A Love Affair with Digital Books.

Do you think of the tradition of reading over your life? Or do you not exactly pick things apart like I do?

This is what I noticed: I read with my meals. I knew it was supposed to be a bad habit, but it was the best company. All the adages about reading are true. Reading is travel, therapy, and education. It gives us a love of art and humanity. Its accessibility made it easy and it’s nearly free. Anyone can do it.

My reading came to an abrupt halt when I had my midlife crisis. I moved to my farm, where the work never ended and I ate breakfast on the way to the barn. By the time I fell into bed too many hours later, I got no farther than reading the same sentence night after night. Reading was first killed by a change in my daily routine.

A year later, the September 11 attacks happened, and my business, which had sustained me and my horses for decades, ground to a halt. I cleaned houses, did home health care, and ran from one place to another to gather a few dollars. My horses needed hay. I was managing to finish a book every eight months or so. The luxury of time to read didn’t exist and everything felt harder with less money. I read so little and so slowly that every plot seemed to drag. Reading was killed further, if that’s even possible, by work exhaustion.

The only high point was a deeper awareness of the politics of poverty. My family didn’t have money, and what they did have was frugally spent. I’d read Steinbeck in school and found out there was a name for it. We lived as if it were still the Great Depression. It was our family culture. I’d worked my way out of it after leaving home and had some comfortable reading and spending years before the farm, but 9/11 simply erased it all.

Reading went the way of other luxuries in favor of necessities. Between odd work hours and keeping the farm going, I had little energy left for protest or politics. I might as well have been barefoot and pregnant.

Thinking of girls in third-world countries, I was lucky in timing. At forty-five it made me mad, as a kid, it would have crippled me without my knowing it.

But wait. We didn’t have books on my family’s farm either. It was how I started and now, I’d come full circle, not reading again. It wasn’t what I wanted on this farm.

I fought my way back to reading one paragraph at a time, by adding extra minutes a day between breakfast and bed. My book stayed in the bathroom, just a couple of pages each visit. I’m not embarrassed; I picked up moments to read like I picked up trash that blew onto my farm. I was inching my way back to reading.

The next time I quit reading was for a better reason, but the longing to read was worse. When I began writing, first the blog and then books, I traded my reading time for writing time. It was a literary version of Sophie’s Choice, giving up one love for another. I was writing for hours before dawn, falling asleep over my dinner plate. I was getting words on the page but not feeding the part of me that wrote.

You should be tisking now. Had I never heard of books on tape? Yes and no. They were expensive then. I didn’t live in town, and local libraries were a block of time to be squeezed in between errands but other needs took priority. On the rare occasion I got there, getting them back by due dates was one more thing.

Eventually Audible came on my radar, but if you have horses your disposable income is spent before it’s earned. I had to be frugal, not trusting my luck to hold when more income began to flow from horse training. The old Depression-era fear still burned and I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t reading, even to a librarian. Is this how it happens that our world becomes less intelligent?

Technology saved me. I discovered a wealth of podcasts were available on my cell phone. I was unplugged, listening for free, and learning things like how the brain works and what breakthroughs were on the horizon for curing cancer. I felt more informed and mentally engaged than I’d been in years. My inner political geek-bird was in full plumage and strutting about.

It took a global pandemic, but I finally signed up for a trial on Audible. I hear this is how all addictions start. The first time is free. I downloaded about twenty books from the Plus Catalog to start, ones I’d wanted to read and some that I could re-read in luxury now. I’d missed them like old friends living far away. I read new books by favorite authors and I read genres that wouldn’t have been time-worthy before for sheer entertainment. I was hooked and I didn’t care what it cost. (As long as it was less than a frugal $15. a month.)

I lounged in a gluttony of words while I mucked. Words followed me into the shower. Words completed me through the day. My mind multitasks and my thoughts run on a rat wheel. I can’t sit still. Listening to words pulled me in and focused my mind. Busy but not frantic, I could take a break from real life and escape into books again. And really, how much brainpower does it take to fold laundry?

