The Ears Have It Elizabeth Willis Barrett November 9, 2011
Listening to books has revolutionized my learning. Even though I used to enjoy reading the old fashioned way--sitting in a comfortable Lazy Boy devouring a bestseller while munching on carrots--I found that I was constantly interrupted. Those interruptions were so annoying. I would much rather read than take care of anything else, so it became easier to not pick up a good book in the first place.
My first encounter with book listening came when Brad and I were driving handicap buses from Murray, Kentucky, to Gilbert Arizona. Brad drove one bus and I drove another. I couldn’t have handled a long bus and wasn’t licensed for one of those, but a short bus was manageable. It was before the era of cell phones, so we used walkie talkies to communicate with each other. It was a glorious experience made even better because we listened to books on tape while we drove across the country. We could rent them from one Flying J gas station and then return them at the next.
The first book I ever listened to was John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. It wasn’t very cheerful but it was intriguing and kept me alert on the long drive. The reader was excellent as he gave each of the characters a different voice. Finally I could get through a book without interruptions except for the occasional crackling voice of Brad checking on me from the other bus.
I was definitely hooked. I came home ready to listen to some more books and went to the Mesa Library to see what they had. This was in the 1980’s and I was told by the stuffy librarians that “listening books” were only for the blind. Hmmmmmm. Soon--and I’d like to think that my prodding helped--the library started putting out a few books on tape for the general public. I listened to a lot of Sherlock Holmes since that was about all they had that sounded interesting. I got a good dose of him and Dr. Watson.
Then slowly the listening library got bigger and bigger. Nearly any book I want to read can now be found in listening form, performed by outstanding readers.
I like to listen to books because when you sit and read, that is all you can do. I suppose you could travel or eat at the same time or if a baby were sleeping, you could babysit at the same time or if you were waiting in a doctors office, you could read and wait at the same time. But when you listen to a book, you can also walk, ride a bike, stretch, lift weights, clean bathrooms, sweep, scrub, do dishes, water plants, drive--a multitudinous list of things.
Listening to books has opened up a wide world for me. I have learned to change my thinking from Wayne Dyer, stave off dementia from Dr. Amen, quit worrying from Norman Vincent Peale and focus my energy from Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Listening to books has increased my awareness and allowed me to discuss great books with others--especially Brad, who didn’t develop a listening ear like I did, but is an avid reader on his Ipad and Kindle. We enjoy delving into the writings of John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald and other master writers. Brad even read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that I had already listened to so we could watch the movie together with more insight.
I would never take time to read wonderful classics in a conventional way because life has too many projects and appointments lined up for me. But listening allows me to do both.
For instance, I could never read a book while suffering in a dentist’s chair, but I can listen to Agatha Christie who is the perfect author to get me through a crown fitting (only if I have laughing gas and a whopping deadening shot, too). I put on my earphones and tell the dentist and his assistants that I am entering a sphere of my own and please don’t try to bring me out of it by talking to me. Since I need laughing gas just to get my teeth cleaned, this added incentive of sinking my mind into a Christie mystery helps pull my mind away from my extreme discomfort.
I know that I have perturbed many in my family because I have earbuds in my ears most of the day, but when someone wants to talk to me, out they come and I’m ready to communicate.
Brad especially dislikes it when I am in my book listening world. I have to remind him that for 40 years I have been subjected to his incessant sports games on the radio and TV and at least when I am listening to a book, I am not inflicting him with the distraction since it is going on in my ears alone.
Coordinating book listening and phone answering used to create a dilemma. I would have my cell phone connected to earphones in one pocket and my Ipod connected to earphones in another pocket. If my phone rang while I was listening to a book, I would have to whip off the Ipod earphones, then whip on the cell phone earphones before I could answer it. (I know that most people don’t bother with earphones on their phones, but I think they are a must because it keeps your hands free to fold clothes or chop onions.) I felt like a quick draw artist.
But technology has come to my aid and the problem has been solved. Now I can download a book onto my Iphone, put in my earphones and listen to a book. When my phone rings, I can push a button on my headset which causes the reading to stop and the phone to be answered. As soon as the call has ended, my book starts up again. Ahhh--progress!
I can’t say that I remember everything I listen to. Sometimes I can’t remember that I’ve already listened to a book until I’m halfway through it the second time. But I have been able to listen to hundreds of books that I never would have taken the time to sit down and read. I have ingested the main ideas, grown to admire the magnificent ability the writers have of expression, been educated in numerous topics and I could probably now answer a lot more questions in the game of Trivial Pursuit.
And when I’m not listening, I have lots more to talk about--if anyone else has the time to listen.