Where science and tech meet creativity.

It is spring (or at least pretending to be spring in the middle of the country. Temperatures are in the 70s F (low 20s C), flowers are in bloom, and the birds are LOUD. For me spring means 2 things: no more classes and lots of weeding. It also means that I have time to explore new books. I say explore because I’m actually more likely to listen to audio books then to read physical books now a days. There, I said it, I listen to books. Please don’t hate me for it.

This isn’t to say I don’t like reading paper books. Back when I had a subway commute (which I actually miss for many reasons), I’d chew through a couple books a month. Now, I don’t have those random minutes for paper books except when I fly (or ride the subway in London). What I have instead is a lot of time for audio books. While I weed / plant / otherwise mutate our yard to fit my whims, I am generally bored. I enjoy the physical labor and the outcomes, but while I work outside my brain drifts off in impatient circles, as it contemplates all the desk tasks I should be doing instead of being out in the sun. The best way I know to silence these “To Do” list daemons is to stuff my head first with podcasts, and then with Audio books. Faced with something interesting to pay attention to, the voices in my head generally settle in to voyage with characters of fiction across lands of fantasy.

The thing is, there are those among us who view listening to audio books as somehow less then actually reading. I know professors who don’t approve of any but the visually impaired listening to books. I know people who scoff at the dyslexic lawyer as being less educated because he listened to his law books. I don’t understand this. If you hear every single word – if you listen to an unabridged book – aren’t you receiving all the same content? The only thing that is different is that you don’t create all the characters voices for yourself – the narrator determines the voices for you. But is that such a tragic loss? Aren’t there times when I can gain from the nuanced voice an artistry of rhythm that I might miss if I read quickly to myself? It is a different experience, and there are books that I need to read on paper so I can mark my thoughts, but is different always bad?

Listening to books has always been a guilty pleasure for me. As a small child, my grandmother recorded a bunch of books on audio cassettes for me and I’d listen to them and other books on tape as I lay in bed looking at my nightlight shaped as a dancer. As an older child, when my family went on road trips my dad would put audio books in the car’s tape player and we’d make our way across America while listening to the “Day of the Triffid,” “The Adventures of Sherlock Holms,” and various Star Trek books on tape. As an adult, I felt confident trekking across the country alone by car because I new I had company; The BBC’s audio rendition of “Lord of the Rings” could get me from Austin to Albuquerque and almost back again, and Toni Morrison and Anne Rice both (in very different ways) called shot gun as I went back and forth from McDonald Observatory. I made it through all of Steve King’s Dark Tower series while packing to move to Illinois, and I tried not to cry listening to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close while I walked the beach in Hawaii last year, alone except for my words and the sky. Books flavor the places I listen to them – Shalimar the Clown helped me create a brick patio, and Eragorn‘s magic sustained me as I hung insulation in the attic. I wouldn’t have been able to experience these books if I hadn’t been able to listen to them while my body experienced and did other things. Audio liberated me to “read” in a way I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

And I wish I understood better the bigotry against “reading” audio books.

For now though, let me say, when I advertise Audible.com on Astronomy Cast, I’m advertising a company I’ve had a membership with (with a couple no-spare-cash induced breaks) for about 4 years, and PodioBooks has excellent content that in some cases can’t be found anywhere else. Next time you are out of podcasts and you have a day of brainless tasks ahead of you, take a book out into the yard to play.