Books, Kindles, and Audiobooks: A Literacy Love Story

I love to read, and I’ve always loved reading. Even as a child, I loved books. I wrote my own, and I voraciously devoured (and redevoured) borrowed books from the library. When I was transferring to yet another new school as a child, my mom would take me on a tour of the school library as a way to win me over. I vividly remember touring the first grade library: the brightness of the blue globe sitting atop the end of a shelf and the seemingly endless shelves of books waiting for me to savor them word by word building up to sentences, paragraphs, and then whole worlds awaiting discovery. Yes, I was hooked.

My reading habits didn’t die off in high school or even college. I read fiction. I read non-fiction. I once even surprised my college professor in my Greek Literature and Civilization class by offering tidbits about the relative grain doles for boys and girls in classical Athens. She looked at me, slightly puzzled, and asked in which class I had learned that. “I read it,” I told her. Yes, as a sophomore in college, I had checked out an academic tome on women in Greco-Roman cultures from the vast tombs of a university library and promptly did as I had done all my life:  devoured it, word by word, until the words blended together into a historical tapestry that I found fascinating.

By the time I had graduated college, I had become the curator of my own library. Whenever I inevitably moved, packing and lugging my books into my apartment became a not small chore as my friends grumbled about another box of books. Around this time, I developed carpal and cubital tunnel in both my hands. Reading a Harry-Potter-sized book (something I did quite often) became a struggle for me; physically holding the book itself had become too painful for the duration of time I could usually enjoy lying in repose and reading. Though a surgery lurked in the future, in the meantime, I bought myself a kindle and felt as if I had cheated on my one true love:  a tangible book. Oh, how I love a book! The tidy spine with the title crawling down its side, the feel of turning a crisp page in my hand, the musty smell of a book whose words have been read and reread for a hundred years, the promise of the ideas lurking beneath the pool of printed words, all this (and more!) do I love about a book! The inability to read a book was unbearable, so, yes, I strayed.

Although my kindle had become a solution to the problem I had developed with my hands, I can’t say I was smitten in the love-at-first-sight way I had been by books as a small child. Still, the kindle had revolutionized reading in much the same way that the book itself, a codex, had changed reading about two thousand years ago. Then, reading was a process requiring a two-handed shuffle to roll the scroll to read further, but the codex allowed you to simply turn a page in the now standard book format. In fact, the Roman poet Martial boasted in the first century that his book had been printed as a codex, which was highly portable and could be held even with one hand! With a nudge and a wink, he even told the reader where to buy his book of epigrams.

In much the same vein as Martial, I boast about my kindle. This novel electronic device has become a cherished and portable friend. Whenever I venture into the wilderness to go camping or backpacking, I bring my kindle. On these and other vacations, I load up my kindle with a number of books whose weight would be staggering if they were hard copies. The kindle may not have the smell of a musty friend or the soniferous quality of a dear friend speaking its ideas through the centuries, and it certainly lacks the visual appeal of a tidy row of spines stacked neatly on a shelf. My kindle, however, is highly convenient, and I love the ease with which I can check out books from my own home and then read them in the mountains.

Unlike my easy love of books and my reluctant acceptance of my kindle born from desperation, audiobooks took the longest for me to accept with open-armed enthusiasm. If I had ever used them before, I would check a few out from the library for long road trips where the confinement to the car and lack of satellite radio necessitated something to fill the long silences between palatable radio stations. I only have one memory of audiobooks before the last five or so years of my life, and the memory is a hazy one from childhood where I recall being slightly frightened by an audiobook for a Tolkien book. I have no clue whether it was Return of the King or the Hobbit, but either book has enough goblins to merit frightening a somewhat easily frightened (okay, very easily terrified) child.

Moving from that hazy memory to my zeal for audiobooks as an adult has been a slow process, but one of discovery. At first, when I would merrily check out e-books from the library, I was baffled why anyone would every check out an audiobook electronically. What was the point of having an electronic audiobook? Aren’t audiobooks intended for the endless hours of a cross-country road trip? Then, I downloaded the app and checked out an audiobook on a whim, and I found myself enjoying reading in a whole new way. I could walk to the store to pick up one of my pain prescriptions and read. I could take a quick walking break during the work day and read. Exercise, fresh air, and a book! Why hadn’t this occurred to me sooner? Years sooner?!

I started indulging my new love affair with audiobooks in wholly new-to-me ways even as I continued listening to audiobooks on my routine walks. I started listening to an audiobook as I knitted, as I spun, and as I quilted. I started listening to my audiobook as I fell asleep. Instead of the pleading mental chorus of just one more chapter, I would set my sleep timer for another five, ten, or fifteen minutes as I curled up against my pillow, dreaming of these fantastical places. On days where my fibromyalgia flares terribly and even the thought of holding a book seems exhausting, I can still enjoy the experience of slipping away somewhere Fibromyalgia never existed—too few heroines have chronic illnesses, after all. On days where I feel more robust, I can listen to an audiobook while gardening. Like the audiobook hussy I am, I shamelessly stuff my phone into my sports bra so I can continue listening even when my gardening attire lacks genuine pockets. Brazen, yes, I know.

Audiobooks are certainly slower reading experiences. I have spent hours and hours listening to young-adult novels that I certainly could have plowed through in no more than two with a book. Of course, my multitasking of both reading and some other activity means that more technical non-fiction has sometimes gone over my head. (I may have given up on one book I thought would be more popular psychology that ended up way more technical science than I had expected.) Still, the ability to combine reading with some of my favorite things, a walk through my sunlit neighborhood or knitting cozied up with my cats in my recliner, is a pleasure that satisfies so many different parts of my soul.

This love of reading that I’ve had all my life has certainly morphed in unexpected ways as my reading tastes have changed. The ways in which I read have likewise transformed even as I have never outgrown my love of the crisp sound of turning a page, that gratifying sound of promise. I’m confident that my love of reading will last my whole life. Sure, the precise genre of fidelity will keep changing. Sometimes, I’ll be sucked into reading young-adult fiction, or endless non-fiction books about farming, or academic treatises on the political landscape of Rome during the second Punic War, but the love itself is as steadfast as it is mutable. And, bottom line, isn’t a great and lasting love about the constant reinvention of that love? About discovering the new ways to enjoy and appreciate the artistry that is your love? About growing old with your love?

Absolutely, yes!

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2 thoughts on “Books, Kindles, and Audiobooks: A Literacy Love Story

  1. The audiobook you recall from childhood, was a poorly condensed version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It was so poorly condensed that Bob would stop the tape to fill us in on what was going on as he pretty much had the books memorized as he had read them so many times. We were going to Scott Airforce base to visit Uncle Tommy, as you called him then, and Jeff and Tina for New Years. They were AirForce buddies of Bob’s. Normally it would have been about a 5 hour drive but the snow and ice on the roads were so bad that we only went about 35 mph clear across the state, and took us about 9 hours. Hence, we listened to the whole poorly condensed audio. I always thought you and Sarah handled that trip very well. To tell you how old you were it would have been New Years of 1991 and we had only been married 6 months. On a side note, Uncle Tommy is a truck driver and has a side business of getting rescue dogs and cats across country as he’s driving to they’re new parents. 🙂

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    1. Hah! I remember it being with you and Bob, but I didn’t know it was a bad version of the LOTR. I’m reading the Hobbit in Latin right now. I have no recollection of the snow. Gosh, I was 8! 🙂

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