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How Audiobooks Made Me Appreciate Nonfiction

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This is a guest post from Yaika Sabat. Yaika is writer and library assistant who lives in Texas. Her favorite things include books and comic books, movies, Doctor Who, her pets, and puns. She’s also currently getting her Master of Library Sciences at the University of North Texas. When she’s not writing for BookRiot, she writes about stories and her life at her blog, Glasses Attached ( You can usually find her reading something, watching movies, looking at art, playing with dogs, or hanging out with her two cats. Follow her on Twitter @yikesa.

Audiobooks are seriously helping me expand my reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I already read plenty. I love print books, and I love ebooks. I love reading in general. However, as a grad student, there are some books that I’ve noticed I tend to have a harder time reading. Specifically, nonfiction doesn’t woo me the way other genres do. It’s hard for me to feel that spark. But recently I discovered that audio seems to be helpful with my lack of non-fiction chemistry.

devil in the white city by erik larsonCase in point: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I have wanted to read this for the longest time. Fact about me: I find the whole forensic science/true crime/study of serial killers area pretty interesting. Mainly because I like to know what to avoid, so as to not be killed by someone. Partially because of the little bit of Sherlock Holmes that lives in me. Plus, the Chicago’s World Fair (or World’s Columbian Exposition) was a fairly amazing concept when you stop and think about it. So a book that combines a look at the World’s Fair and a look at H.H. Holmes was guaranteed to catch my interest. But years have passed, and the book has still not been read.

Why? Because fiction is easier for me to read. I have always had a harder time reading non fiction. It’s like when I was in school and had to read the history textbook, and wanted to cry because I found the writing dull. I thought the stories were fascinating, but for some reason my brain can have a hard time reading them. Thankfully, most nonfiction is vastly superior in writing style to any history textbook. But, I still tend to enjoy reading nonfiction less than I do fiction, because it seems to take my longer and be a more challenging process. Not that I challenge is a bad thing, but I’m in grad school and have enough challenging reading to do for class. I know that I will am just always more likely to pick a novel, or short stories, or a fiction comic book, than I am to pick up a nonfiction book.

I’ve mentioned to my friends that I seem to struggle with nonfiction, and that it frustrates me because a lot of it seems really interesting. Although I have no issues with anyone reading just fiction, or just nonfiction, that’s not really what I want to do.

One of the friends I spoke to about this, who is a librarian, suggested that I try audiobooks. Now, I’ve tried audiobooks before and I love a good audiobook. But as usual, I had favored fiction. If it wasn’t for Stardust (read by Neil Gaiman) I would have never managed to drive from Delaware to Texas a couple of years back. I also listened to the Serial Podcast during that drive, and got pretty addicted. This made me think there might be a chance that audio nonfiction could work for me.

I decided to give nonfiction a start gently, with a memoir. I chose Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. Not shockingly, it was great. So I followed that up with Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. I never wanted that one to end.

So far, so good. Which meant when I was reminded last week that I still had not read Devil in the White City, I thought this would be a great chance to continue my exploration of the audio format.

I started the audiobook, which I checked out from my library, a few days ago. I found that I was actually annoyed when I had to pause it to continue with daily life. Even after part of the book discussed why the soil in Chicago presented such a challenge for builders (not usually what I would consider interesting). This is great, because I am not generally an architecture or city history buff, but listening to these facts is making me realize there is really interesting information to be found in places I wasn’t looking.

Plus, not only did the book make traffic go faster, but I’m actually looking forward to working out so I have designated audiobook time (and I am not someone who looks forward to working out). Listening to this book in this format is helping me get reading in during times I normally wouldn’t be able to. Anything that helps me get more reading done is more than fine by me.

A couple of things: First, I  highly recommend using your library to get a hold of audiobooks. I’m not just saying that because I work in a library and think supporting your local library is a wonderful act. Audiobooks can be expensive. Libraries have them for free. There are also services you can subscribe to to get them, but you can’t beat free. Especially if you’re a grad student like myself. Secondly, if you’re choosing a classic that has several different versions read by different people, don’t be surprised if it takes a couple tries to find a reader that you like. In general don’t be surprised if a bad reader makes it hard for you to get into an audiobook. For me, and a few other people I’ve talked to, the reader really can make all the difference. But try not to hold one bad reader against the format as a whole.

Moral of the story? Don’t be afraid of trying new formats, or new genres. Audiobooks, like ebooks, tend to get dismissed as not being “real” books. I am here to say that is not true! Listening to an audiobook is just like reading a book for me. In the case of some nonfiction books, it’s the only way I’d absorb the information. Actually, I’m a firm believer that whatever format someone is choosing to read (including audiobooks) should be encouraged. I’m all about the reading life, however you need to live it.

Anyone else a fan of audiobooks? Do you find there are certain types of books you enjoy more when you get to listen to them?