The history of books is an interesting one. The first books were utterly unreadable to anyone but the author or someone who studied the book intensely. Without punctuation or spaces, these books were written as a memory aid rather than to disperse ideas.
Thanks to the invention of punctuation and the development of writing, books have evolved to become as we know them today. Maybe I should say “as we knew them.” Audiobooks are now the largest growth market in the book industry, but are audiobooks still books?
Are Audiobooks still books?
This is a philosophical question that I, as the writer, have the advantage of answering, and you, as the reader, can debate in the comment section below. Audiobooks still count as books, but whether they are the next stage of literary evolution or a step back to when books acted as memory aids could be debated.
Many audiobooks are direct translations from their book equivalent; they are written words converted into audio. However, this trend is beginning to change. Audiobooks like Can’t Hurt Me and Limitless contain additional discussion with the author found only in the audiobook.
Meanwhile, Will Smith incorporates music in his audiobook Will to fully immerse the listener into his experiences ending the book with a song that summarizes it beautifully. Some authors like Kevin Hart have gone one step further with The Decision and Monsters and how we tame them, produced exclusively as audiobooks.
These bonuses are the auditory equivalent of adding photos to the books. Therefore, even with the additional content, Audiobooks are books because they share their knowledge with the listener. How much you, as the listener, learn from the book depends on how much effort you put into learning the key points.
Different types of books
By reading this, you’ve illustrated your ability to pull some meaning from words. However, how much of it are you going to remember? We have all gotten distracted while reading and only “wake up” when we have mindlessly read several pages; this tendency is even worse when we listen to a book and let our minds wander.
Unless you have monk-level concentration abilities, your mind will wander periodically; it’s normal. That’s why monitoring your mindfulness while listening to the book is crucial.
Somewhere along my journey into books, I stumbled upon one called: How to read a book. The title intrigued me; how could a book be written about how to read books? Curious and in my typical style, I purchased the audiobook and started listening to it while running.
The lessons in that book were immediate and clear, one above all others – this was not a book to listen to while running. I returned the audiobook and bought a physical copy; I needed to give it the attention it deserved.
Francis Bacon said: “some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Back in his day, few books were available, and even fewer literate people could read them; still, his observations are accurate to this day – not all books are worth your undivided attention.
Books, like food, are meant to be consumed, digested and forgotten. When you read, you go on a fantastical journey with the author. At the end of this journey, you have learned something, been entertained, or realized that you would rather read something else.
How much you recall from the book depends on how much attention you give it. Andler and Doren mention 4 levels of reading in their book, but with audiobooks, there are only two: attentive or distracted.
How to listen to your book
Your first step in deciding how to listen to your book is determining what level of attention you should give it. Is it a story that you can miss some parts while accomplishing tasks around the house without compromising your ability to follow along or something factual that builds on previously mentioned material that will lose you if you miss something?
I am partial to non-fiction books, but even these vary in the attention they demand to understand. Furthermore, there is only so much I can learn at once. Regardless of the book I am listening to, I limit my listening time to half-hour periods.
Limitless mentions that a half-hour is a sweet spot for learning because we tend to remember the first fifteen and the last fifteen minutes of what we learn in a single sitting. This means that if you listen for a half-hour, you will likely remember more of what you heard than if you listen for an hour.
Luckily, authors and audiobook recorders have caught on to this fact, and most audiobook chapters are roughly a half-hour. Stacking your habits by listening to a chapter while going to run a 5k is a great way to squeeze those books into your life while staying fit or training for that race with your friends.
This listening style is my preferred method, as you get to know the whole idea while the key concepts are fresh in your mind. Even though it is my favourite method, there are other ways of listening to books to deepen your experience.
You can read along to your audiobook with a physical or digital version. This practices your pronunciation when learning a language and keeps you on track without rereading the same sentence twice. Listening to a native reader tells you the proper pronunciation of the words. This way of reading makes it easy to get in the flow by decreasing the difficulty.
Remembering what you learned
Taking notes while listening can turn the book into your personal lecture. Listening in this way also increases your focus on the book as you seek out the most note-worthy bits to write down and review later, or better yet, turn them into cue cards.
Taking notes is good, but remembering them is better. Once you finish a book, often all you have left is the impression it had on you and some words you scribbled on a piece of paper. To remember the finer details, you must make that book a permanent part of your life.
Transforming your notes into questions and using a space-repetition system can keep the book in mind as you continue enjoying your life. The beauty of these systems is that the more regularly you review your cards, the fewer you must study daily.
As I mentioned about my experience with How to read a book, Sometimes, the best way to consume a book is to read it. I love audiobooks, and I consume them ferociously. Still, their constant pace makes it hard to pause and reflect when something strikes me, especially when it is frequent or mind-boggling.
For that reason, I have, on several occasions, purchased a physical book after listening to it. Even though the words were all in the audible version, my ability to pull out their meaning was limited.
Remember to have fun
Whether reading for knowledge or pleasure, you should enjoy the activity. This means challenging yourself in some way to keep your attention focused on what you are listening to. Listening to your favourite book can make monotonous tasks such as cleaning more enjoyable.
Whatever your goals are, audiobooks can help you achieve them and bring more meaning to your life; they have brought substantially more to mine.
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