Audiobooks don’t count as really reading. I’m sure we’ve all heard that line at least once in our literary lives. At the very least, we’ve heard some variation on the old opposition to the rise of audiobooks in the literary community. People who favor audiobooks over physical books are characterized as lazy and cheaters. They’re people who don’t want to do the real work of reading the book they listen to. And I don’t imagine it would be hard to figure out why typically it’s young women and teenage girls who are shown listening to audiobooks (I mean, women and girls can’t be serious readers like the philosophical, high-brow men can, right?). But audiobooks are not a symbol of laziness in the reading community, rather they are actually things that unify people through books and make stories more accessible to people otherwise prevented from engaging with those stories.
Learning Disabilities and Neurodevelopmental Disorders
As someone who loves books but deals with ADHD every day of my life, physically reading a book can be a real trial. I am not alone in the frustration and mental exhaustion that reading can often bring. People all over the world live with various disorders and disabilities and the issue of illiteracy that prevent them from enjoying books in the same way as neurotypical and abled people.
ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, and other disabilities leave readers with intense exhaustion and frustration when they try and sometimes fail to comprehend the words on the pages in front of them. And in a society that debases and oppresses those people, a sense of shame and guilt comes close at hand with that frustration. For people who love books and stories, those feelings can be multiplied because something you’re passionate about should be easy to do right?
In those cases, audiobooks act as tools for people who need them. Listening to readings of books and stories are ways for them to cut out some of that exhaustion and frustration. And when they don’t deal with exhaustion and frustration they are better able to engage with the story, which is the goal of writers isn’t it? To engage our readers with the stories we’ve presented to them.
Working Class Readers and a Lack of Leisure Time
The vast majority of people in America are working class, meaning they spend most of their time at work or recovering from work. Even more people perform service jobs or manual labor, leaving them both mentally and physically exhausted. This exhaustion makes it difficult to even want to read, let alone focus on the words on the page. And when you work long hours, free time and the money to spend on physical books is hard to come by.
So audiobooks step in to help the listener relax and not worry so much about physically engaging with the text. Instead, they can focus on the actual content while letting their bodies relax and recharge. Stories have always been a way to revitalize the body and the mind, so why shouldn’t audiobooks be of infinite use to people who are constantly in need of a way to get themselves through each work day?
Audiobooks as Coping Tools and Comforters
For people who have memories of being read to as children, the act simply being told a story is soothing to the soul. And for others it can be a tool to cope with anxiety and other disorders. It can even work as a way to lull someone to sleep who suffers with insomnia.
Personally, I go to sleep nearly every night with an audiobook playing by my bed. I always try to pick a narrator with an attractive voice, so I will not be distracted by unpleasant noise when I try to sleep. When I lie there, hoping sleep will come quickly, listening to an audiobook gives me something to focus on while not requiring a great deal of mental and/or physical effort. So I am certain that there are other book lovers out there who feel the need to defend audiobooks for what they do for them daily.
We need to erase the stigma and make audiobooks more widely accessible. Audiobooks are not lazy or cheating but ways to accommodate those who are not so privileged that reading is something they can do every day or at all. Neuroatypical, disabled, working class, and illiterate book lovers are out there and are not simply outliers that can or should be disregarded in favor of pleasing the majority. Audiobooks are liberating. Audiobooks are blessings. Audiobooks are, in fact, real books.