Recently I grappled with some of the most prescient questions plaguing the modern reader: is it considered “reading” if you listen to an audio book? Do you say you’ve “read” a book if you’ve actually listened? What are the differences in the experience with a book if it’s been read or heard?
Ok, ok, only intense book nerds have extended conversations about such things, but by willingly placing myself into that category, I also confess to having this conversation on multiple occasions with best friends and casual strangers both in book stores and on public transportation. By the way, this is also a nice conversation option to have for a date. Understanding someone’s level of priority and preferences for reading is an important early conversation–we can agree on this, yes?
I don’t have a universal answer, but here’s what I’ve decided: yes, you can “read” visually or by listening. Both require time and attention. Both can provide escape and insight. I have no judgement on using the term reading for both platforms of delightful story and book consumption. Don’t @ me. Fine, you can @ me. But I’m probably sticking to it.
I’ve written about my love for books and story multiple times, and it is rightly assumed as a former English teacher that I am a voracious reader. What may be less known is that I consume at least half of my books through their audio version. I’ve had an Audible membership for at least 5 years, and through trial-and-error discovered which books are best consumed on which platform–audio vs. visual.
Before I launch into my “best of” audio book list, I’ll just share my criteria or strategy for choosing the best platform (for me) to “read” books. This isn’t exhaustive or by any means foolproof. When deciding how to consume books, these are just some of the decisions I’ve come to over trial and error.
As you can see, when I’m traveling I often prefer to have the book as a hard copy. That way I don’t have to have my headphones in all the time (helpful if traveling with companions). Flight attendants often don’t bother you with a hard copy of a book in hand, but they often will keep reminding you to turn your phone on airplane mode or put your iPad away. I enjoy having a book be an external conversation starter, and I also enjoy reading a physical book as a break from my daily interaction with screens and technology.
But I don’t always make time to read consistently in my daily life, so having books on Audible helps me continue reading even when there are dishes to be washed, work commitments to drive to, and laundry to be folded. I do have genre preferences when buying Audible vs. a hard copy of a book. YA and plot-driven fiction are great for listening while poetry, philosophy, and some kinds of social science/self-improvement books need my visual consumption rather than just auditory.
Memoirs read by their authors are my favorite genre to consume as an audiobook. Although I didn’t read them in 2017, Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling come to mind as some of the best in this genre and on this platform.
Best of 2017 Listens
Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
One of the best books overall that I have consumed and by far the most fascinating memoir, this book made me fall in love with Trevor Noah. I’m not kidding–he is my first and currently only celebrity crush. I loved him on Comedy Central’s Daily Show, and Noah shares his story with the same wit, optimism, and charm as he exudes on his show despite his story being filled with incredibly difficult circumstances. I may have cried at the end or it might have been the onions I was cutting while listening. Either way, I was so moved I couldn’t stop raving about this book and him for months. I ended up watching all of his stand up on Netflix and purchasing tickets to two live shows this year because I just couldn’t get enough. Infatuation is a dangerous and exhilarating drug.
Where Should We Begin? Seasons 1 & 2 by Ester Perel
In my podcast post I mentioned being introduced to Ester Perel on the Dear Sugars podcast series on infidelity. Like Trevor Noah, my fascination and subsequent infatuation with her was instant. After listening to her guest-podcast twice, I proceeded to find everything by her to consume.
Because I discovered her slightly ahead of her making the NYT best-seller list with a newly published book, I found her first book (next in this list) and the Audible series of 40 minute episodes when I went searching for more of her wisdom. Recently, she’s been interviewed on TV shows, podcasts, and for a plethora of articles. She also has some great animated short videos produced with Lifehacker. So more content to enjoy from her in 2018!
Each “book” or episode of this series is an authentic recording of her facilitating a couple’s therapy session. The couples are real and struggling doing the work for their relationships to survive and/or thrive. In so many episodes the couple’s pain, confusion, or central issues were so relatable that listening to Perel guide them through therapy was akin to receiving therapy myself. What makes her fascinating is not only her incredible skill, presence, and technique in these sessions, but her approach. She is a researcher and study of our erotic minds and how they influence our relationships, connections, and identities. She is both liberating and convicting; endlessly gracious and pointedly sharp. If you are fostering a relationship, recovering from a broken one, or working on yourself to be ready for the next one, this series will be some of the best nonfiction listening you will do–cross my heart.
Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and Domestic by Ester Perel
You already know how much I’m fangirling on Ester, so let me just tell you about this book. It’s central premise is that our modern relationships put a tremendous amount of pressure on one person to play many conflicting and paradoxical roles in our lives. This pressure and the often opposite directions it pulls us results in a soup of disappointment, unmet expectations, and unfulfilled desires.
