Audiobook Etiquette

Well, I’m doing better at catching up on my reading this summer than I could have hoped. All things considered, I’d have to say I own that success to all the audiobooks I’ve been listening to. I’ve certainly been reading regular words on papers books, but the added opportunities for getting some reading time in with an audiobook are helping me pick up the pace, significantly. Yes, I still call it reading time, even when I’m listening to the words being read, technically speaking. Listening time sounds like something you do sitting cross legged  in a circle with all your hippie friends, who want to make sure you’re not just hearing them, but listening to them, in your soul. Conversely it can also sound like I mean I’m listening to music, not a book. You decide which one is more probable. Either way, I just hate to confuse people.

Sometimes, listening to audiobook after audiobook, I manage to get myself confused about the proper etiquette of the situation. Etiquette? You might ask, what, you crazy millennial, are you talking about? Just shove your ear buds in and drown out the world. You want to drag people and etiquette into this? What is there to be proper about? Well, you, sir or madam, have obviously never listened to as many audiobooks in public with as much social anxiety as I have. Congratulations, I’ll try to send you some flowers.

Truth is, I feel there’s a certain way to listen to audiobooks that cuts down on the sort of accidental rudeness we see develop whenever we find our phones or tech more interesting than the people we are talking too. I can’t say this should serve as any sort of Miss Manners guideline for anyone curious about this subject, but from personal experience, this what I’ve gone with that gets me punched the least.

1. “What Are You Listening To?” This question, how do you answer it? The simple answer, the truth, is, as I have often found, not  satisfactory. “Oh, I’m actually listening to an audiobook, no, not music, it’s Dostoyevsky. The writer, yeah the really old dead Russian one. Where are you going?”

That’s the problem I usually run into. People think you’ll be listening to music and they can talk about their favorite artists and so on, and I suppose the audiobook response catches them off guard, or else  they figure I finally found a reply to that question more hipster elitist than, “Oh, you’ve probably never heard of them.” Perhaps I have. Perhaps I may also be projecting my own anxieties concerning how little I know about cool, hip music onto the situation and people will be totally accepting of my penchant for listening to books on my phone or iPod. I don’t really listen to Dostoyevsky that often, now that I think about it.

2. When To Listen. So, I used to feel like I knew the answer to this, used to. For a socially awkward bibliophile like myself, the best and only answer to the question of when to listen to my audiobook was all the time, anytime, anywhere. Riding on the train? Plug it in. Doing laundry? Turn it up. Vacuuming? Whats that I can’t hear you over my book, and also this vacuum I’m using right now. Who needs real noises and voices when you can have the characters and narrators of your favorite book talking right in your ear all the way to boring old work? Ignoring things while listening to an audiobook was much easier than  ignoring things with my nose stuck in a print book. I didn’t bump into stuff so much.

This technologically enhanced reclusive-ness is, I suppose, quickly becoming a societal norm, but I still managed to feel guilty about how much I preferred the voice of a book over what was going on around me all day. Soon, I changed the rules. Listening to a book is great during times you need a little entertainment boost, like while working out or doing chores, but I started to make a point of taking out the earbuds when I noticed something I could be missing out on hearing, like the first bird songs of spring, the laughter of children, or whatever my boss keeps yelling at me over the dulcet tones of Harry Potter series narrator, Jim Dale. Who knows, that stuff might even be important.

3 Sex. Yup, I knew you were just waiting for this one, you little perverts. Okay, maybe you’ve never listened to all the Game of Thrones books on CD before, and this one might take you a minute to grasp. I’ll just say it. What happens when you’re just going on about your business, riding the train to work or whatever, and all of the sudden the characters talking right into your headphones start gettin’ it on. Have you ever tried to keep a straight face, no blushes or sudden avoidance of eye contact, while listening to two or more, (one or more really, I suppose,) characters describing their sexual exploits? Sure, all books are different and the level of detail put into their sexual encounters, but listen to enough and you’ll certainly find yourself awkwardly wondering if, somehow, the old women next to you on the bus can hear Jaime and Cersei Lannister going at it as loudly as you can, no matter how sound your headphones are.

In all honesty, I often pause at the sexy parts if I’m in a really public place, to enjoy the book more privately, later. You can take that any way you like. I might be getting too apologetic and embarrassed thinking about something only going on in my own head. You give it a try and see how you feel. If it turns out I am acting like a prude, I’ll talk to my shrink about it.

Looking at my etiquette guidelines, it’s pretty clear that the core motive for most of these is the need to deal with my own crippling social anxiety. Might this personal slant of the advice make it less than useful to the rest of my audience? What if the average internet user is actually much more socially outgoing and savy than I am? Hahahahahaha. Sorry, I couldn’t keep typing that with a straight face. You’re welcome for my advice and commiseration over social anxieties, internet minions. Have a nice day and pick up an audiobook at the library perhaps, now that you know the rules.


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