save all thrillers and suspense novels for daytime driving!
So whether you’re painting a room, taking a solo cross-country trek, or driving in circles dropping your kids at various activities, expand your reading time in the new year!
Good luck and happy reading!