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Audiobooks and The Excessively Efficient Reader: A Love Story

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Trisha Brown

Contributing Editor

Trisha Brown grew up in Washington State and moved to Washington, DC, to work on programs that support vulnerable families. She decided to take a break in 2019, so now she’s traveling around the United States learning about different places and communities. She plans to return to her life in DC eventually, but for now she can be found chatting with people in bars and parks, catching up on sleep, and trying to keep herself from buying more books than her car and budget can handle. Find her on Instagram (@trishahaleybrown) or Twitter (@trishahaleybrwn).

Listening to a recent Book Riot Podcast, I was reminded that people are different from each other – or possibly just from me – in lots of ways. The discussion at hand was about a new program in the NYC subway system wherein riders can time free (promotional) reading materials to their commutes. The segment in question starts at about 48:30, but the part most relevant to me went a little something like this:

Jeff: My side eye is, nobody cares how long the read is.

My brain: Wait. I do…Huh. Am I the only one who cares about that?

Jeff: No one’s like ‘Oh, I’m only going to read something if I can finish it on the train’…Has anyone ever said that?

My brain: I say that constantly. And in fact, I plan to finish this podcast at roughly the same moment I walk into my office building. (Which I did.)

Rebecca: I think the only time that readers care about length of a book and matching a thing is when you’re talking about a road trip and thinking ‘I need an audio book that I can finish on this road trip.’

My brain: Or some people might actually do that math multiple times a day…I mean, maybe…you know, SOME people might.

I may be the one and only outlier, but I absolutely time my books to my life. In fact, I time everything to my life. My personal and wildly boring superpower is my unparalleled efficiency. Being intensely Type A when it comes to time-management and organization would be a nightmare for some people, but it works for me. I take tremendous pleasure in destroying a to-do list.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, that I love to multi-task. I live in a very walk-able city (Washington, DC), so audiobooks offer a perfect opportunity to get through books on my TBR while I commute to work or the grocery store or wherever I need to go. I also count walking as exercise, so I’m actually doing three things at once, but who’s counting? (I am. I am ALWAYS counting.)

I usually have about a half dozen audiobooks going because I like to have the flexibility to choose the book and chapter that fits the timing I need as well as content and tone appropriate to my activity. It’s probably easiest to explain my uniquely intense audiobook habits through examples, so I collected a handful from this week:

the-misadventures-of-awkward-black-girl-by-issa-rae-audiobookMonday morning at 8:25am

Time slot: 25 minutes

Audiobook selection: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

On any given morning, I need listening material that fills about 25 minutes. The last 10 minutes of my at-home morning routine is post hair-drying, which makes it more audiobook friendly, and my walk to work takes 15-18 minutes, depending on factors like traffic lights and whether I take a slightly longer route to avoid the block that runs along a row of porta potties on a construction site. On this particular morning, I had a chapter of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl queued up that was the perfect length. Listening to Issa Rae is also pretty much the ideal way to get your week started, so it worked out well all around.


my-life-with-the-saints-by-james-martin-audiobookTuesday afternoon at 1pm

Time slot: 30 minutes

Audiobook selection: My Life With the Saints by James Martin, SJ

On Tuesday, I was having a frustrating day, and I needed to go to an off-site meeting that was going to require more patience and optimism than I could muster. So it worked out well (divine intervention?) that my next chapter from My Life With the Saints was the perfect length for my walk and Metro ride to the meeting. Truth be told, I gained more perspective from Fr. Martin’s story about his job making movie theater popcorn than from the aspirational example of Therese of Lisieux, but either way, it got the job done: everyone escaped the meeting unscathed.


the-screwtape-letters-by-cs-lewis-audiobookWednesday evening at 8pm

Time slot: 15 minutes

Audiobook selection: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Cooking, baking, and cleaning also provide excellent opportunities for audiobook efficiency. For example, on Wednesday evening, I needed 15 minutes to pull dinner together: 5 minutes to do dishes while waiting for water to boil and 10 minutes for pasta to cook while I heated the sauce and make a salad. It added up to enough minutes to listen to 3 chapters of The Screwtape Letters. This was good news for the part of me that lives to multi-task. It was also good news for the part of me that appreciates a dose of cynicism and satire after a long Wednesday.


what-if-randall-munroe-audioFriday evening at 9:30pm

Time slot: 12 minutes

Audiobook selection: What If? by Randall Munroe

On my way home from a friend’s birthday happy hour, I had 8 minutes of wait time on the subway platform and 4 minutes of actual train time. Absorbing the odd, intellectual speculation of What If? was perhaps a bit ambitious after a glass or four of wine, but the timing fit, so I took the opportunity to listen to a dozen minutes on why we should never, ever try to bring together all of the elements on the periodic table. Admittedly, I don’t remember the exact science involved, but that probably would have been true with or without the wine.


dawn-octavia-butler-audiobookSaturday morning at 7:45am

Time slot: 40 minutes

Audiobook selection: Dawn by Octavia Butler

On Saturday, I needed to listen to something that would both fill 40 minutes of walking time and distract me from the fact that I had to be out and about before 8am on a Saturday. The chapter of Dawn I listened to was the perfect length, and this science-fiction book has me completely enthralled. Butler’s story and Aldrich Barrett’s narration are so good, I was even a bit less annoyed by the large group of people walking very slowly in front of me on the National Mall who added a few minutes to my commute.

And given everything you now know about how much I hate to be unnecessarily delayed, that is high praise indeed.