I listen in the car on the two to three-hour drives that I make for work two to four times a week. I listen in hotel rooms I occupy for at least a couple of nights a week most weeks of the year. I listen when I'm trapped on a plane. I listen when I choose to eat lunch or dinner alone because the thought of spending another hour making conversation fills me with weariness.
I listen, in other words, when I don't want to be where I have to be.
So what does all this listening signify?
If audiobooks are my refuge from a life I don't want to live, wouldn't my time would be better spent shaping my reality, rather than escaping from it? I could spend time in the hotel bar asking other guests about themselves and their families and their hopes and fears. I could talk to the person next to me on the plane. I could find new people to lunch with three times a week.
I know myself well enough to be certain that these are not things I can do easily and that I am very unlikely to enjoy.
Given my solitary nature, perhaps my audiobook use is enabling the worst side of myself, protecting me from the consequences of my social incompetence while pampering to my lazy narcissistic self-absorption. Perhaps I have become a high-functioning audiobook junkie, able to pass for competent in the world but really resenting any time not spent with a voice in my ears seducing my imagination and making the world around me fade.
I'm sure there is some truth in the audiobook junkie idea. I know I can lose myself to obsessions, unconscious of the hours and the energy that they consume. I'm sure there must be a line I shouldn't cross. A self-help book would probably ask me to set limits on my listening and stick to them, just to show that I can.
Before I sign-up for a twelve step program, I need to check whether I really am rejecting reality one book at a time or whether something else is going on.
So I asked myself what happens when I am away from work and commuting and forced hotel use. When the negative stimuli are removed, does the urge to listen to audiobooks decline?
Actually, when I am on holiday, or relaxing by walking through my village in the early hours of the morning, taking in the mountains and the drama of the changing seasons, I still listen to audiobooks. Why? Because I enjoy them and because I, uh, need them or, at least, my imagination needs them.
Picture my imagination as a big, healthy Labrador. To keep it happy, I need to provide hours of exercise every day. I need to walk it, to stimulate it, to give it things to play with. The consequences of not doing this are an unhappy dog, chewed furniture and shoes, and a motivation to find a way to get past me.
The audiobooks keep my imagination healthy and happy. My imagination is a big part of my reality. Engaged positively it gives me energy and hope and sometimes even joy. Mistreated is feeds depression and anger and a dreadful numb apathy.
Perhaps fourty-five audiobooks in thirty-eight weeks is too many. Perhaps I have too often given way to ease rather than action but I don't believe I'm rejecting reality. At worst, I'm surviving it. At best I'm improving my ability to deal with it by keeping my imagination active.