That catches us up to last year when I went on a thirteen-thousand-mile road trip. Driving long hours, audio books gave me the contradictory feeling I was reclining with a good book that kept me awake, when both reading and driving usually sent me to sleep. Reading that way, I didn’t need my eyes, so I could focus on the road while the story unfolded. It made driving between long flat horizons interesting. It rewarded me every morning when we began our driving days until we parked for the night. I spent glorious entire days reading.

Because now I can miraculously read and write at the same time, I’m working on a book about that road trip in an A-Frame trailer with my dog, Mister.

It’s a book made of adjectives and nouns, blue skies and tornado watches, resorts and reservations, open roads to the horizon, and one-lane dead ends. We emerge from the truck in a cloud of dog hair and sunflower shells, like disoriented and scruffy rock stars in a GPS haze, not entirely lost or found.

Best of all, my memoir of the year has a bibliography forty-five books long!

This finally brings me to my question for you. What are you reading now? Because there’s a chance I can read it too.

 … Anna Blake, Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro, at annablake.com

This author blog is where I have a place to talk about books and writing, separately from the place where I continue to write the horse topics at my training blog.


  1. Hi Anna, The last number of years I have listened to podcasts and books while driving 1 hour each way from the barn. I have a couple apps from my local library. Often, I have to waits weeks or months for certain titles but know I’ll eventually get my ears on them. However, some titles I seek are not offered. Then I recently took the free trail for audible which hopefully will fill the gap of the titles not offered by my other sources. I have all your books on Kindle, but wonder if they will be offered in the audio form. Sure would love the relax on the sound of your voice and wit whilst rolling on the hard top. Oh but then that would take more time away from your own listening pleasures. *sigh


    • I’ve thought about it forever and finally, this year I hired someone to read Stable Relation for audio… mainly for the reason you mention. I listen to them! Doing it myself is harder than you’d think, with barking dogs and no quality editing. I’ve read a bunch of blogs and they are availale to my online group, but people don’t listen like I’d hoped. They are very imperfect, but I could hire a producer to tidy them up. All it takes is money… but I used to commute to the barn like you do. Nothing to listen to; technology is a gift. Thanks for commenting. Cathy, and thanks for buying the eBooks!


      • I can’t wait to read your travel memoir and I’ll make sure we get a copy for the library where I work. One of the books I’m currently reading is called The Chaos Machine by Max Fisher, and I am finding it fascinating and deeply disturbing.


  2. I was a voracious reader in my youth. My problem has always been a lack of self-control with books, once I start, I can’t stop. Between work, house, yard, and animals I just can’t take an all-day book vacation very often. You got me started listening to Audiobooks, with the added nudge being my much longer barn commute. I am working my way through my library’s digital collection of Audiobooks. I am currently reading: Me Before You by JoJo Myers, before that, I worked my way through all of Elizabeth Strout’s books, and Before that Shirly Jackson. Once I run out of interesting titles through the library I will probably spring for an Audible subscription.


  3. Can’t miss a chance to share this book. Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall. I keep a hard copy of this one – I love this book. Came to it via a friends’ recommendation, also have family and some background experience with the race.


  4. I don’t do well with audio books, I tend to tune them out and miss too much. I read fast and it’s a rare week I don’t finish at least 2 books and sometimes more. I did get an e-reader but found I prefer to use Kindle on my laptop. I’m doing some research for my late spouse’s genealogy (loads of history and biography), did manage a few novels “Ephemeral” by Andie Andrews (very good), “Inheriting Edith” by Aoe Fishman, anything by Ivan Doig or David Rhodes. Keep reading/listening.


  5. I am reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” on Audible. It is a beautiful, beautiful book. Author is Robin Wall Kimmerer. I just realized I can’t remember how to underline.


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