Question from a reader -
You strongly recommend audio books but I have a bit of trouble seeing myself listening to them regularly.
It just seems vastly inefficient compared to books, and even though it has the same content (perhaps even more through intonation), I feel as though I lose a lot of context when I listen to or watch things instead of reading them - perhaps a different part of the brain is being used? I think the exception to this is motivational work such as Brian Tracy (who I dismissed without reason as some sort of get-rich-quick schemer but gave a listen after your recommendation and enjoyed). Actually, I think conversational style books such as Gladwell's tone, or the research-heavy but not-too-deep books might work well as audio so I may have answered my own question.
Anyway, how did you make the jump to more audio books? What great books switched you over? Why are you such an audio book fan (all the extra books is a good argument, but I feel like there's a lost cost of all the books I now won't read and would hate to risk the greatness of a good book, just as one should usually read the novel before watching the movie).
Okay, this is a common question, observation, and mistake I see. You're thinking "audiobook = replacement for book"... but it's not. Audiobooks are a replacement for staring at your shoes while you're waiting to clear customs and immigration at the airport, while you're in line at the grocery store, or while you're going for a walk or otherwise running errands.
It took me a long time to warm up to audio - I had it strongly recommended to me two years before I finally got onboard. Now I'm kicking myself for going those two years without audio. It's been one of the easiest huge-positive-impact gains on my life.
I mean, it's huge. 20-50 extra books a year that fills up useless dead time in your life? Awesome. Nowdays, waiting for someone in front of me who is dragging ass at the post office to hurry and finish isn't quite as bad.
But you're right, certain books lend themselves to audio and others don't. The absolutely best use for audiobooks - and where they're superior to paper books - are with books of inconsistent pace and quality.
There's some books with excellent chapters and important points that drag and are quite boring, or excessively technical, or excessively detailed at certain points.
History books can be particularly guilty of this. A lot of historians really love a couple of elements of a place's history, but they feel like they have to cover everything if they do an overview. For instance, "Lost to the West," about the Eastern Roman Empire ("Byzantine Empire") has some extraordinary parts.
But it also drags at times. The great thing about audiobooks is you can kind of zone out when it's dragging, and tune back in when it's picking up. There's lots of the books that I straight up wouldn't be able to get through a pretty rough chapter because I know have more enjoyable things to read. On audio, you just listen through it as it throws too many names and dates and whatever at you with a not-so-good pace, but then it's on to the next chapter. The book keeps moving - you don't have to move your eyes and get comprehension to keep moving forwards like you would with a regular book.
The flipside is true as well - there's a lot of great, nuanced books I wouldn't want on audio. I love the Sherlock Holmes short stories, but I think they'd be much been on paper book than audio. So absolutely, you have to pick books conducive to audio.
But it's an exceptional format for getting more books in. I'd recommend you start with:
*Books where the points are semi-independent of each other, so if you miss a little bit you're okay
*Books you want to read, but the reading comprehension would be too taxing at certain parts to keep going
*Books with inconsitent pace and quality (many science and history books are guilty of this)
And then, you don't replace paper reading. I still read written books a lot, and think they're excellent. But audiobooks aren't a competitor with paper books - they're a competitor for standing in line staring at forwards blankly. Having some knowledge playing in your ears is much better than standing there in a haze.
So yeah, I love audiobooks. Audible is actually the only entertainment service I pay for every month - it's that good. Works internationally, super easy, high quality, and dirt cheap for good audio. But regardless of where you get your audio, go get some - it's a game changer. 50 more books a year! While you're normally be staring at your shoes!
Don't forget listening to great fiction audio books.
I'm currently listening to Cold Fire by Dean Coontz, and it's just simply so engaging. The voice narrattors are so good, it's like I'm watching a movie, but having my own imagination fill in the blanks.
I wouldn't have read this book otherwise. It's great for me, because I take the subway and bus, home, and it's usually too crowded to hold a book or even a kindle.
