Should we be listening to audiobooks?

To say that university intervenes with reading as a hobby is an understatement. I still love turning towards reading as a mode of enjoyment, however with the demands of my degree, and balancing it with living away from home, I’ve found that I alternate between not having time to read and being too tired for any words on a page. Luckily, I’ve finally grown fond of audiobooks as a form of reading. I can listen to them wherever I go, and I appreciate them at times when I don’t have the energy to pick up a book.

There are many different ways of accessing audiobooks, the most popular being Audible. The main reason for me taking so long to try out audiobooks is because of my apprehension towards Audible, partially because I’m not sure how the site works and what the costs are like, and partially because it is owned by Amazon. My interest in alternatives was piqued when an ad showed up on Instagram for BookBeat, an app where you pay for a certain number of hours per month. They offered £2.99 for students per 20 hours, and they had an offer of a two-month free trial which I could not refuse. I appreciate that once you’re paying for a subscription, you can opt out for months when you’re not interested in listening; I tend to only listen to audio every other month.

Since beginning to try out audiobooks in August, I’ve gone on to read, or at least try, various books from memoirs to fiction, contemporary to murder mystery. This year I’ve tried to shy away from obsessing over owning physical copies of books and instead looking at pursuing more meaningful connections with literature that I actually enjoy. Some books I have been somewhat interested in, but unsure about if they would be worth the money. Listening to audiobooks instead has been rather insightful, as it’s helped me to discover that some books are in fact not worth my money. I attempted the first chapter of Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors and after 20 minutes I was, for the first time in a long while, completely okay with giving up on a book.

Getting to listen to books allows me to carry on with everything that requires my attention. I’m still absorbing the information.

For better or for worse, audiobooks are a fascinating mode of reconfiguring the source material. As a positive case study, let me present comedian Bob Mortimer who has tried his hand at writing. I read his debut novel The Satsuma Complex in paperback form a few months ago, and later went on to listen to his autobiography. Recently I returned to The Satsuma Complex, this time in audio. Mortimer narrates his own work – with The Satsuma Complex being assisted by actress Sally Philips – which is a wonderful addition to the source material. His tongue-in-cheek narration of his protagonist perfectly encapsulates the bizarre nature of The Satsuma Complex. In contrast, his earnest delivery for his autobiography compliments his reflections on both his younger self and his health scare. There may have been small parts that I missed because I was busy running errands while listening, however the tone of the story and the setting of the scene was abundantly clear throughout both books.

Whilst discussing audiobook narration, it would be insulting not to mention Jennette McCurdy. I finally got around to reading I’m Glad My Mom Died and it ended up being my favourite book of this year. McCurdy so meticulously and eloquently crafts her personal narrative and the complex mother/daughter relationship, and her narration made it all the more harrowing. I’m glad to have had the experience of listening to her tell her story as opposed to reading it from a page.

Admittedly, for myself at least, listening to books can risk becoming a more passive activity. However, reading a physical copy of a book should not be automatically assumed as active reading; whilst I occasionally find that I’ve zoned out midway through the paragraph I’m listening to, equally I can find myself staring blankly at the page or reading the same paragraph or line over and over again. Getting to listen to books allows me to carry on with everything that requires my attention. I’m still absorbing the information. I listen to bell hooks’ All About Love as I write this, and I’m paying attention to this chapter on the gender disparity between how books on self-help and the practice of love are marketed. Audiobooks may not be right for everyone, but they sure are a helpful and accessible mode of reading that I’m glad is getting more attention, and that I’m glad I’m giving more attention.


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