Every so often, one of my library patrons will take a random book off the shelf, hold it up to me, and ask me if I've read it yet. Seeing as how even my relatively small library adds approximately 150 print titles to the adult collection every month, the odds that I have read any given title on the shelf are about 1000 to 1. In spite of this, there seems to be an expectation on the part of at least some of my patrons that I am familiar enough with each and every book on the shelves to be able to provide a personal opinion regarding the merits of any particular title. Since I'm not supposed to spend any of the 35 hours per week that I officially spend on the job just sitting behind my desk reading and since I can only average about two books per month on my off time, what's a librarian to do?
Yes, I do understand that the first order of business is to disabuse my patrons of the notion that anyone on the staff, myself included, is capable of being familiar with the content and writing style of every book in our collection; to be able to cross reference each of these books with the interests and tastes of the approximately 2,000 adult cardholders in our database would require us to be in possession of super human powers. Yet, since I do consider one of the main missions of my job as a librarian to be able to connect people to books they will enjoy, it appears to be simple logic that the more books I read, the more direct recommendations I will be able to make.
When Steven King's story collection, Just After Sunset, was released just a couple of years ago, the reviews were so impressive that I decided I would need to move out of my usual comfort zone and give it a try. A little voice in the back of my head was also telling me that there was something about these stories that would probably make listening to them on audiobook especially attractive. After the first couple of stories, I was totally hooked, not only on King, but also on audiobooks. At first, I was concerned that I would not be able to keep characters and story lines straight if I was simulataneously experiencing two novels, one in print and the other in audio. As a way of avoiding this potential dilemma, after Just After Sunset, I went on a non-fiction audio binge, gorging on Gladwell (Outliers, Blink and What the Dog Saw) before moving on to memoirs and then finally back to fiction. However, because I continue to consider the time I spend listening to audiobooks in the car to be "found" time, harvested so to speak out of thin air, I am far more willing to try things in audio that I probably never would have considered in their printed version.
The irony and the bonus of all this is that for many of the titles that I have experienced as audios, my encounters with these books have actually been enhanced by the enjoyment to be had from listening to a skilled reader narrate a story, often with alternating voices for the different characters. And, to my surprise, I never confuse what's happening in the book that I'm reading with what is happening in the book that I am listening to. Because I have an extremely short commute to my job at the library, I get most of my book listening done while in the car running errands. Thus, while it may take me a week to listen to a book contained on three disks, it took a little more than a month and a half for me to complete the 30 disks of Steven King's Under the Dome. In all, I figure that over the course of a year, depending on their size, I am able to listen to anywhere from 12-20 audiobooks . That's potentially 12-20 additional books each year that I am able to personally recommend to my patrons.
Does that make me a better librarian? Maybe, or maybe not, but over the past two years I would otherwise have missed out on Invisible, by Paul Auster; A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert; and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon, just to name a few.