There are many different types of readers. There are the readers who only read the Best Sellers and will not touch a book unless a valued critic (be it a professional or a friend with impeccable taste) advises them it is “worth” the read. There are the people who will read only when under duress (as in, I must read The Sound and the Fury or I will fail my English final). There are the Techies, a completely informal term I am using to refer to those who read via e-readers and tablets. There is also that group of readers who prefer to listen to their books. Now, I have always been a Traditionalist as far as the format of the books I read is concerned—ink, paper, bindings, and a plethora of quirky bookmarks—with occasional dabbling in Kindle reading. Recently, however, I ventured into the world of audiobooks, specifically Playaways.
A Playaway, for those who don’t know—and I certainly would not be aware were it not for my job—is a small device that comes pre-loaded with a book. You plug in your headphones, make sure it’s stocked with a AAA battery, and you are good to go. There are the usual buttons like Play, Pause, volume control, and so on. There is also a tiny screen that counts down the amount of time left in a given chapter. The LPL has a large selection of Playaways for patrons to borrow.
(Before going any further, let me be clear: I have only listened to two Playaways, so when I use the term “Newbie” in the title, I really do mean it).
My decision to venture into audiobooks began last spring when I decided that I absolutely needed to read The Fault in Our Stars again since the movie version would be released in the coming weeks. I faced a dilemma that many book lovers know all too well: wanting to read a book when you are already reading another book. Sometimes this desire to read the other book is so great that it overwhelms you and you cannot think of anything else except, I must read this book NOW! Listening to The Fault in Our Stars seemed like a great solution: I could read both books at the same time, but because the reading method would be so different, I wouldn’t feel that I was juggling too much.
Playaways intrigued me. Since iPods had basically replaced CD players and stereos, the only way I could listen to a CD book would be with my laptop, and being chained to a computer seemed antithetical to the freedom, ease and relaxation we should experience when reading for pleasure. Also, while my car is a dependable and otherwise reasonably modern 2003 model, its audio system consists of a cassette player and mediocre speakers. I could forget about listening to a CD book while driving (not to mention the fact that nearly all of my travel destinations are within 10-15 minutes of each other).
Thus began my journey with The Fault in Our Stars, Round 2: Playaway Edition. And it was glorious. Not only did I fall in love with the book yet again and get pumped up for the movie (which did not disappoint, FYI), but I kind of fell in love with the comfort of being read to, a beautiful art that becomes lost to us once we are able to read on our own. It helped that the reader, a woman, had a soothing voice, which she subtly changed to fit the dialogue coming from different characters. I would most often listen to The Fault in Our Stars when I was either taking a walk (it was spring, after all) or lying in bed at night. As the story progressed, I preferred the latter because I was usually crying while listening. Anyone who has read it can sympathize with the gut-wrenching emotions that come with getting to know Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.
It was surprisingly easy to stay focused on the story, though it was admittedly one that I already knew and loved. This leads me to wonder if I am capable of replicating my success with The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns—another Round 2: Playaway Edition John Green Book—with something that I have not previously read. I just don’t know. The truth is that I am part of the generation that feels the pull towards juggling multiple technologies at once, or at least carrying out multiple tasks simultaneously. With Paper Towns, I got into the habit of listening while jogging. Listening to the novel enhanced that escapist feeling of being somewhere other than where your body is physically located. Sometimes when you’re exercising, that feeling is what gets you through the workout. This practice also took care of that pesky itch to be doing other things while listening; I was already jogging while reading a book…what more should I expect from myself?!
Ultimately, I enjoyed Paper Towns more the second time around and realized all kinds of depths and dimensions to the story that I had previously bypassed. I truly believe that having the story read to me—primarily while I was alone with only the open road and a clear mind to keep me company—allowed me to soak it all in.
If you’re a writer, listening to an audiobook is also pretty cool because the nuts and bolts of the writing feel even more magical. I would listen to the reader as he did all kinds of verbal acrobatics—sentences and exclamations that twisted and turned, rising and falling in punctuated cadences. I knew full well that these feats of fancy were supported by a strong net of grammar, and I would wonder how John Green had written the words on the page. Is there a dash there? Did he use a semi-colon or an ellipsis? It’s like looking at a beautiful house and knowing that it was built from nothing, but still being unable to conceptualize the awesomeness of the endeavor. You can run your hands over the tiles and see the paint strokes along the walls, but you are still overcome with awe by the enormity of it all.
Give audiobooks a try and see if you have similar experiences as I did. Grab a Playaway and bring it with you to the beach or the pool. Take it with you during an evening stroll through Wantagh Park or plug it in into your car radio during a summer road trip. Escape the ordinary…