You forgot one: driving. Audiobooks can save a brutal commute, and add pleasure to a leisurely drive down the street. I have found that a great narrator can further enhance a good book, and bring up the quality of a mediocre book. Some great, engaging audiobooks to try, that I believe bring "something more" to already good books:
-Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett, read by Anna Fields
-The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, read by 4 terrific narrators
-The Book of Joe, by Jonathon Tropper. I've listened to the Tom Cavanagh version several times, but I hear the Scott Brick one is great too.
I listen for pleasure rather than information, and I find that little concentration is required when listening to fiction, while more concentration is required when listening to nonfiction.
Long-time listener, first time caller, love the show.
Your argument about using audiobooks to fill up "dead time" is interesting, but I'm not sure that the exercise itself is a good idea. As Scott Adams wrote recently, a certain amount of boredom and nothing-to-do-ness is really useful for creativity - with nothing to do, the brain wanders, goes down paths it hasn't taken yet, invents, and to a certain extent rejuvenates itself.
Of course, it very much depends on what else you're doing in dead time. Having experimented with listening to music whilst travelling, whether on a bus, plane or walking, I'd personally strongly recommend keeping that time as dead - I tend to get a lot of my best ideas, both business and creative, during those interstitial times. There's something about travelling, moving forward literally, and also having no demands on you at that time - you're just being carried somewhere.
Conversely, I suspect audiobooks would be awesome for the times you mention like waiting to clear customs. Any time you're going to be shuffling your feet and mentally repeating "hurry up, hurry up", that's not terribly useful time,. and I, certainly, could probably better use that time with a good book.
I suspect these times vary person-to-person - it may be that other people get loads of useful thinking done in queues, but get very irritated with travelling. But I'd certainly advise observing what your brain does with dead time before consigning it entirely to the "not useful" pile.
Having just disagreed there, I'll conclude by saying - great article, and thanks for the Audible recommendation. That's a pretty good deal.
When my english skills for reading ( I'm Brazilian) where not so good, I used to listen to audio books. Why? Because if I lost a word in a book, I would worry about the meaning of that word, and it will stuck my reading.
On the other hand, in the audio books, if a word that I did not know the meaning appear, I just keep going listening and try to understand the 'big picture'. It helped me a lot, and my listening comprehension became very good.
I like to listen to Shakespeare's Sonnet as an audio version. And recently finished "A Little History of the World " by E.H. Gombrich, which is just as you said, very painful to read on the books, but quite easy to finish and memorize by listening. It really all depends. Some books after listening I might even go ahead and read the stories again, such as "The Red and the Black".
Listening books constrain the imagination, just like how watching movies, no matter how sophisticated the movie is, would not be as inspiring as reading.
With that said, certain books such as "Les Miserables" still manage to move me into tears via just sound. - Truly masterpiece!
A common question, indeed - "I don't know what I'm doing with my life, can you advise something?"
Well, perhaps I can. I got a nice email from a reader, and I wrote a long reply. If you're in a hurry, skim down to "Okay. So here’s my thoughts" which is where the pragmatic guidelines start - I'll bold it so you can start there, if you like.
First, I'd like to say that I've really enjoyed reading your blog. It has so much insightful and enlightening material that I've gone back to reread and try to really absorb some of the ideas you have. I've been meaning to contact you but I felt a bit intimidated, to be honest. I'd really like to hear your advice.
I'm about a year removed from high school, attending community college and I've just been floating around, doing general education courses and I've yet to really decide on a major. I don't really have any particular talents or strong interests in one field or another.
I was a pretty good reader as a kid. My mom recounts me sitting in the corner reading in pre-school instead of doing whatever other pre-schoolers did. In Kindergarten, I was praised for reading more books than any other kid. Throughout the elementary school summers, I dominated the summer reading programs in all the neighboring cities.
Eventually, I started to realize that all of these books are the same. Sometime when I was 10, I started to realize every book seemed to be about some derpy kid who eventually overcame his fears and saved the world, or at least his friend group.
I had the intellectual ability to read YA and adult books at the time, but not the emotional maturity. So, I hit a standstill.
Time passes on, I get into Classics (aka: any title whose name being uttered made me sound smart). I got a Kindle and subsequently got into Indie trash, at one point reading one book per day. Then the Kindle broke and I had no clue what to do.
I went through a massive overhaul on how I thought about reading, which leads us to how I read today.