But that doesn’t have to be the case if we are willing to be honest with ourselves and our partners about what we want and what we need. She also offers strategies for understanding our own desires and needs as well as those of our partners that may feel strange, threatening, or uncomfortable. She tackles concepts of infidelity, sexual fetishes, and sexual dysfunction with the same kind, piercing therapy approach that lays bare the complexity and simplicity in every situation. You will feel smarter having read her research and the examples she provides from her own therapy practice with couples.
I also appreciate the way she incorporates relationships of all kinds–homosexual partnerships, interracial, cross-cultural, cross generational, young relationships and mature ones, those with open relationships and those who are religiously monogamous. She offers this in both her series and her book. I found that no matter the couple, there were relatable elements that had me processing my own relationship strife, my own identities, and my personality in profound ways.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
First of all, the author’s last name always reminds me of the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes where his nemesis is infamous “Moriarty.” Not a bad remembrance as I loved that series! But this book was recommended highly by a friend, and then someone offered to listen to it with me since we lived hours away. I found the prospect of a two-person book club via Audible and texting to be an incredible fun proposition. I wasn’t disappointed!
The structure of this story is part of its intrigue. Like the now famous and award-winning HBO series based on the novel, the plot flashes backward to fill in a story in which the reader (listener) is thrust into an active murder investigation from the beginning. You know someone was killed among a small, wealthy, and tight-knit community, but you just don’t know who. It’s a murder-mystery meets Real Housewives (but the female characters are MUCH more interesting).
Since the novel takes place in Australia (the show takes place in Norther California) there’s the added fun of the new terms, accents, and references which remind me of my time living in Australia. The characters are incredible authentic and complex–no one’s a hero and very few are actual villains although it takes you nearly the entire story to conclude that. It’s a fun listen that you will likely look for excuses to keep going–maybe a full house clean or woodworking project will be a nice outcome of finishing this one!
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Since the movie based on this book is coming out in a few months, you may want to opt to listen to the Audible version before. This story takes place in a dystopian future where human’s main joy is through the escape of reality into the world of a highly immersive Augmented Reality (AR). Part of its charm is the futuristic world paired with the prolific 80’s pop culture nostalgia.
The main character is a teenage boy who is both obsessed with his virtual worlds as well as his quest to beat the rest of the world in finding an Easter egg” hidden within this AR world, left by its eccentric but brilliant creator. I liked listening to this because it was such a different genre from what I often read. Although I do love teenage protagonists and future dystopias, I’m not a gamer, and I have little personal nostalgia for the 80’s. But that should tell you how well done both the book and the Audible narrator were. I’m excited to watch the movie, and I have good memories of listening to this as an escape from my own less-than-wonderful life circumstances last Spring. I recognize the thematic cross-overs and appreciate them.
If Brené Brown writes a book, it will make my “best of” list every time. She’s an author who I usually buy her book first on Audible, then buy a hard-copy to re-read. She’s one of the few authors whose books I have read more than once (other than those books that I taught in my high school classroom) and I own all of her books–most on both platforms.
The title of this will be self-evident for why it was applicable in my life this year if you know me personally or have followed my recent writing about 2017. Brené’s work has been influential in my personal development for over four years. As a (recovering) perfectionist and a first born who always has so much to prove, I’ve come to recognize that Brené’s qualitative research and the conclusions she shares about vulnerability and shame are transformational tenets for me to understand myself and how to live a whole-hearted life. I love and admire her voice as a strong woman navigating her femininity in a dominant Christian, American (Western) culture that can often feel confusing and even oppressive.
I will likely buy this as a physical book to read in 2018–pulling quotes and wisdom for further meditation, reflection, and transformation.
Hit list for 2018
Here’s what I have on tap for this year! All of the following are already sitting in my library, beckoning me with their rich stories and strong voices.
- The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, ordered this immediately after seeing both Girls’ Trip and this interview on the Daily Show
- Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, recommended by the same person I read Big Little Lies with. Let’s see how this one fares!
- Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, I follow Ng on Twitter and love her voice there. Plus, I want to be intentional about reading diverse authors, and she is highly acclaimed. (gender, race, culture, etc)
- The Power by Naomi Alderman, I’m listening to this as part of a girl-power, Twitter-driven book club. We are chatting the end of this month–feel free to join if you grab this book by then.
Let me know what was interesting about sharing my love for Audible and these stories. I hope you will also add to my hit list with your own favorites, and tell me if you are reading any of my favs. I’m always up for a good book chat–especially on the stories I love.