Audible makes me feel like a dirty, little cheater thanks to Ernest Cline’s debut novel Ready Player One (narrated by Wil Wheaton).
Let me explain before y’all get all Monty Python and the Holy Grail on me, thrusting your torches and pitchforks in the air and yelling “She’s a witch. Burn her!”
Before listening to Ready Player One, the only other book I successfully listened to on audio (CD version) is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. I listened to TGE on audio because my library’s book club chose the novel and there weren’t any physical books available for check-out because everyone was reading it at the same time. Because I listened to TGE during commutes to-and-from my kid’s after school activities (this was when Audible was just gaining ground and wasn’t really in my radar yet), I equated audiobooks to that thing you do while driving.
Let me preface this post by stating that I am an English major and one requirement of my degree is to read physical books the way a fat kid loves cake—with a ravenous appetite for large quantities and without discrimination towards flavor (genre).
However, while obtaining my B.A. in English, I read a great deal of assigned reading from the cannon—a tasking process that quickly changes one’s enjoyment of reading to fatigue. Later, when I pursued my M.F.A (Master of Fine Arts) and was allowed to choose the books that I wanted to study, I quickly realized I didn’t know what I liked because I read only from the canon during my journey as an undergraduate.
You could say higher education has its advantages and disadvantages because I have gained a great deal of knowledge in my field, but college has also killed my passion for reading and writing for that matter—stupid critical essays! Even after a year-long hiatus from school (thanks to chronic lower-back issues and a surprise visit from the stork), I am still burnt out from reading and no longer enjoy the process like I once did. When reading consists of several hours spent on a single chapter—or line/sentence, if you are reading James Joyce’s Ulysses—the process is no longer considered reading. So, I don’t know how to read anymore, only over-analyze.
Then I subscribed to Audible.
Fast forward a few years. My kids are in high school now, so they are a tad more anti-sports activities and the only time I drive them anywhere is when I am hauling a load of teenagers to the beach or the mall. And, I am not allowed to listen to audiobooks in a car full of teenage girls because that is “embarrassing,” as my daughter would say. So, when I committed to listening to fiction novels via Audible, I thought the experience would be painful. Imagine my surprise when I felt a tinge of guilt as I started to enjoy my temporary arrangement and even found myself listening to Audible when I wasn’t driving from point A to point B.
Why I Chose Audible
I am a major Amazon user, so I chose Audible as my audiobook platform for the easy accessibility. My initial intent behind signing-up for Audible was to purchase The Great Courses series one-by-one with my monthly credit because the cost of the monthly subscription was cheaper than purchasing some of the bigger courses at regular price. I never thought to use Audible for listening to fiction because deep down it felt like cheating (I will expound upon this thought process further in the post). Then I started my 2018 reading challenge on Goodreads. Feeling a tad ambitious, I challenged myself to read a book a week by the end of 2018.
Side note: I just had a baby, my husband is deployed, and I have two teenagers—one of driving age. Jesus take the wheel!
For obvious reasons, my life is full of challenges right now. So, you could say my reading goal is more than a tad ambitious, maybe a bit masochistic. To top it all off, I signed up to return to my master’s program in the summer of 2018 to finish working on my M.F.A in creative writing. Apparently, I have a false sense of self-efficacy because I quickly discovered how difficult it would be attempting to read a physical book when I was constantly being summoned by a teething, hangry, sharty-diapered baby—add teenage melodrama and angst into that mix and you have a party!
Admitting defeat, I decided to purchase a book from Audible to get closer to my 2018 reading goal, which was currently 0 of 52 books read.
I didn’t know what to expect with my Audible experience since my only major interaction with Audible was listening to lectures. Naturally, I didn’t want to spend my monthly credit, nor did I want to spend a lot of money purchasing a novel at regular price. I knew I wanted to stay as far away from the canon as possible, so I explored genres that weren’t as readily taught at the college level—or at least not in my experience.
My relationship with science fiction and fantasy haven’t been positive of late, but looking back at the last time I enjoyed reading sci-fi/fantasy, I remembered Michael Crichton’s books—his stories have a cinematic aspect to them that I enjoy. So, I sought out a novel that was going to be a feature film in 2018 and tried to keep my expectations of moderate level. Then I discovered Cline’s novel Ready Player One was on sale—the sale price was cheaper than the cost of my monthly credit. A deal too good to pass up! I didn’t know much about RPO other than what I saw in the sneak peek trailer at the theater last year. Oh, and Steven Spielberg is directing it.
Since Spielberg is the voice of my youth, I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie, and to top it all off Wil Wheaton narrates the audiobook. Seriously? Can you say Nerdgasm?
Why Audible Felt Like Cheating
Listening to a book sounded like a simple enough task because I could easily listen to an audiobook while driving or while cooking dinner. What I wasn’t prepared for was how addictive the story was.
Cline had me at EverQuest!
Listening to Ready Player One is as addictive as playing MMORPGs. Who knew RPG lit is a thing? Not me! I flew through RPO in a matter of days. Mind you, I had some qualms with the story, which is the only reason I didn’t finish the book in one day, but I enjoyed RPO more than expected and it didn’t hurt that Wil Wheaton did ALL the voices.
But, somewhere deep inside I could hear every book I ever owned or read call out: “You dirty, little cheater!”
