I’ve been an Audible.com user since 2002 and over the last dozen years I’ve learned a lot about listening to audio books. First off, it actually takes practice to learn how to listen to an audio book well. Don’t let first impressions about audio books throw you off. Some people get frustrated because they keep missing stuff and jumping back isn’t as easy as rereading a paragraph. Luckily good players have a 30 second jump back button. And don’t worry, the more you listen, the more you learn how to keep you mind focused on the story, even when you’re doing something else.
Most people think listening to books is something you do on car trips, and that’s how I got hooked, but there are many times in your day when listening to a book is an added pleasure. For example, I often eat alone. So the time I spend cooking, eating and doing the dishes is enhanced by listening to a book. Listening while doing something is great if you’re a bookworm that wants to finish a lot of books, but it’s not the best way to actually listen to a book. Even when you’re doing something mindless and think you can devote yourself to a book you can’t completely.
I’ve recently discovered my current best way to listen to a book because I bought a new stereo receiver with AirPlay and my friend Charisse recommended a rather intellectually deep book, Possession by A. S. Byatt. AirPlay is Apple Computer’s technology, also licensed to third party developers, that allows you to beam content to AirPlay enabled devices. I use an iPod touch to listen to books, and when I got my new Denon receiver my iPod started showing a little AirPlay symbol automatically. If I tap this new symbol I’m given the choice of playing the book through the iPod or from the Denon. If I select the Denon the receiver automatically turns itself on, even when I’m in another room, and starts playing my audio book.
My stereo system is hooked up to large floor standing speakers, so I can play the book loud, and I do. This has transformed how I listen to my audio books. Like discovering music sounds best when played loud, so does audio books. Hearing the narrator speak in a volume similar to a person in the room talking firmly and expressively loud changes how I perceive the book. It feels like I’m at a play with my eyes closed. Writing just jumps out when listened to at this volume, especially if I just sit and pay full attention. Combining a good narrator with a good writer at this volume absolutely showcases literary skills. Writing, word by word, and line by line, is just so vivid.
When Charisse came over to hear selections from two of her favorite novels, Possession and Great Expectations, she was so impressed that she asked me to help her buy a stereo system like mine. And that’s the trouble with this new method. You need a big stereo system. Really good headphones do work, but there’s something about the sound filling the room that makes it feel like people are acting out the book.
Sadly, big stereo systems aren’t common anymore, but many people do have surround sound systems for the flat screen TVs. Check and see if you have AirPlay enabled on your system, or another method to plug in a smart phone or portable player. Some systems have an input jack that plugs into your headphone jack. Give it a try.
I don’t always expect to listen to books this way, because it’s not convenient, but more and more, I’m finding time to sit in my easy chair and devote myself to listening to my book played loud. Over the years I’ve experimented with various ways to take in audio books. The best way to study a book for research or school is to listen and read at the same time, but to get the fullest dramatic impact of a well written piece of fiction, listening at loud levels really makes the work stand out. Also, it was interesting to listen with Charisse, like two people watching a TV show together. It worked. Most people think of reading as a solitary pursuit, but AirPlay could encourage group listening to books. I know it sounds strange, but it works. My wife Susan and I always enjoyed listening to books in a car, which by the way, is another good way to listen to a book played loud, but now that I’m learning to focus so intently, I’m not sure I should be driving and listening.
Audio books taught me I was a poor reader and I should leave the reading to experts. I also learned that going slowly through a book, at conversational level speed, was more respectful to the writing than my normal eye-ball reading habit of anxiously speed reading through the pages to find out what happens next. Now I know that the slow pace of audio books combined with good speakers played loud and full attention makes a book come alive in a unique way.
JWH – 5/28/14