I am an avid reader. But proclaiming as much in the past few years has made me feel a little dishonest—I can so rarely find time to read for pleasure. What kind of “avid reader” finishes only two books a year? A few months ago, however, I discovered a delightful way to fit books back into my busy life: a technology from Amazon called Whispersync for Voice, which is automatically included with the free Kindle and Audible apps. This ingenious bit of cross-platform magic, originally released in 2012 and recently updated, allows a reader to switch between reading an e-book purchased through Amazon and listening to the book's audio narration seamlessly in these apps on any device.
My typical reading schedule now starts in the morning, as I listen to an audiobook on my smartphone while I hike with my dog. Whenever I find myself waiting in a line, I switch to reading the book in the Kindle app on my phone. When I'm doing chores around the house, I listen to the narration on our home stereo system, via my computer. Before bed, I read a little more on my iPad. Throughout all those transitions, Whispersync for Voice is behind the scenes, marking my place so I never have to search for where I left off. And as with most apps, the features keep getting better. This past April the Kindle app was updated so that switching between reading and listening happens with only one click.
Another small but real benefit: Whispersync for Voice relieves a minor concern I have about using electronic screens at night. Recent studies have hinted that e-reading might disrupt sleep patterns—although most research finds the effect only after several hours of screen time before bed. Still, I am on my computer most of the day for work, and when I add e-reading or a movie to the mix, I might be approaching that threshold. So now, on days when I am sick of staring at a glowing screen, I can simply switch over to listening to my book while I rest my eyes.
All these little chunks of reading and listening time add up. I have completed 14 novels since I discovered Whispersync for Voice three months ago—and I am thrilled that books are back in my life in a major way. As an editor for Scientific American Mind, I see many studies about the benefits of reading or listening to stories—fiction may hone your social skills, for instance, and a well-drawn character can evoke empathy for people unlike yourself. Even more, though, I simply missed getting lost in an imagined world, which happens for me more intensely with books than it does with movies or TV. Don't get me wrong—I love my favorite shows, and I make time to watch them. But the other night, when I tried turning on the TV while cooking dinner, I found myself wondering what the characters were up to in the book I am currently immersed in. I turned off the TV and dove back into my novel.