Not Enough Time
Last spring, I was finding that I just didn’t have enough time to read several books that I really wanted to read. Then a friend reminding me about something called “audiobooks.” Because I have a long commute, I had always wanted to try audiobooks, but I had dismissed them because I didn’t want to keep track of CDs, tapes, or synced files.
But since I last looked into audiobooks, two things lowered the barrier of entry for me. First, smartphone apps like audible.com take out all the work of managing physical media or syncing files. Second, my wife got me an aftermarket Bluetooth car kit last year which makes using audio books in the car much safer and more pleasant.
The “Reading” List
As a result, I “read” a number of books that I might have otherwise missed and experimented along the way with which books I would get the most out of. (It seems that the joke about whether or not you really “read” an audiobook never gets old.)
- Love Wins by Rob Bell – This was the book that kicked things off for me because I knew I needed to read it quickly to stay in the know. It was a great start because it was only a few hours long, and Bell himself reads it so I could hear exactly want he wanted to communicate. A few laps around my neighborhood, and I was up to date on the controversy of 2011.
- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas – I missed this book in 2010 when it came out, and I really wanted to catch up. I was worried that I might lose interest since it was over 20 hours long and is theologically rich. But it turned out to be a wonderful listening experience, both because the story of Bonhoeffer’s life is so riveting and powerful and because Metaxas and the reader did such outstanding work.
- 1776 by David McCullough – Next, I thought I’d try hitting up an older book that I had always wanted to read, but never took the initiative to actually do something about. Like Bonhoeffer’s biography, this one is a little bit dense when it comes to historical detail, but the strength of the story and the author’s telling of it made it a great audiobook (bonus: it’s read by McCullough himself and his voice is fantastic).
- 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad: What Fathers Can Do to Make a Lifelong Difference by Jay Payleitner – At this point, everything I listened to was for my own theological enrichment, so I decided to see if I could get into something that might help me be a better dad. Payleitner’s book is 52 fun stories about things he learned as a dad, and mostly boils down to the simple but important advice: “Show up, and take initiative.” This was the first book where I really should have had some way to jot down a few notes about things I wanted to be sure to take away.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig – This time I went out on a limb. I’d always wanted to read Zen, but I knew there was no way I would get to it except in the car. It’s an absolutely fascinating book both in form and content (which is part of Persig’s whole point), and it was interesting to consume it another form. However, I did listen to the abridged version, and I’m not sure I would had made it through the entire book.
- The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson – I had met Peterson just a few months before, sharing a breakfast with him one morning and taking communion from him the next evening. But before listening to this book, I really didn’t know much about him other than that he wrote The Message. The Pastor was a perfect introduction to his thought and life which are intertwined. In fact, there’s probably no way to understand his conception of church and community without the real portrait of how he actually lived in it.
- The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs – I was about to get Jacob’s newer book on reading, but at the last second I decided it would be fun to hear Lewis’ story since I’m starting to read his works to my kids. It was a great choice.
- Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction – David Sheff’s retelling of his son’s addiction was probably the hardest to stomach and the most eye-opening in story of the bunch. It introduced me to a world of horrors I only tangentially knew existed.
- ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World’s First Computer by Scott McCartney – A friend recommended this and again, I found that a good story can make history come alive on audio no matter how boring the material might seem.
- Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know by Meg Meeker – This is a wonderful book, but it’s a departure from the others in one important aspect. While Meeker does tell some stories, much of the book is data driven which I found harder to consume in audio. Some of the data is rather bleak so I didn’t always find myself looking forward to listening, but still it’s important stuff, and I’m glad I was able to consume the material one way or another.
- The Hunger Games by Susan Collins – With this one, I’m right back where I started. That is, I’m back to listening to a book that is culturally relevant like Love Wins. I have to admit, I had a blast listening to this story, and the first person narrative really works as an audiobook. If I were still a youth pastor, I’d have to do something on this and compare it to Esther.
What I Learned
Each of the books has their own strengths, but below are some reflections I’ve had on the medium of audiobooks.
- Lowering Barriers of Entry
When you want to make a change in habits, one of the most important things you can do to ensure it will last is to reduce remove as many barriers as possible. In this case, an iPhone and a car with BlueTooth made audiobooks impossibly easy for me to try.But the same idea also applied to me starting back up with my running. When I setup the coffee maker the night before, put out running clothes (including gloves and a hat when needed), and turn on my alarm, I don’t have any excuses for not going in the morning.
- Redeeming the Time
I drive about 3o minutes each way to and from work. I can use that time to pray, think, eat, or talk on the phone, but there’s not much I can do to make it shorter. So audiobooks offer me a chance to use that time wisely.However, I also know that it can be counterproductive to fight technology with technology. The tension of a commute can be exacerbated by more sounds, so sometimes I still need to just have silence.
- Widening Exposure
I love reading, but it’s sometimes easy to stay within a certain field (like theological studies) and fail to expand beyond it. By opening up a new medium, audiobooks offered me a chance to read about ideas much different from my own (like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and stay up to date on books in the cultural spotlight (Hunger Games).Going forward, I’d like to use my audiobook time to expose myself to even more ideas and authors that I’d not normally get to read.
- Stories vs. Ideas
Oral communication just seems better suited to telling stories than communicating complex ideas. When I’m running, it takes a lot of mental energy to keep up with an abstract concept whereas staying in a story seems natural. In fact, a good story seems to help me run faster or longer. I’d like to try listening a longer work of non-fiction, but I think I’ll stick with stories, biographies, and heavily narrative content for now.
- When/Where to Stop – When I read a book, I usually try to find a good place to stop like a chapter or section marker. But with audiobooks, the amount of listening is defined by the length of the car ride or run. Many times, I’ve found myself parked outside a building so I could finish listening to a chapter. I also find the experience of audiobooks to have a far more powerful emotional effect on me, such that even when I do finish a chapter, it is often not yet finished with me.
P.S. Hearing the Scriptures
This experience has also make me want to get a good audio version of the Bible. As a point of reference, the Hunger Games is about 11 hours, while audio Bibles are 65-75 hours!My own church makes it a point to read the passage from the sermon aloud as we stand, and that choice has made me grow in appreciation for hearing the Word rather than just readingit.If you have any recommendations on a good version, let me know!
If you’re an audiobook lover (or hater), I’d love to hear what you think!