On Learning to Embrace Audiobooks as a Reader

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Gretchen Lida

Staff Writer

Gretchen Lida is an essayist and an equestrian. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Brevity, The Rumpus, The Washington Independent Review of Books, and many others. She teaches composition in Illinois, lives in Wisconsin, sometimes lives on Nantucket Island and is still a Colorado Native.

There are currently 136 titles in my Audible account, 16 in my Libro, and I have lost track of how many books I have listened to on Scribd or borrowed from the library. Audiobooks are now such an essential part of my reading life that it seems as though they have always been that way. “You are so well-read,” my friends say. I reply, “Audiobooks.”

I have ADD and Dyslexia. While these neurodiversities make my spelling atrocious and destroy my ability to complete tasks in one sitting, I was able to hide it well enough when I was in school. I always finished my homework. I loved to read even when the words swam around on the page, but I was one of those people who got good behavior awards.

After college, I downloaded my first audiobook. From that moment on, my life as a reader opened from one of a functional reader who loved books but struggled, to one who could consume and then argue about a book a week. I became the bookish weirdo of my dreams.

However, I am only now coming to terms with my audiobook obsession. Reading audiobooks made me feel as if I was less scholarly than my fellow readers who exclusively read a text for a long time. Sometimes I hid my audiobook habits, saying, “I read” versus “I listened” to when I would talk about the books I had just consumed with enthusiasm. Then in 2018, Book Riot published an article about how the comprehension of audiobooks is exceptionally like that of actual reading. As I have grown more and more obsessed with them, the number of options I must pipe through my earbuds continues to grow.

Those books, too, now flavor my memories. As a passing image floats through my brain, I am often accompanied by what I was listening to. When I left Colorado for graduate school, it was the Complete Works of Montaigne that I can still hear coming through the car speaker. The year I lived alone in a cottage on Lake Michigan, Henry Beston’s The Outer Most House. Later, Sabrina & Corina became the book I consumed as I traveled back and forth to my grandmother’s property for the last time after she died. Before the pandemic hit, a work of history about the Irish Troubles called Say Nothing echoed through a house in the woods where I was alone to write.

As an English instructor, I also do my best to make sure there is a recorded version of my assigned readings. If it is easier for me to listen, it must be easier for some of my students. Even those who don’t like the audio versions, having them there just in case works as a small signal that I wish I’d had sooner.  Posting the link to each article says, “Hello, I know that your brain is yours, there is nothing wrong, it is just different.” While not every student likes the audio, just posting it signals that I am trustworthy.

Yes, I will be the first to admit that it is harder to take notes in audiobooks. Getting the quotes from them is difficult, and there isn’t the thrill of staring at them on the shelf. Even I occasionally zone out and must re-listen, but then again, I had to reread pages too. When I think about how many books I would have missed out on if I hadn’t dived headfirst into audiobooks, though, my heart sinks. Those stories told out loud continue to shape me now; they will continue to shape me if I can hit “download.”