I’ve known for a long time that I learn best through listening and through verbally discussing a topic. My favorite classes have always been the ones where the professor was a great orator, because it meant I could just sit back and absorb what they were lecturing on. All I ever needed to do was jot down some key words or phrases in my notes, and when I studied later the entire lesson would come flooding back. People thought I was crazy, but it worked for me.
Unfortunately, while entering college meant a lot more lectures, it also meant a lot more assigned readings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fantastic reader—I wouldn’t want to go into publishing if I wasn’t—but only when it comes to fiction. Nonfiction, on the other hand, is a completely different story.
When I try to read any nonfiction, even if it has a narrative component, my brain decides that it can’t focus on the words and I get distracted every other sentence. So trying to read so much nonfiction for my classes—sometimes hundreds of pages a week—was just agony to get through, and on top of it all, I could never remember what I had read.
In my sophomore year of college, I noticed my dad had the audiobook version of a book I had to read for class. Instead of renting it from the campus bookstore, I just logged in to his account and downloaded it to my phone. I plugged in my headphones, set the reading speed to 1.5, and sat back to start listening. An hour or so later, I was completely done with the readings and had even gotten a jump start on the next week’s assignment. I could even remember and understand what I was supposed to have learned. It was like something just clicked into place in my brain.
Listening instead of reading allowed me to experience nonfiction in a way I never had before. When I’m reading, I have no concept of the author’s voice, but when I’m listening, it’s as if the author is casually explaining everything to me in a conversation. I started by just listening to assigned books for classes, but I quickly began consuming books about any subject I found remotely interesting. From the fascinating technical explanations in How Google Works by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg to the deep insights about life found in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, I listened to it all.
Interestingly enough, it seems like I’m not the only one who’s recently discovered audiobooks. According to the Association of American Publishers, revenue for the nonfiction category has grown by 28.4% since 2013, and “nearly 150 million more adult nonfiction books were sold in 2017 than in 2013.” When possible, every nonfiction narrative should be released as an audiobook. The numbers don’t lie: there’s a whole legion of people out there who are just like me—about 30 percent of the population, in fact—and I guarantee they would love to listen to these books if they were made available in audiobook form.