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The joy of listening

Recently, I wrote an article for the Seattle Examiner on why I have a keeper shelf. I talked about how my previously voracious reading habits have changed since I became a serious writer. Like most of my writer friends I find I read much less than I used to. One of the major reasons for this is lack of time. When I get those rare quiet moments for reading, I feel I should be writing instead.

But spending time with a good book is crucial to keep my creative fires burning. That’s where my love of audio books come in. I’ve always enjoyed books on tape or CDs. Now with my handy iPod and a subscription to Audible.com it’s easier than ever to listen to books. Of course it’s not the same as burying my nose in a book. An audio book is a performance and the reader adds his or her own spin, bringing the characters alive in a way that’s different from what goes on inside my skull when my brain is left to its own devices.

I appreciate a great performance. One of my recent favorites was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies read by Katherine Kellgren. And then there was the great Anna Fields who made the books of Susan Elizabeth Phillips come alive. It’s hard for me to listen to SEP books without Ms. Fields. But I digress.

Listening to a book is a different experience, but just as much a spark to the imagination as reading the old fashioned way. The big downside, for me is that I can’t curl up with a good audio book. I get antsy. My eyes want to be busy–reading perhaps, or watching TV. Except of course I can’t do either of those activities because my multi-tasking ability does not extend to being able to do two different verbal activities at the same time. So, my listening time occurs in the gym, on walks, while washing dishes or just pacing around the house.

Sure, it’s great exercise. Way more calories burned than when sitting on a sofa with a paperback. But it’s annoying as well. I mean–how many miles do I have to walk before I finally finish my current audio book, Into the Fire, by Suzanne Brockman? Plus, if my mind wanders from the book–say to check my heartbeat read-out on the treadmill, or to pass a car on the highway–I might miss a crucial line of dialog. I can rewind my iPod and sometimes I do that. But it really is easiest to just let it pass.

And what happens when I wash that last dish and I’m in the middle of a scene? Well, I can clean the counters, make some other busy work or just pace until reaching the end of the scene or the chapter–but I have no idea when that is coming. Well, sometimes I can guess when it feels like a scene is getting ready to conclude. Still it isn’t like flipping the page and seeing–yup–the next chapter is a page and a half away. Sometimes I feel I just have to hit pause–mid-scene–and get on with talking to my husband or reading my e-mail. And it ticks me off when I return to the book only to find the scene ended thirty seconds after my pause point.

Finally, there’s the savoring factor. Yes, I do love to savor a particularly great line of dialog, vivid description, surprising word choice or some other delectable treat the author may have dropped along the path of the story. When I’m reading a book, I will just glance up and re-read that paragraph–slowly, with pleasure. I will keep that book on my keeper shelf, pull it out and enjoy that scene again just to let that beautiful line tickle my brain.

Can’t do that with audio books at all. Which is why I often buy the book version after I’ve listened to the audio book. Thank goodness for Kindle because most of those keepers are now in digital form instead of taking up residence as a physical book on my crowded shelves.

Audio books are not a perfect solution to the no-time-to-read problem. They are, however, a sweet pleasure that makes time spent on the treadmill fly along and assures that I have the cleanest dishes and best-walked dog in town.

Now, there’s a win-win.

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