How Audiobooks Changed My Life
It sounds like a cliché, but I’ve always loved to read. My journey into personhood was guided less by those around me and more by the worlds I inhabited and the people I met on my fictional travels. I wanted to be Matilda for ages. I genuinely thought that if I read more books my brain would become so advanced I’d be able to close my curtains without leaving my bed. I devoured J. K. Rowling’s tome Goblet of Fire in a day. I went to university to study literature. Twice. So imagine how utterly broken I was when a few years ago I discovered that the physical act of reading a book was giving me heart palpitations and an intense sensation of panic. I don’t think it was necessarily connected to reading, exactly. I’ve always battled with my mental health, drifting in and out of phases of anxiety and depression the way neurotypical people drift in and out of moods.
I believe that the written word has power, and that reading has the potential to heal, and to lift people out of the apathy of everyday life, and give them something to be hopeful about. But for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to open a book. And if I did manage to, I’d get a few words in and have to take a breather. Literally, I’d have to do some deep breathing exercises.
I’d never really listened to audiobooks before. I didn’t have to. And besides that, they’re very expensive. You can generally find second hand paperbacks for under £2.00, but audiobooks tend to cost around ten times that, and I just couldn’t afford them. I was introduced to Listening Books, by a friend, and honestly, it’s changed my life. Not in a major, ‘I’m cured!’ sort of way, but in a ‘I’m so grateful for this small mercy’ kind of way, and that, I think, might be more important.
Discovering the joys of audiobooks
Having access to a library of titles for the same price as one audiobook would usually cost is a wonderful thing. Listening to audiobooks means I can put on my headphones, press play, and be somewhere else and someone else for a while. I don’t have to force myself to physically pick up a book, or exhaust myself with the effort of concentration. I don’t have to watch my breathing, and I can carve out a space where I can just be, away from the world for a time.
Audiobooks in general are also really good mindfulness tools. You have to learn to focus your attention, at least for the most part, on something outside of yourself instead of drowning in what’s within. If your attention wanders too far, when you come back, you realise you have no idea where you are or what’s happened, and you have to rewind to the last point you remember.
Joining Listening Books has opened up a new world of experience for me. I was never read to as a kid, choosing instead to read things myself. Apparently, if anyone ever tried to read to me, I’d get grumpy, and assume people thought I wasn’t capable. With this in mind, I can’t say that listening to audiobooks makes me feel like a kid again, but I can say that it makes me feel comforted. It helps me to open up a non-judgemental space in my head, in which I’m listening to the plot, to the characters, and I’m aware of what’s happening, and while certain plot twists do take me by surprise, I don’t have my own constant running narrative in my head. I’m not thinking ‘Oh em gee I can’t believe she did that’. I’m just calmly accepting of other people’s words and actions, and that helps me to be more calmly accepting of my own words and actions, and of things that happen in my life. I’m not suddenly Buddha or anything, but it helps.
Laughing out loud
I’ve been bingeing the ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ series by Derek Landy. It was generously made available to Listening Books members by Harper Collins, and I love it. There have been three narrators over the series, and while it takes some getting used to when a new one takes over, they’ve been remarkably consistent with the voices. The voicing of characters is something I’d never even considered as something that could happen with written narratives, and the whole thing just excites me. It really brings the story to life, and the vocal talent of these narrators is incredible. I missed out on that aspect of storytelling as a child (my own fault I know), and I’m discovering it now with a childlike eagerness and wonder. I periodically find myself smiling or laughing at a passage that I’m not sure I’d have smiled or laughed at had I been reading it. I’d have thought it funny, but I don’t think I’d have laughed. Books make me cry all the time, but I only remember ever reading one book that really made me laugh, and that was Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.
Audiobooks make me feel like I can laugh more openly. There’s something about the presence of sound that is conducive to laughter. Reading is a silent activity, and laughing seems unnatural; it makes me feel self-conscious. So does crying, but at least I’ve figured out how to cry silently. Audiobooks make me laugh though, or they at least open up the possibility of laughter, and that’s so important. Just knowing that I’m still able to laugh is a real comfort. I feel lighter, and I laugh more freely after I’ve listened to an audiobook passage, even if it’s not a happy one. And if there’s one thing that life in general could do with more of, it’s laughter.
This article was written by Emma-Louise Day
Listening Books is charity providing an audiobook library to anyone who struggles to read print in the usual way. If you or someone you know struggles to read due to an illness or disability and you’d like to find out more about becoming a member of Listening Books, head over to our ‘why join’ page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 0207 407 9417.
Need any more persuading that audiobooks are great? Head over to our ‘15 reasons why audiobooks are amazing‘ post!