Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Practicing My Listening

When I tell people about how much I like audiobooks the most common response I get is some variation on the same theme: "I could never do that.  My mind wanders.  I have trouble paying attention.  I get too distracted.  They don't work for me."
It is an incredibly common response.  And it got me thinking--about oral traditions, storytelling, and the enumerable distractions in our modern lives--because I just love being read to and reading aloud.  I always have.  I guess a lot of people must outgrow it.  More specifically, I suspect most folks simply do not foster/practice this activity beyond the years of childhood.  Habits come, habits go...
Before the invention and widespread use of the printing press everyone was doing audiobooks--just the live, in-person, told by your elders type, rather than the digital.  Pretty much everything (from family history to cultural origin stories and mythologies) was passed down from mouth to ear to mouth again.  I've always thought that was impressive and interesting, since I am not well known for my sharp memory.  I can remember the idea dazzling me in my youth.  No books!  Just people with libraries of tales stored away in their brains!  How remarkable!
As I was pondering I came to the realization that maybe we all, as a generalization, suffer from an increasing inability to focus, to concentrate.  I know I certainly do, from time to time.  There are multitudes of distractions all about us, many of them quite flashy, dramatic, and appealing.  Television programs, apps, magazines, traffic, radio broadcasts, online games, office mates, housemates, phone calls, pets, family visits, texts, Facebook posts, newspapers, Instagram photos, car alarms, chores, Twitter updates, *gasp* blog entries!
There is so much going on around us almost all of the time.  I can easily see why people get distracted from their audiobooks.
And it happens to me.  Not daily, but a couple times per book, I'd say.  Sometimes I have to rewind my audiobooks.  There will be a passage which makes my brain start to wander down a different track--connecting dots in the plot lines, relating to characters, remembering other similar stories I've read, and other similar contemplations--and I realize I am no longer listening.  Or I realize that I am watching birds eat berries or planning a dinner party I am hosting soon and not really listening.  So, I just rewind and listen again.  No biggie.  Sometimes I have to rewind it a couple of times to get myself back on track if the competing train of thought is particularly strong.  Sometimes I pause the story and let my thought process run its course to the end and then I resume.  That works for me.
I didn't realize it until somewhat recently, but I feel that my interest in audiobooks is helping me cultivate a better ability to listen, in general.  I rewind less than I used to a couple years ago.  Plus, I can see benefits in my listening outside of the realm of books, in less-than-thrilling meetings, say, and in situations with lots of background noise or commotion.
I can tell when people are good listeners.  I can tell when people are just waiting for their chance to speak.  I know that I desire being more like the former than the latter.  To me, the ability to focus on something to the exclusion of just about all else, to really listen, is a very handy skill.  And not just for audiobooks.
(And in case anyone is curious:  The second most reason people give for not enjoying audiobooks to is that is makes them sleepy.  I suspect this is related to how many people are read to sleep as children.  I figure this is especially true when people are out of practice with reading, as this naptime/bedtime reading would be the muscle memory, for lack of a better term, which they'd fall back on.  Plus, reading is usually a relaxing, sedentary activity.  I still love to read in bed, to read myself to sleep.  Occasionally--if I am in the grip of an excellent tale--I even listen to an audiobook in bed and drift off to sleep on the wing of a story filtering into my ears, like when I was a girl, but with a modern twist.  Oh, how I wish Matt like to read out loud....)


  1. I do like audiobooks...I have the app on my desktop and on my phone...and we've always liked to listen to books on long car trips...but lately with Sirius we've been listening to old Radio programs...and that's a fun way to 'hear' a story too...

    ...when we were first married...the Man used to read to me (Dostoevsky and Tolstoy mostly 'cause they were my faves) as I cleaned up the kitchen each evening...and then when Scout was learning to read he did the same...and I know Go Dog Go pretty much by heart... :)

    ...but you're right...we pretty much never do that now...

    ...because of your post...I'm going to try to be more mindful of when I'm 'just waiting to speak'...I know I must do that more than I'm even aware...

    ~Have a lovely day!

    1. I listened to a disc of old time radio programs at some point last year--that was a fun way to hear a story.

      I know we shouldn't judge--and we shouldn't judge a book by its cover--but it makes my day when people list authors like Tolstoy as a favorite, over, say, Janet Evanovich.

      Awareness is key, in so many ways!

  2. I like to listen to audio books, particularly while hiking, driving, or sewing. Sometimes my mind wanders off, but for the most part I seem to stick with the story, and I can always "rewind" if necessary.
    I really enjoy Garrison Keiler audio books, particularly in the car on a long road trip.
    Once in a while I just can't deal with the readers voice, but for the most part the readers of audio books have good voices to read out loud with.

    If you like to listen to stories you might want to check out the BBC Radio website, Radio 4 and Radio 4 extra do lots of book dramatizations, and audio books, and most are available to listen on demand, or you can listen live. Many are daily installments, but with a once a week omnibus, either way is nice to listen.


    1. I've only had two readers drive me away--and one was the author! I generally like books read by the author best, but apparently not everyone who is a gifted writer is a gifted reader, too!

      I love reading and sewing! Two of my favorite things rolled into one--now if I could only hike while sewing and reading! ;)

      I will check out Radio 4--thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Beth, this is something I've been becoming aware of just lately! I've been listening to podcasts for homeschoolers (can't say why - I just like them) and hearing much about the benefits of readalongs. You are right! It teaches them how to listen, and I'm not so good at that. (maybe listening to podcasts will improve me.)

    1. Everything comes with practice, I say, so podcasts can only be helping, right?! Happy listening!


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!