Reading with Your Ears

Reading is an act of concentration. To focus your eyes and all the powers of your imagination on the written page. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. For me, that’s whenever I’m in a moving vehicle. Or a train where there’s no room to sit, let alone open up my copy of War and Peace.  Even for readers who are not afflicted by motion sickness or uncomfortable commutes, Simon Lowe reminds us:

You can’t read books all the time; trust me, I’ve tried (and like I said to the officer, at least I wasn’t texting and driving). The next best thing is a good books podcast.


Podcast icon. Image source: Pixaby

As ubiquitous as podcasts may seem today, they haven’t been around all that long. Adam Curry (the former MTV video jockey) and Dave Winer (software developer) are credited with coming up with the idea in 2004. That little bit of coding was revolutionary back in the day. Now, podcasts are to amateur disc jockeys and wannabe radio hosts as blogging is to aspiring writers. Anyone with a decent phone and an internet connection can make a podcast.

Plus, no one in the US or the EU is regulating podcasts. You can (and many do) say whatever the hell you want. While there’s certainly a lot of freedom in that, there is also little to no quality control either. As Stephanie Watson writes:

Consider two popular podcasts: Keith and The Girl is a say-anything-about-anything podcast run by Keith and his girlfriend, Chemda. The podcast’s official website touts its expressive (and explicit) freedom, proudly proclaiming “Not held back by the FCC or anyone else.” On the other end of the spectrum is A Mysterious Universe, a podcast devoted to examination of the paranormal, UFOs and cryptozoology.

short story podcast
Not Just Hemingway. Image source:

Last year, I was interviewed for a vodcast (a video podcast) using an iPhone and pieces of paper taped to a stack of books as a teleprompter.  This month, I got to sit in a full-on recording studio at sub-zero temperatures for my first ever podcast interview. The interview is about Yoko Ogawa and her short story “An Afternoon at the Bakery”, soon to be airing on Not Just Hemingway.

With podcasts sprouting left and right, you need help these days to find the right ones. So here are two such guides: one that skews British and the other US-centric.

on the radio

Notwithstanding this embarrassment of riches, I still prefer to do my reading the old-fashioned way. I like my words on paper, especially now that I’ve starting writing book reviews in earnest. I can fold down the corners or scribble in the margins. As for newspapers and magazines, I tear out what I need and stow it away for future reference or inspiration.

One of my sons can read anytime anyplace while the other one gets car-sick just like me. When the kids were little, we used to keep a stack of CDs in the car: a hilarious opera series by Frank Groothof singing all the parts, pop tunes courtesy of Fox Kids and a complete collection of the Harry Potter audiobooks.

walkman ad
Image source:

Originally created as books for the blind, the audiobook has been around since 1932. With the invention of the cassette tape and later the compact disc, audiobooks became accessible to a wider audience. Is anyone out there old enough to remember the CD Walkman, that cutting edge innovation that let you move to your own groove?

Now we know that the audiobook is here to stay. In fact, they’ve overtaken ebooks as the new sweet spot for the publishing industry. There are favorite narrators like Jim Dale who can produce a multitude of voices or others like Jeremy Irons whose velvet voice is a treat to hear. But what could possibly be better than a book narrated by its own author?


I’d love to make my novel available in the form of an audiobook. I like to do a reading of my work every now and again. Maybe I can produce my own audio narration? Or maybe not. Somehow, I suspect that might be a whole new kettle of fish.

Perhaps the wiser step is figure out first whether I can get with the program. Start using my ears as well as my eyes to read. My friend Dave listens to one book while walking his dog and reads the other the old school way. I could double my consumption!

books to be reviewed
My stockpile of books for 2017. Photo credit: Karen Kao

I’m thinking about taking a trip around the world. It may not happen but if it does, that’ll be a lot of moving vehicles and ditto motion sickness. It sounds like the best possible time to start reading with my ears. But what to do with my stack of 100+ books waiting for me to read? Hear them weep.

P.s. Click on the link behind each of the subheadings. You’ll find the tune I picked to illustrate this blog.