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The Essence of Insanity

Ramblings of a lunatic

The Problem with Audiobooks

Audiobooks, in theory, are a great idea: have somebody read the thing you were going to read to yourself out loud, and you can listen to it while doing something else, like cooking, cleaning, etc.

This is the passive version of reading: information flows from the text into your brain, with no interruptions, and not requiring a lot of engagement from the reader. That, however, is not how I read.

When I read, I jump around. A lot. When I realise that the paragraph I am reading can be skipped, I do so. When I am confused, I jump back. I skim, jump forward, reread, jump back, pause to process the information, and much more.

Listening to the first 3 hours of Guns, Germs, and Steel, and then reading the second half, just made me realise how much I skip while reading a book, and how much I go back and reread, with pauses along the way to think about the author’s arguments and see if they make sense.

It is a well-known fact that I consume all media at 2-4x speed, depending on the thing in question, and this book is no different. Most of the time, at 3x speed, the narrator is speaking at a comfortable pace for me. However, I have to listen to him read the parts that I would have skipped, which makes me stop paying attention and leaves me confused when I inevitably start paying attention, only to find the narrator somewhere completely new.

Pausing is also a pain with audiobooks. For most of the books I read, which are mostly the author trying to present an argument, which, at a glance, is about three quarters of my reading list, I need to pause frequently and think about the author’s argument, and let myself have some time to digest it. The set pace of narration destroys my frequent reflections, and I have found that after 1 hour of GGS, or 3 hours into the book, I felt myself not really understanding the argument being presented. The last half of the book took me an hour to read, which tells me that it’s not the speed that’s the problem, it’s the manner of information digestion.

All of this is to say that my time with audiobooks have ended; I will never again listen to audiobooks, for they do not accomplish the goal of reading books in the first place: to understand the author’s argument and decide if it is valid. Reading words on a paper remains the only way to do so for now.