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Which Audiobook Should Kick Off Your Reading Year?

Kendra Winchester

Contributing Editor

Kendra Winchester is a Contributing Editor for Book Riot where she writes about audiobooks and disability literature. She is also the Founder of Read Appalachia, which celebrates Appalachian literature and writing. Previously, Kendra co-founded and served as Executive Director for Reading Women, a podcast that gained an international following over its six-season run. In her off hours, you can find her writing on her Substack, Winchester Ave, and posting photos of her Corgis on Instagram and Twitter @kdwinchester.

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After the hellscape that was 2021, I found myself ringing in the new year at home with my spouse and our two Corgis. My mom and my nephew joined us via video call as we watched the ball drop, officially kicking off the beginning of 2022 on the east coast.

As a book lover, I usually have several bookish traditions for the start of every new reading year. Leading up to New Year’s Eve, I comb through my print TBR, looking for the top books I want to make sure I listen to first. Then, I set up my new reading journal, complete with themed lists, progress charts, and an extensive TBR.

But since I joined the bookternet back in 2015, one tradition has stood out in my mind more than any other: choosing the first audiobook of the year. One must choose carefully as this audiobook sets the tone for the ENTIRE reading year. For 2021, I listened to We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry, and the novel’s blend of woman-focused main characters and quirky storytelling proved the perfect choice for a terribly strange year.

For 2022, I felt a bit lost as I approached my overburdened audiobook apps. I browsed through title after title, many of them 2019 and 2020 titles that I never got around to. The pandemic limited my listening, and in 2021, I found myself staring into space more than anything else.

It’s not that I was putting pressure on myself to listen to more audiobooks when I didn’t want to. I desperately want to be in the headspace where I can listen to title after title without needing to stop, for the time when my brain doesn’t wander over every possible thought besides what I’m supposed to be focusing on.

Listening to audiobooks has always been a huge part of my life that I have loved, and like many of us during this marathon of a pandemic, I don’t have the energy to focus on reading as much as I used to. I sometimes worry that I may never regain the complete focus that I used to have before 2020.

I’d been pondering what on earth my reading life would look like in 2022 when I called my mom who was spending New Year’s Eve on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, my nephew sitting nearby with a book in his hands. As I talked to my nephew, he responded with the family’s usual snark, always taking side glances at us, as he was saying, “See? Aren’t I so funny?” But in between his 12-year-old sense of humor, I saw his eyes light up as he talked about what he was reading and how his heart broke while reading one of his favorite series.

Despite everything he’d been through in the last couple of years, my nephew still found a sense of joy in the books that he read. From The Lightning Thief to Gregor the Overlander, he found space for bookish joy in his life. He didn’t stress about reading ALL of the things immediately. He let his brain wander around as it wanted.

My nephew’s love of reading reminded me of when I first read Percy Jackson’s first adventures and how I wasn’t pushing myself to read a certain way, but I still listened to the whole series in less than a week. As a teenager, I didn’t stress about how many books I listened to in any given year. I just let it happen.

I suspect that 2022 will be a year of returning to a more instinctual way of listening where I just pick up what I’m in the mood for and let myself become whisked away into the story. I don’t really need a plan or a TBR. I just need a good story for what I feel at the time. That’s enough.