Reading is a treasured leisure activity of mine, but with the encroachment of technology I’ve always been something of a “purest.” I like the sound a new book spine makes when you first crack it open. I love the smell of books—old and new, dusty or crisp. I love the feel of crinkled pages and water stains on a well-worn library book leading me to wonder what the previous readers’ have experienced while enjoying its literary pleasures. But over the last few years, out of lack of space and money, I’ve slowly begun experimenting with new book forms. I started with eBooks. They don’t give me the same kind of flutter of childhood nostalgia as print books do. I can’t stare endlessly at their pretty color covers reminiscing about all my favorite parts of the story when I’ve finished reading. I can’t page through to the end of the chapter to test the width of pages left between my fingers to determine if I can finish now or if I should find a midway stopping point. But the more I read eBooks, the less quarrels I find with them. Sure they don’t have the same feel and nostalgia associated with print books, but I can read them anywhere. Wherever I have an app—my phone, my e-reader, my iPad, my MacBook—I can access my books, which lets me accomplish a lot more reading. I find myself with a few extra minutes before an appointment? I’m reading. When I take my lunch break, I’m reading. I don’t have to worry about lugging my 400 page novel with me everywhere or make important airplane packing decisions between my toiletries or all the novels I think I’ll have time to read on vacation. I’ve also found my reading speed has increased because I’ve cut down on the time I take flipping pages. With eBooks it’s just a simple swipe of my finger to go to the next page. I probably gain a whole second or two per page! (Although I have to admit when I go back to reading print books and find myself uselessly swiping a page to no avail I feel pretty silly). I also love all the eBook services they have out there that show you special deals on digital books so you can snag up a popular book or novel in a series for a discounted price. (Many times under $5). EBooks also make library checkouts super simple since you only need a computer and can easily tell what’s checked in or not. In short, eBooks have made reading so much easier and simpler for me. Yes, they don’t have the same physical presence that I love about print books, but they have so many other benefits that were previously incomprehensible before books entered the digital age. Once I had conquered eBooks, I decided to delve into another form of reading that I had an even greater aversion to: audiobooks. Audiobooks have, of course, been around much longer than eBooks, but I always saw them as some sort of cheat to reading. Why listen to someone in a silly voice read you the story when you could read it yourself with your own voices and accents. And you might miss the pretty illustrations at each chapter opening (e.g. the Harry Potter series).
I can remember listening to an audiobook for the first time in my friend’s car as her parents drove us to the mall. It was a chapter from Harry Potter, and it was an incredibly weird experience for me. If we talked we would miss the story. If we didn’t talk, then we’d be awkwardly sitting in silence together for the 30 minute drive made only slightly less awkward by the audiotape. Plus you could only ever listen to the story in the car so if you didn’t travel that much it could take you a month to listen to one book. I had no interest in that. My college boyfriend said that he and his family used audiobooks for long, cross-country trips—usually listening to a book from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The idea of this—though I love Tolkien—made me wonder how they stayed awake driving while listening to those tapes.
But with the increase of new technology—like apps for my phone and MacBook—that would allow me to listen to audiobooks anywhere, I thought, why not give it a try? I’ve been doing a lot of traveling over the last year or so and I struggle to stay awake with just music. Talk radio tends to help and I wondered if an interesting audiobook would be my perfect solution. Then I could stay awake and feel like I’m accomplishing something! (I don’t want all those hours of driving to go to waste when I have a 50 book-reading goal for 2015.) I started with “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater (one of my all-time favorite authors and a book I couldn’t find available in a library except in audiobook form), and within the first few hours of listening, I was hooked! It kept me awake and mentally engaged. It filled out the world for me with accents, tones, and pronunciations of mythical words. And I could take it with me anywhere. I could do chores at home while listening. I could listen before bed in the dark when my eyes were too tired to read, but I was still mentally awake. I could listen in my car on the way home from work when I would usually struggle to find a suitable radio station that played more than the “Top Hits” on a repetitive cycle that makes my brain melt. So far I’ve listened to two other books “Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray (which is an AMAZING audiobook with it’s “commercial breaks” and distinct voices for each of the characters) and “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher (which is based on the main character listening to audio tapes so it seems appropriate to listen to in audiobook form), and I’ve loved them. I can imagine that not every book would be good as an audiobook, but I feel pretty lucky to have picked ones that have worked out great so far.
So all in all, is a book still a book if it isn’t made of paper? Yes, yes it is. A book is an experience. It’s not just a physical object made from paper and ink. It has meaning far beyond what you can touch. Ebooks and audiobooks give readers different experiences but ones that have just as much meaning as a print book. You don’t have to pick one; you can have them all! The key is to just never stop reading. And the more technology there is, the more opportunities we have to read. And who can argue that?
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