One wild day, over a decade ago, I donated my entire collection of music CDs to the thrift store. It was the culmination of years of digitizing my music and shifting my mindset. My primary motivation was to clear space in my office, and it was exhilarating.
Streaming audio is now so standard that few Gen Z’s would understand why we were ever burdened with physical albums.
Buoyed by my success, I moved on to books. This was trickier. The experience of reading a book on a screen is very different from flipping through pages. Listening to a book is an even more dramatic change.
I have trained myself to tolerate digital reading for all the benefits it confers: books at my fingertips and a lighter footprint in my home and on this planet. (I have always read on my existing smartphone, so there is no environmental impact of an additional e-reader.)
On the other hand, I have easily grown to LOVE listening to audiobooks for the different experience it offers. Audiobooks are also conveniently on my phone and environmentally-friendly.
This article on Audiobooks vs Reading nicely articulates the pros and cons, so I won’t rewrite those excellent ideas, but add a few observations:
1 How you listen to a book matters. Many people love the ability to multitask while listening to a book. This is fine for a book you just want to “skim” or listen to for the twentieth time, but if you really care about the content and the experience of enjoying the book, try sitting down and just listening. It is a completely different experience – much more akin to sitting down and reading the printed word.
2 Good narration is key. Preview an audiobook before you purchase it. It can be extra engaging to hear a book narrated by the author, but many lack the skills of a professional narrator. Some smart productions feature an introduction or first chapter spoken by the author, then transition to a narrator. My favorite author-narrated listen is Extreme Ownership by Navy SEALS Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. My all-time favorite fiction narration is Circe by Madeline Miller with narration by Perdita Weeks.
3 Learn to use bookmarks and take notes. Tools for listening to books are woefully underdeveloped. Learn the app you use and make the best of the bookmarking tools available. I take notes in a separate location if I want to revisit the ideas (especially useful for book club discussions like the one I belong to at Lift Truckee.)
4 Listen as a family. We love our tradition of listening to a chapter of a book after dinner. No multitasking! We all just sit around and listen together. Our teens devour investigative reporting from the classic All the President’s Men by Carol Bernstein and Bob Woodward to real-life spy stories like The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre. (Cover photo shows our kids listening on the living room floor.)
More than a decade after I moved to digital music, I have a renewed appetite for books (listening to them!) while having reduced my physical book collection to half a bookshelf in my office.
I’m looking forward to bringing this lightness of being to our new Truckee River CoHousing home. And I also know that if I ever have a need to borrow a printed book, there’s a good chance that a neighbor will be close by to share it with me!
Truckee River CoHousing is a grassroots group of North Tahoe locals collaboratively building an ecologically-designed community at 10925 West River Street, in Truckee, California. The community features private homes, shared community space, and exceptional access to mountain and river open space. To learn more, visit https://www.cohotruckee.org and RSVP for a virtual site tour or one of the group’s public events.