I’m not a purist like a lot of Bibliophiles I am acquainted with because I dog-ear my books and I totally write in the margins—my date-stamped library card was revoked a long time ago for such actions (bibliophiles equivalent to a “man card”). And, I am not a big fan of eBooks because I get distracted easily. Thanks to ADHD + OCD, I have a tendency to look up definitions or a random factoid related to the story, and twenty-seven open tabs later it dawns on me that I am no longer reading said novel. However, with audiobooks, a different issue arises: Am I losing quality of detail by listening to Audible?
I need physical books so I can analyze the craft of an author’s work (page-by-page and line-by-line). I know there are a lot of articles out there stating that audiobooks aren’t cheating, but they feel like cheating to me and a passage from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 resonates with my cheating mentality. When Montag sneaks a copy of the Bible to Faber, Faber explains to Montag three things that are missing from their current dystopian society:
Number one: Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
If bad writers can rape the life from a book, I feel like bad readers are equivalent to committing the same crime, especially if the book is of the highest quality.
If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 or it has been so long that you forgot the three things, then allow me to elaborate. The three things Faber claims are missing are 1) Quality of text 2) Leisure to digest said text and 3) The ability to carry out one’s actions based on what was learned from the first two.
My predicament is aligned with rule number two; therefore I can’t even make it to rule number three. So, I am utilizing Audible to meet rules two and three, but how much of rule number one am I betraying by using Audible? Maybe being a visual learner has something to do with my need for a physical book over audiobooks, but when I read a book I like to study its contents under a microscope and analyze every detail of the writing style, as well as the storyline. Hence my need to keep notes in the margins of every book I own. I examine the detail, the “telling detail.” Being able to visually analyze a book’s prose is like using the different powers of magnification on a microscope. I want to see the pores, the textures, and the details.
So listening to an audiobook feels like cheating because the process of listening wasn’t as challenging as reading a physical book, and so many finite details are lost because the pace is set while listening and unless you go back or reexamine the audio passage, an important piece of information could be lost upon deaf or distracted ears. Audio books feels like using a kid’s microscope (40x magnification) whereas a physical book is like using a high-powered microscope (5000x magnification). Of course, this could just be my mind continuing to fight back against the thought of using Audible as a standard medium for books. Ultimately, listening to novels is a change in my learning pattern and everyone dislikes change in the beginning until the positive is brought to light.
Maybe my obsession with physical books stems from the fact that I grew up in the age of card catalogs and date-punch library cards, whereas the younger generation has taken to audiobooks and ebooks with greater ease because electronics are more prevalent and are the standard. So, I couldn’t help but think I must be cheating if I enjoyed listening to RPO on Audible more than reading the book.
I experienced a shift in consciousness after completing Ready Player One via Audible, and I started to embrace the change.
Why Audible No Longer Feels Like Cheating
I decided to continue my experiment and see if my experience with RPO was a fluke. Even while writing this post, I experienced internal conflict over whether audiobooks are a form of cheating. I considered how I experienced loss of information while listening to audiobooks. At times, my mind wanders and while listening to a book on Audible I would miss chunks of the story and found the need to rewind the audiobook or I would push forward and hope for a recap at some point.
However, loss of information or place in the story happens while reading physical books too. The only difference between loss of information in audiobooks vs. physical books is a matter of convenience. Rewinding an audiobook is a tad more difficult and time-consuming than skimming pages of text to find the last point of comprehension. So in the long run, audiobooks require more focus because as a reader you don’t want to continuously rewind the story and ruin the overall visceral experience of being in the moment.
I started to challenge my thought process of equating audiobooks to watching a movie—a passive experience. I felt like something was lost in the process of listening in comparison to reading—as if reading is active and listening is passive. Yet, I know that is a ridiculous sentiment because I listen to lectures via Audible—a considerably active process. But, (to me) listening to lectures was as active as reading because of the note taking involved while listening. Plus, I am in a constant state of contemplation and confusion while listening to lectures because the information is greater than my current state of intellect, and a good lecture challenges your current state of thinking about a subject while expanding your overall knowledge. So I asked myself why can’t a story do the same? Isn’t that what Faber was stating in a way throughout Fahrenheit 451 with rule number three?
My mind continued to fight back about Audible and how listening was cheating because my mind was in a constant state of wandering. But, as Tolkien would state, “Not all those who wander are lost.” After a great deal of contemplation (internal bickering), I realized Audible is nothing like a movie. A director of a movie often takes liberties when creating cinema based off of a famous novel. Sometimes, the movie is nothing like the book. And it is rare that a movie is ever greater than it’s book counterpart.
Audiobooks are a completely different medium, and the difference is that a voice actor/reader can breathe life into the words, or ruin a book completely—something I recently experienced with my most recent Audible purchase. Even though it took me a great deal longer to accept Audible as a viable medium, I did realize the error in my thought process and accepted Audible as a tool that utilizes a different set of skills. Maybe listening to books can teach us (the audience) a few skills in the process, like how to stay in the moment, how to be better listeners, or (in my case) how to enjoy the art of story once more.
My experience with Audible and Ready Player One taught me that I haven’t lost my love of reading, but I do have to learn to read for pleasure again.
Maybe it took using Audible to show me that I’m not cheating by listening to an audiobook but learning to once more enjoy the art form of storytelling by changing things up and listening to books with my ears rather than over utilizing my eyes. For me, Audible is like physical therapy. My reading method was damaged from excessive use during higher education. I overworked my intellectual muscles and over time felt the strain of my constant use of critical eye while over-analyzing every text that I read. Audible is the tool that is slowly allowing me to reacquaint myself with the love of story.
I am sure my books feel slighted by my newly acquainted relationship with Audible. And even though I continue to grow my Audible library, I will always love the touch and smell of a physical book in hand.