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Audio Failure

Though I have always loved stories, I never listened to audio books growing up. It wasn’t that I disliked them, it just never occurred to me to listen to them. My parents didn’t listen to them, and although I sort of knew that there was “talk radio” out there, I thought it was something on “AM” and that they only talked about news, sports or traffic. I suppose my grandparents had listened to “stories” on the radio, but it was not something anyone ever talked about that I can remember. The only real reference I had from that era was when my mother referred to my grandparents as ‘The Bickersons,” and I had to ask her what she meant.

I loved reading books and watching television and movies. The first movie I ever saw in a theater, Snow White, was a revelation to me. I was only about three, and my parents were unsure if I was too young to bring to the theater, or if I would be scared by the witch. But I sat, wide-eyed, and absorbed every detail. When it ended, I burst into tears and was inconsolable. My parents apologized and told me the witch wasn’t real. But all I could get out was, “I…never…wanted it…to end!”

This is all to say it started young and fully formed, my love of stories. But I think I really associated stories with something visual – something I read or watched. I was never good at processing information by just listening. I have always been a terrible fidget, and the minute I am not engaged, my mind wanders. Pretty soon I am in a story in my head and not hearing whatever else is going on. For some reason, the act of reading and drawing or watching was enough, but hearing something was not.

Then I met and fell in love with my husband, a man who is a complete audiophile. And as you do when you love someone, I tried to learn about and appreciate the things he cared about. He could sit in a room or lie in bed and just listen to things for hours. I would fall asleep or lose interest in about ten minutes. Listening to music was easy. Audio books were much harder.

This was before podcasts and iPods, and having earbuds constantly in our ears was the norm. I started listening in the car. At least I could drive and not let my mind wander to the dishes I needed to do or that coat I wish I bought or where were those paints I bought four years ago? The road and a story. I could do that!

Except, at first, I couldn’t. I kept missing parts of the story. I would suddenly realize I had no idea what the reader was talking about. Man, how long had I spaced out?

I had to keep trying. It took a while, but gradually I learned a few things. First of all, some things were just not interesting in print or audio. I am never going to be interested in the business report! Likewise, a Chuck Palahniuk book I would have hated to read, I hated to hear! This may seem intuitive, but at first I was trying to make myself like audio books and failing, because I mainly hated the content. Second, the reader matters! The monotone of Malcolm Gladwell was not for me. But his ideas were interesting, and I was better suited to understand him if I read his book instead.

Fast forward about 15 years, and I am still a very visual person, and audio tends to work better for me if I am otherwise engaged. My husband can still listen to podcasts for hours, while I prefer to read.

Our son, on the other hand, is all-consuming when it comes to stories. At just five, he can’t get enough. He never tires of being read to, or watching shows and movies. And every meal break, car ride, walk, he asks the same question: “Can you tell me a story?” I am pretty good, but not ten stories a day good. He is insatiable. But I didn’t want to dampen his enthusiasm. I just needed a break. So I thought, I wonder if he could follow an audio book?

Life. Saver. For real.

Every car ride, five minutes, fifteen minutes, two hours – doesn’t matter, he wants that audio book. We started with the Magic Tree House books, which are great early chapter books. They are whimsical, but usually based on some historical or scientific facts: a journey to Egypt, escaping pirates, or exploring the tundra with Jack and Annie. At about two hours a book, they were the perfect introduction to listening to longer form stories. At first, I would pause the story every once in a while to make sure he knew what was going on, but he rarely needed help.

We are still listening to the Magic Tree House (there are a lot of them), but we recently jumped to Harry Potter. I was thrilled that he immediately fell in love with the story, and over a few weeks we finished the first book.

Audio has opened a new door to sharing stories and ideas with my son, and allowed me a new appreciation of the format. I can’t wait to hear the next story.

Nicole Guerra-Coon is the Assistant Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her column in the October 4, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript.

Lydia Sampson

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