in defense of audio books

So many of the books I’ve “read” in the last few years have been audio books. I try to be careful about not implying that I’m actually holding the books in my hands, reading the words, turning the pages, making notes in the margins. I say “listening to” or “working my way through” or other non-reading kinds of phrases. There was a woman I knew very briefly who apparently found me “intimidating” which baffles me. At the time I guess I was reading some kind of heavy stuff and tweeting about it a lot. She found out that most of those books were audio books and went on a passive-aggressive tweeting rant for a few days about how audio books didn’t really count as books. I don’t mind that she feels that way. I’ve considered it a lot as I “consume” all of these books. Actual physical books that I read with my own eyes will always be the ideal. No doubt.
Because my life is the way it is I find that reading actual books is either impossible (when do I have quiet moments to just sit still with a book?) or it makes me fall asleep within a couple pages (going to bed at night is one of the few times I do read my actual book-books). I spend quite a bit of time in the car, so, audio books make a lot of sense for me.
I’ve thought a lot about the comparison between audio and real books. On the one hand, as I’ve said, I’ll never defend audio books as a replacement for real books. But for the most part I can’t come up with any reason why audio books are really all that bad. The one thing that comes close is paying full attention. Sometimes I listen to my books when I’m cooking or doing dishes or other stuff like that. So, my full attention isn’t always on every single word. The truth is, that happens to me all the time with real books, too. In fact, it’s part of why I love reading to my children when I’m especially drained. I can tune out and just read the words. I can do this with enough comprehension that I’m reading at a high level (good intonations, expressions, etc.) but still I’m not really paying much attention to the content so I can think about whatever I want to at the same time. When I’m reading real books it’s pretty common for me to catch myself just reading words and having to back up a few pages and re-read so I can start paying attention again. With audio books I just back up the player for a bit to be sure I’ve really heard what was said.
Anyway, I feel a bit defensive about the fact that so many of the books I’ve “read” in the last few years were audio books. It does feel “less than” on some levels. There are a couple that I can imagine someday, maybe when my children are grown, going back and reading the actual books and having an incredible experience with it. I know, for example, the book I just finished I’ll be keeping an eye out at the used bookstores so I can have a copy of my own. Some day I know I’ll want to re-read it as an actual book. A few times, probably.
There’s nothing like a real book. But if the choice is between no books at all or loads of audio books (and snail’s pace through the occasional real book before falling asleep) it really is hardly even a choice. Living my life without new ideas flowing in constantly would make it really easy to lose who I am and get sucked into the vortex of living my life only as I relate to others. So, the choice is an easy one. And now I’ve got to find another one of my “to read” books has an audio book option…