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Issue 1846 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Audiobooks, awkward skims, and hanging in there

This week in Books: audiobooks, and a goodbye to the Spring Term.

Distingue Ciddiqi 2alqutd5mkc Unsplash Photo: Unsplash


in Issue 1846

A private affair starting from South Kensington station and ending at Victoria lasts 12 minutes. 

In this time, amidst the train of thought obscured by standing Londoners and masked by the commuter scowl, I’d have gotten far enough to replace the preconceptions of the book I was reading (a little motivation to continue, I suppose). 

But ultimately, not read enough to establish a proper sense of direction in the book (and actually, what my motivations were to continue), right before I alight the District Line, ready focus to minimise the steps it takes for the interchange. 

This traditional agreement of reading on the commute has served me over the years. It has helped to get through a number of smaller reads — Lord of the Flies, The Bell Jar, Sula — and set the pace to conquer a number of larger ones — Madame Bovary, White Teeth, Moby Dick. But the organised nature it takes on slightly disconcerts. Like some huge reading counter floats around in my head, and it becomes another things to quantify, sand down, perfect, for what should be an enjoyable activity. 

A segue. In a conversation the other day about tastes in books and the reasons for reading, two things came to me. First, I need to incorporate some lighter material into my palette (I will be taking to some good ‘casual book’ recommendations, so please do send them in). But that there was a solid solemnity that had been built over the years in my approach to reading.  

Beliefs, tendencies to scribble, the tides of being put down, shut, and thrown away

Not that I have reasons for reading different to most people (the same reasons of enjoyment, enlightenment, fascination, entertainment, at this point, the list wraps around itself), but instead that I have viewed books through the particular symbolism of boundary stones of parting our lives in its stages, reflecting our thoughts and attitudes, and otherwise growth in the world. 

But university and coursework and demands test such a view. At the current pace of life that is, I find there’s more to put my mind to focus on than sitting down to read a single book for hours. Assessments. Commitments. Emails (the angst of it). And so it seems to equate reading to this list of things, feels not only like a betrayal, but also yet another thing to do in itself. 

Hence, audiobooks. A great way to catch up on reading on-the go, while grocery-shopping, or stalling time in between lectures it. Perfect for multitasking to have on in the background while doing some cleaning. If it happens that the Tube is too crowded to open a book in hand, audiobooks are the perfect convenience. This paragraph was not sponsored by Audible. 

Despite its solutions, and the rise of services like Audible and other subscription-based audiobook providers in recent years, it seems that there still exists a void created by the joys of handling paperback. 

It should be first noted that in terms of the problem, I consider audiobooks as more of an alternative than exactly a substitution for the true issue at hand. An actual solution would likely be beyond my circle of immediate influence. 

Audiobooks are a somewhat an antithesis of the reading experience. I (evidently) consider reading as a private ordeal, where transferred ideas confront the reader — beliefs, tendencies to scribble, the tides of being put it down with ease or thrown across the room — by actively reading someone else’s words in their own voice. As your own words. Audiobooks carry a sort of sensation by nature of their novelty — with great works able to be dictated to you by celebrities, or being able to speed up or slow down audio by the number of ‘Hours Left’. 

However, at the end of the day, its kiwis and pomegranates. What it really comes down to is creating the atmosphere and time for my style of reading, and being at peace what in the end I can or can’t read. University takes up time, it’s the truth — and one not worth denying. And so if you’re finding it hard to get the pages in or haven’t had the chance to read anything non-academic this term — don’t be hard on yourself! It’s never too late to “come as you are,” making those little steps of progress to where you want to be. It almost feels as if reading is an act of service to others, not only of your self-interest; I find calling it an activity with an underlying sense of generosity helps me to get where I want to be. 

A younger self might have resisted the idea of listening to audiobooks out of a necessity, possibly a stubbornness from childhood of believing things should remain the same as they were. But I’m starting to like them a lot. I’ve started slow — buying (or using credits for) predominantly non-fiction on Audible, and it might be that I branch out to my first fiction audiobook (hopefully, a comedy — I mean it, I need the recommendations) soon. But I have started to appreciate audiobooks for what they are. So this week’s news: I have started listening to audiobooks (and I forgot to celebrate World Book Day).

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