Two scenes: a boy reading a book in a quiet space and then a man at a busy family dinner.

One Way I Use AudioBooks

I loved being an only child. I had no competition for mom’s love, and there was always a quiet reading nook at hand. Things were simple when it was just me. And then I got married to a woman from a large family and everything in my life changed.

Family dinners with the in-laws are best described as chaotic wrangling. Kids run through the halls and adults talk over the noise. Appliances whirr in the background and a football game blares on the television set. I stand in the middle of it all trying not to feel dizzy.

Recently, I’ve taken up the study of philosophy. What I’ve noticed is that reading philosophy feels a little like standing in my mother-in-law’s kitchen. That’s because every philosopher has a “system” for thinking, and quite often, those systems clash. There’s so many schools of thought that it can be impossible to know where to start. So, this week, I read A.C. Grayling’s, The History of Philosophy. Well, I listened to it on Audible which was quite the feat. It was over 28 hours of conversation the covered every thinker from Plato to Simone de Beauvoir. I think I retained 3% of what I listened to, but I did get something valuable out of the exercise. I discovered the hills and valleys of my interest.

I didn’t approach this book the way I do most, which is to read slowly, take notes, and apply the ideas. Instead, I listened passively as I worked in my wood shop building furniture for my son. As the narrator spoke, I got a chance to “get a lay of the land.” I got to learn how each of the philosophers fit together, showing me which thinkers I’d like to spend more time with (the hills) and which ones don’t interest me so much (the valleys).

Next, I bought the paper copy of the book. It’s over 600 pages of madness, but now I can go back and reference the philosophers that interest me and read their sections with interest and care. It’s a good entry point to a field of study.

This approach to reading is much like taking a survey. Start by casting a wide net on the topic, and then when you know what you’re aiming at, you can hone in and study what matters. I like starting this approach with the audiobook. It feels less intimidating when I tackle something complex.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.

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