I had planned to get my monthly reading review up today, but fate–in the form of an e-mail that slid into my work inbox very early this morning (that’s just mean)–intervened. I spent my morning in a flurry of policy-reading and e-mail- and memo-writing. So instead, have some half-formed thoughts that have been nagging at the back of my mind all day:
I left my iPod at work yesterday, which means three whole days with no audiobooks. I’m listening to Nora Roberts’ Key of Knowledge right now. The heroine, Dana, is a reader. She has a bathtub book, a breakfast book, a bedtime book. I love the way Roberts just slips this in without any exposition. Unless I missed it (which can happen to me with audiobooks) there’s no big explanation of how “Dana had a book for every occasion blah blah.” It’s just casually mentioned–“She grabbed her breakfast book and a bowl of cereal” or whatever–as if Roberts expects her readers to recognize these crazy habits as natural.
Which, if they’re like me, they will. At any one time, I may be reading a “serious” book, a “fun” book (which is a bedtime/bad mood book, for when I’m not up to the serious one), and a “bath” book–I just can’t trust my e-reader in a ziplock bag. Maybe a “commuting” book on my phone. And when I’m teaching a literature class, whatever I’m reading for that. For the past couple of years, I’ve filled in many of the gaps when I formerly couldn’t read (grocery shopping, dog walking, dish doing, driving, dozing off) with an audiobook.
I realized I’d left my iPod at work when it was time to do the dinner dishes. I felt its absence physically–a sensation of something missing from my pocket–as well as mentally–the job was way more boring without a book. But I also started thinking about my “addiction” to audiobooks. There’s no denying that when I’m stressed or depressed, I listen more, and that it’s partly a way of shutting out the world and my own thoughts. That’s not all bad; there are, of course, much less healthy ways to blunt stressful thoughts. But I was a bit shocked by just how bereft I felt without the story murmuring in my ear, how often I’ve wanted to mute my world and escape into another one.
Without the audiobooks I paid more attention to the dog on our walk, which she appreciated. I noticed that I am so old that the grocery store’s soundtrack is the 80s “hits” of my high school and college years. I fell asleep earlier, which made me think that I should turn off my daughter’s bedtime story sooner (my kids, like me, have trouble falling asleep, while my husband’s off the moment his head hits the pillow).
And I returned to a habit I’ve had as long as I can remember: making up my own stories to help me fall asleep. Once I thought this habit indicated I had a future as a writer, but really it revealed my future as a romance reader. My early “stories” were inspired by fairy tales, later ones by my teenage discovery of Austen, Heyer, and fantasy. They are always romantic stories, but never good ones. Think of the most derivative, formulaic Regency romance you’ve ever read, add Mary-Sue Me as heroine, subtract plot . . . the point is for me to fall asleep, after all!
Every once in a while I’ll veer into a contemporary tale, in which Mary-Sue Me meets her hero at the charming SLAC where she’s tenured (she does not have my alternative-academic career). But in those I can never shake a guilty worry about what’s happened to my real-life husband, whom I met at the new graduate students’ reception and pretty much loved at first sight. I guess I need books because I’m an inadequate fantasizer.
I’m not going cold turkey on audiobooks, or any books, but I am going to try to cut back a little and pay more attention to the world outside me and the worlds in my own head.