5 things I’ve learned from listening to books

I need to warn the readers from the start that this post is focused on negative aspects concerning my experience with audio-books. I write about the lessons I learned for myself after using an audio-book app on my phone for about a year. I paid a monthly subscription and the service was great. The app worked great and the selection was impressive. Which was proven by sticking to it for quite some time.

I point out 5 reasons why I stopped consuming new audio-books, considering my own experience. These are things I didn’t consider before starting listening but became obstacles in enjoying the process while doing it.

This post is not going to be helpful for people who love learning by listening, who don’t have time to read but want to stay connected to the industry nor for those who adjusted to it and it’s the preferred medium for consuming books. I understand that there are situations when, despite the drawbacks, it’s better to listen than to not consume at all. In which case, the audio-book industry is really helpful.

But if you have time to read, if you love reading, if you buy books, if you spend your time engaged in the universe of the written-word and are just considering audiobooks as a tool to learn more, then this is the right post for you.

Now let’s get to it.

I was so happy when I learned there is the possibility to listen to books by using my phone. All I needed to do was to pay a monthly fee, to download an app, to get the books with the credit I’ve gotten from paying the monthly subscription. So easy, that I moved from podcasts (which are free of charge) to audio-books. Because I like walking, what better way to use the time for commuting more productively? I move my body while I learn, as I’ve decided to walk to work as frequently as possible.

I was excited too, because people I admired online were mentioning it and it seemed as though audio-books come packed with advantages only. In my excitement, I forgot that there are positive and negative aspects about most things [everything, actually].

I used the app for more than a year, starting with May 2018. I listened to 10 books and stopped listening to 4 because they were too interesting, but I kept getting distracted and couldn’t keep track. From these, six of them I wished I had bought the written version (print or eBook). Finally, in July 2019 I decided to temporary stop my subscription, as I wasn’t really sure if I valued the access I had enough. During these past months I made some reflection and here are my lessons:

  1. It’s better when the author reads it (for the non-fiction at least). I am not sure if this is a preference of mine or if it’s a fact, but the authors are better at emphasising the main ideas. Maybe because they wrote the thing… It can also be that I usually know the voices of the authors from listening their inputs online or on podcasts [being an author these days implies lots of speaking], so it feels much more personal when they read. I learned that I like it better when the author and the reader are the same person;
  2. When listening, one can easily get distracted. I’ve chosen to listen to books in order to use my walking to work time more productively. I’ve learned that I am super easily distracted. It is so easy to lose track of what is being said and to not keep up with the speed of the book. Some things are so interesting that my mind starts elaborating on the thought. There are other things I would like to remember, so I try to make a mental note, but I am distracted by the other words I keep hearing in my ears. At some point I stopped walking, took out the phone, paused the book, and wrote the ideas in notes. But really, at times I couldn’t stop, so no notes were takes. Some mental notes were made, but I am pretty sure I had forgotten them. At times, all of a sudden, I needed to pay attention to something external [like safely crossing the street] and information got lost. I got to a point when I became convinced that in order to get more from the books I needed to stay at home, in silence, with a notepad in front of me and take notes from what I am hearing. Thus, entirely replacing its initial purpose. I learned that I can’t learn while walking, so I’d better think or be entertained.
  3. Some books are too valuable to be listened to. There is too much information and way to valuable to just be received while doing something else. I just couldn’t go through the biography of Leonardo da Vinci written by Walter Isaacson. Listening to this book and walking at the same time was impossible. I bought it because I thought it would be something educational and interesting to listen to while walking. I am no artist, but I am curious about creating and human nature. It turned out that this book was way too educational and interesting to be listen to while walking to work. It needed to be seen, to be read and re-read, while having the option to stare at the words for as long as necessary to understand the life of such a great creator. This was the fourth book I bought and the first I had to stop. It completely discouraged me from ever buying books about great people. Which made me stop and consider what could I listen to on audio and not feel as though I am buying the wrong books for me. [Because, let’s be honest: life is too short to read all the books ever written, so there must be some sort of selective process in place. I am not saying some books are worthless, I am just saying that not all are valuable for me]. I learned that selecting just the right book for audio implies much research;
  4. It’s hard to find the right books for audio. As I was saying before, some books contain too much important information to be consumed audio. At the same time, some books are too unimportant to be heard. How can one find just the right combination for herself, in order to be satisfied with the purchases? I either bought audio books of books I wanted to read instead, so I had to purchase them in written form, or I got bored out of my mind and haven’t even finished listening to those books, despite paying for them. Only one book I loved on audio, and the reviewed it for my blog. I learned I couldn’t find this balance as fast or as often as I wanted;
  5. Not all books are written for audio. It is not the same thing to listen to a book and to read a book. For one thing, some sentences are too long; written, these are just amazing word-play, but when listened to, one misses their point. There are books full of interesting facts, but in order to really understand or to memorize them, one needs to see/listen to them again. It’s one thing to look at the words for longer [or again] and quite another to go 30 seconds back and wait for the words one wants to hear again to pop up. I’ve learned that there are books which one needs to read in order to gain the lessons the author intended us to gain.  

Because I paid a monthly subscription which I regard as being quite high considering Romanian medium wages, I thought a lot about the value I was getting. The subscription costed RON 63 (about USD 15 or EUR 13) for one credit a month which could be exchanged for any audio-book. Some audio-books were more expensive than the monthly subscription, so there was a deal. But it turned out that the more expensive audio-books were too interesting for me and wished I’d bought the written version. The kindle version was usually cheaper than the subscription.

Therefore, I ended up deciding that, at least for now, audio-books are not for me. I am not the targeted client. I enjoy reading and using the book, so listening only just doesn’t work for me. I am not too busy to read and I can do other things while walking [getting frustrated with the respective activity is not on my list].

I might get back on listening when the authors I like would produce audio-books adapted from their books. Until then, I will keep on reading.

Make today count!

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