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If you say listening to an audiobook is “reading” — you may as well say watching someone else play a video game is playing it. You are not the one in the driver’s seat — you were there when the action happened but you didn’t do any of it — don’t take credit for it.
The primary reason behind this harsh conclusion was that while listening to an audiobook, the emotions the reader feels are not based solely on the book’s content, but also on the narrator’s performance. Sure, but how is that wrong? I believe the narrator’s performance enhances the author’s words and adds more layers to them.
The critical difference between reading and listening is that reading is something you do, where listening is something that happens to you. Reading is an act of engagement. Audiobooks, on the other hand, make progress with or without your participation.
This is true. But then again, reading and listening are different forms based on the same work. I have listened to audio versions of books which I wouldn’t have read if I had to buy a book and engage with the written material.
Of course, I cannot claim that I have retained each and every word the narrator said, but I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about topics and storylines I normally wouldn’t have.
Listeners can derive a lot of information from a speaker’s inflections or intonations. Sarcasm is much more easily communicated via audio than printed text. And people who hear Shakespeare spoken out loud tend to glean a lot of meaning from the actor’s delivery, he adds.
No wonder audiobooks are steadily gaining in popularity. According to a report by Forbes, one in three book lovers has consumed an audiobook in the past year, with most of them using their audiobooks as a companion while completing chores including cooking, driving and exercising.
As a reader, I can say that my introduction to the magic of audiobooks has changed my experience of reading and made me love literature even more. This article is about just that: why every reader should listen to audiobooks and how it can improve their lives.
If you are a beginner and haven’t ventured into the world of audiobooks yet, here is something I have written that might be of help-
1. Uplifts Your Mood
Audiobooks act as amazing mood uplifters, especially when you are engaged in a menial chore you don’t enjoy much.
When I used to live alone, I had my earphones plugged in while I was cooking, cleaning, or ironing clothes. These tasks did not demand my undivided attention, and an audiobook was the best way to distract myself from how miserable I was while performing them.
You can try this too. Pick an audiobook the next time you have to do something you wouldn’t derive much pleasure from. This way,
- Your mood won’t be affected thinking how much you hate what you are doing.
- You will be able to concentrate better on the audiobook because your brain wants an escape.
- You will find a magnificent way of multi-tasking, without actually investing too much time or effort.
2. Helps You Sleep Better
According to a study carried out by Harvard Medical School, mindfulness meditation — a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment — can help in relaxing the mind and improving your quality of sleep.
I have a theory that listening to an audiobook before going to sleep at night is akin to meditation. Hear me out-
- Audiobooks help you shake off the pressures of the day while calming the mind.
- You let go of all emotions and thoughts and only observe the words of the narrator as they appear, without getting carried away by them.
- All your attention is focussed on one point: the narrator’s voice. Everything else is immaterial.
- When your mind is free of thoughts, you can take a deep breath, and be aware of how your chest swells as your lungs fill up, and how the bed seems to hug you tighter each time you exhale.
Ever since I discovered the magic of audiobooks, I have always played one while lying in bed at night, and they have helped me immensely. I find it easier to drift off to sleep, without unnecessary thoughts cluttering my mind.
They have also helped me be more mindful of my bodily sensations and be more relaxed. I am sure every reader who has slept with an audiobook would say the same. Maybe that’s why all audiobook apps have a “Sleep Timer” where you can set it to ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes depending on the time you take to go to sleep.
A consistent bedtime routine, and making sufficient time to relax, is the key to achieving a good night’s sleep. Listening to an audiobook is one way to wind down before bed as it helps you to switch off.
3. Makes Your Journeys More Bearable
When I am travelling, I am always torn between wanting to make the best use of my time (by reading a book or watching a movie) and making the best of the journey (by looking at the scenery or observing the people around me).
In addition, even if I wanted to do something productive while travelling, it wouldn't be easy. I had tried reading books on my Kindle, but a bumpy ride makes that difficult. Watching movies is a better option, but the full cinematic experience is reduced on the relatively smaller screen of my phone.
Audiobooks came as a perfect solution to my dilemma.
With my earphones plugged in and a fantastic movie of sorts playing in my head, I did not have to worry about missing out on the road’s beauty.
Listening while travelling is like enjoying a cool drink in the hot sun. Each experience elevates the other. And when you listen to a great audiobook, podcast or show set in the place that you’re travelling to, the experience is doubly enriching.
4. Saves You Money
A problem that every book lover will be able to relate to is this: no matter how many unread books you have on your bookshelf, new releases by your favourite authors will ALWAYS entice you.
Of course, it’s not possible or practical to buy every new release, especially when you don’t trust yourself on how quickly you’ll be able to complete them.
This problem is solved when you get a subscription to an audiobook application like Audible, Storytel or Scribd. You can get a free trial for 30 days on these apps and see the kind of quality they have for yourself.
Here are some perks of having a subscription-
- Since most reputed apps have the latest collection of audiobooks, you won’t have to worry about separately purchasing a new release again.
- The wait-time between buying a book and starting to read it is reduced to zero as you no longer have to bide your time until your book is delivered to your doorstep.
- Audible, Storytel and Scribd have good quality audiobooks with superb narrators (featuring celebrity narrators like Tom Hanks, Holter Graham, and Stephen Fry) which makes the listening experience more rewarding.
5. Get A More Immersive Reading Experience
The voice modulation and inflexions of a professional narrator make the author’s words come alive. It feels like you are watching a movie unfold in your mind’s eye. In addition, you can differentiate the minor characters because each one of them has a different tone of voice.
I suppose this is what Robin Sloan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore meant when they said-
Listening to an audiobook is a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.
Reading and listening at the same time
As I have written in another one of my articles, when you read a book and hear the audiobook together, the author’s words come alive with a different kind of magic.
This works for non-fiction just as well. But when it comes to fiction, reading and hearing at the same time is a rare treat no lover of literature should miss out on. The text will help you imagine what the author is describing, but the emotions, inflexion, and voice modulation brought in by the narrator would help you visualise the writing better.
In my experience, most voice actors use a different voice for each character, eerily well-suited to the mannerisms of the character as the author had described. This reinforces the difference in character traits more concretely and makes even the minor characters feel more real, more human.
When the genre you are reading is fantasy, you don’t have to guess how the complex names of characters and places (Is it even fantasy if the character names don’t have at least one apostrophe?) are pronounced anymore!
The Bottom Line
The benefits of skipping a physical book in favour of getting the audio version piped into one’s ears are fivefold:
- It’s an easier way to consume a book while slipping in a household chore you don’t particularly enjoy.
- Listening to audiobooks before going to bed at night helps you calm your mind and sleep better.
- The make your journeys more bearable by filling your silences with their magic.
- Audiobook app subscriptions save you the money of buying all latest book releases and reduces the wait-time between buying a book and starting to read it.
- Reading a book and hearing an audiobook at the same time gives you a more immersive experience. The inflexions and voice modulations of the narrator bring the characters to life.
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