Audiobooks have always divided opinion. As an English student, the purist in me knows I should detest the idea of audiobooks. Like e-books, they alter the reading process, and may one day contribute to the death of printed books. But, however controversially, I love audiobooks, and will happily argue their worth.
The rise of the audiobook goes hand in hand with the new popularity of podcasts. Audio is clearly having its moment and is becoming an increasingly accepted medium for both entertainment and education. The beauty of sound is its portability, and content is now readily available at any moment. I have always found this particularly useful while working. All the way through school, I was a gardener for a manor house every Saturday. The gardens hauled in the grey pound each year with herbaceous borders and flowering beds, and it was a great place to work. However, the job could often be simple and repetitive, and I would find myself reaching for my headphones.
Although I started off by listening to music, I quickly plugged into my first podcasts. In Our Time and the Friday Night Comedy from Radio Four were among my regular rotation. I really liked being able to learn new things in what would otherwise be dead time spent doing menial work.
Soon after followed my first audiobook: Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, an inside scoop on Putin’s Russia written by Peter Pomerantsev. I finished it in two days, and remember thoroughly enjoying the book. Soon after I started segueing into the classics – and that’s where I’ve settled. By packing a library into a mobile playlist, literature has become continuously accessible, and audiobooks are contributing to the cacophony of information that a smartphone facilitates.
In recent years, I have listened to over twenty classic works of literature from Fitzgerald to Virgil, as well as Joe Lycett and James Acaster to keep things light. Through audiobooks, I have turned wasted time into a valuable learning experience and am currently using Audible to finish off the Iliad for my Classical and Biblical Backgrounds to English Literature module. Novels that I would otherwise have struggled to find the time to read like Anna Karenina or The Return of the Native now sit on my virtual shelf.
Not only have I found that audiobooks allow me to read more, but I also find that they help me to appreciate what I’m reading. I find now that I often glean more pleasure from audiobooks than paperbacks. Thomas Hardy has become one of my favourite authors because of my experiences of his work orally. Hardy’s narrative often diverges into spools of pastoral imagery and wide-lens shots of countryside and villagers alike. It can be hard to maintain a pace with reading this kind of description, and details often get missed in a rush to finish and move on with the story. However, when read aloud, I found these passages really digestible and savoured the pastoral imagery they enclosed.
Where a paperback can often see you racing towards a finish line, an audiobook forces its own pace. A finite finish line can be sped up for those on a deadline or slowed down to be made more digestible. In the modern-day, finding time to complete even the mandatory tasks on our to-do lists is a struggle and time is an increasingly precious commodity. Audiobooks provide a way to channel dead time into something worthwhile. They can also help us practise active listening – something we could all do with more of.
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