The Value of Non-Traditional Reading: Where eBooks and Audiobooks Fit in our Lives

It was about a decade ago that eBooks became a common topic of discussion in the United States. I had almost forgotten what an uproar the kindle initially caused. Die-hard enthusiasts of the particular scent of paperback and the satisfaction of turning a page crawled out of the recesses of the internet to express outrage at the destruction of tradition. You can still find articles online from 2008 expressing fear that the book was being replaced. People acted as though it would be Fahrenheit 451.

But, as the years passed, the general populace began to understand that addition of something new didn’t have to erase the old. And, as more and more people did not make “the switch to digital,” but rather integrated it into their lives as a convenient alternative to bulky books for the right situations, even the strongest of naysayers lost their vehemence. It was a slow process to be sure, and not everyone cares for eBooks even now, but they have become a respectable option and a normal part of life for those of us in the States.

Audiobooks were somehow both a step beyond that and a step backward. While most people get the concept, and appeal, of an eBook, audiobooks in the US were a much harder sell. To me, so much of the pleasure of reading comes from holding the book and looking at the page, hearing the characters speak in the way you imagine and reading at your own pace.

Growing up, I never liked it when my teachers would read out loud to us in classes. They always read much too slowly for my liking. The voices didn´t sound right, names would be pronounced differently, everything was just off. Audiobooks had much the same drawbacks for me and many others.

But, just like the eBooks, it was only a matter of finding where audiobooks belonged to see their value. I don’t listen to audiobooks on a daily basis in the same way that I read physical or electronic books. I save them for the long plane trips, and car rides across the country, and commutes to work where music isn’t enough to keep me from boredom. Or, for the moments where I want to read and draw at the same time and audiobooks make that possible. I think the key to Spain and other European countries branching out beyond physical books, is for them to imagine the possibilities beyond what physical books can do.

As a college student with little money and a very small dorm room, physical books were a luxury I couldn´t always afford. Being able to buy my books for $2 digitally instead of $20 meant I could buy 10x as many books and actually have room to store them. Electronic books create accessibility. I could download an app on my phone and have all of my books with me on the go. Anywhere I was, I could pull up the book I was reading and continue the story. There is a convenience to eBooks that cannot be ignored.

I can readily admit that there will never be anything quite as satisfying as sitting down with a book and watching the chapters pile up in your left hand; feeling the book balance out and unbalance again as weight shifts from one hand to the other. There is, however, a benefit to books that light themselves when you are sitting outside to read and the sun goes down but you still have one more chapter and no lamp; and devices that hold a hundred books when your suitcase can only fit so many in the gaps between piles of clothes. It is no longer an argument of which is better, paper or electronic, rather it is about what works best in the situation given. Its finding the ways that new technology fits into your life without compromising the joy that the traditional brings. It is not replacement but integration.

Article by Cady Suppe