Books Are Our Friends—Part II

As the gorgeous state of Oregon burns around me, I take this time to meditate on healing. Healing the earth, our hearts, and our world dogma. And, because I promised myself I would, even though I’m feeling on edge and don’t particularly want to, I am catching up on my writing, including a sequel to my blog post about my dearest friends: books. This—writing—helps me heal. I hope you are finding your own ways to heal during this dark time. 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Some say that listening to an audiobook is not an effective way to fill our brains with information because of the lack of engagement. Think about all the things we do while we listen to audiobooks: clean the house, go for a run, wash the dishes, and most commonly, drive. Do you feel that you are able to fully engage with a book if you’re doing something else while you listen? Are old fashioned books better because they demand more of our focus? (If you read the first installment of this post, you already know that I prize old-timey paper and glue.) 

I am curious what my readers think about this, because I assume you are all avid readers. But here’s the thing. I don’t actually want to write about cognition today. Unless it’s a textbook or for work, I have a choice on how I take in information. If I want to listen to Gone Girl while belly dancing, I’ll do it. I’m not going to—it’s a waste of both a great book and quality dance time. But, if I really needed to multitask this way, I certainly could.

Today, I want to write about a different aspect of the listening-versus-reading debate. To me, the thing that stands out is not the cognition, but the experience I have with the words themselves. I’ll give you a few examples. 

Bill Bryson’s humble, foible-filled travel writing always makes me giggle. I adore Bryson’s writing because it takes me on a journey right beside him. I’m there while he’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, listening for the shuffling of bears and glancing over his shoulder every mile or so to make sure Katz hasn’t dropped dead. I harrumph with him through small town America, where one cannot simply walk to the 7-Eleven—everything must be managed through personal transportation. At least once a chapter, I stumble upon a line so authentic that it makes me chuckle to myself. Bryson doesn’t hold back on the embarrassing indignities of real life, and I love that about him. He spells every single detail out without me having to think about it. Therefore, it’s very easy to listen to him on the way to Costco. I can easily perform other activities because I don’t have to work that hard to be satiated.

Conversely, from the moment I pressed play on Delia Owens’ audiobook, Where the Crawdads Sing, I knew I wouldn’t be able to merely listen to this book. This was a book to be read with my eyes. This was a collection of words that needed to be rolled around in, as in a warm mud flat on the edge of a bayou. Delicious words that looked and felt sumptuous, that needed to be feasted upon visually as well as internally. Immediately, I turned it off so as not to ruin the experience further. 

Did you catch the difference there? Bryson paints the picture for you, while Owens makes you paint the picture yourself, do some of the heavy lifting. Have you ever started listening to an audiobook and then turned it off because you could tell it would be better to read? Just me? Personally, I love helping out with the heavy lifting. It makes my brain happy. So, now I wait for Where the Crawdads Sing to pop up in my queue at the library. Some books are worth the wait. 

Books are My Friends

I got the idea to write this post from reading this Move, Eat, Create blog post. It inspired me to tell my own story, after being so moved by this one.
When I was a child, the library was not just a place to pick out books. It was my second home.
One of my earliest set of memories involves my mother, twin sister, and I going to the library nearly every weekend. We were each allowed to pick a stack of books; most of the time it was more than we could carry ourselves. We spent what felt like hours picking out those books. I remember the smell of the library, the grand stature of the ancient building, the texture of cracked spines. We would walk past the checkout station and wave to our favorite library employees, Scott and Betty. Scott was a tall, slender man with a big poof of dark curly hair; he was like the fun uncle. Betty was a sweet older woman who gave warm and fleshy hugs; she was our library grandma.
Sometime in the 90s, a brand new library was built. It was fresh, and clean, and felt like a Christmas present every time I walked in. During my early adolescent years, my mother started volunteering at the Friends of the Library bookstore, which meant we got four whole hours every Saturday morning to revel in the adventures of our cohorts: Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the members of The Babysitters Club, Mandie Shaw, Sandy and Dennys Murry, and more. My mother was parenting on her own at this time, so my sister and I created a weekend ritual with our “library babysitter” out of necessity, but it was rarely an encumbrance.

Of course we read Sweet Valley Twins.

Of course we read Sweet Valley Twins.

We grabbed our stack of library books, and met our best friends (another set of twins) C & E bright and early each Saturday. We would return what we had read and pick out new books, then take over a big table in between the child and adult section. The four of us were all precocious readers, and lived by the mantra “Books are our friends!” which was lovingly crammed into our heads from an early age in the Talented and Gifted program taught by one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mrs. Swingle. We were big proponents of the “Read In,” a program that my elementary school introduced, where we would lock ourselves in homeroom all day, get cozy on pillows and carpet pads, and read until the bell rang to go home. So, we created our own version at the library. We got comfy and let our imaginations run wild. Of course we allowed for interruptions when Scott would come along and greet us merrily, or if there was a cute boy (Or perhaps four!) to snicker towards.
As an adult, I wish I had the time to go to the library regularly as I did when I was a kid. I am astounded by the power it still holds over me when I make it through the doors. I am blessed to have lived in cities where reading is truly a fundamental of everyday life. Portland’s (Oregon) library is known for its huge circulation system. The main library here is not only a wonderful place for the keen reader to obtain more reading material, it’s physically a beautiful edifice all on its own.
I truly feel lucky to have been embraced by books, and I can only hope that as more and more readers find enjoyment in electronic reading aids, the majority will realize that nothing replaces the rush to the senses that books made of paper and glue can bring to a reader.