Wintering with Audiobooks: Learning How to Slow Down

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.

This year, I decided that I would slow down, give my disabled body some much-needed rest, and take longer moments to look around and appreciate the world. In 2020, my family and I moved across the state of South Carolina to the Lowcountry, a landscape of islands surrounded by wetlands. Being a mountain girl, I’ve never lived right next to the ocean before, and I constantly find myself scanning the flora around me, trying to figure out what plants live in my backyard.

But with all of the chaos of the pandemic and work spinning around me, I’ve never really had the time to get to know my new home. Now that I’m taking a break to focus on my health, I love walking my corgis around my neighborhood, readjusting my brain to the slow Southern pace around me. Naturally, I include audiobooks into my new routine, pouring over my ridiculously long audio TBR for way too long before deciding on what to listen to next.

In the vein of mediating on rest and recovery, I decided to pick up Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen, the author of the incredibly popular substack newsletter, Culture Study. In Can’t Even, Petersen discusses the role of burnout in the lives of millennials, how in many cases burnout is inevitable. The system we live in praises overwork while giving lip service to ideas around self care and taking time for oneself.

When I decided to take some time off to recover, I didn’t expect the pushback to be so intense. Society doesn’t reward people for taking the time they need and setting boundaries on their time and space. But Petersen’s voice in my ear reassuring me that I wasn’t the only millennial exhausted and overworked made me feel less alone.

After Can’t Even, I decided to focus on my mental state and looked for a book that focused on the mental side of rest and recovery. A friend recommended Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, and as soon as I read the audiobook’s description, I knew Wintering was exactly what I needed.

Performed by Rebecca Lee, Wintering starts off with May describing a time in her life where she stepped back from her job and focused on resting her mind and body. While many people wondered why she would quit her prestigious job at a university, May knew that time off is what she needed.

May spends the rest of the book examining what wintering means for her and for other people in similar circumstances. She describes wintering as a natural part of the human condition, just one of many seasons of life. By talking to other people who have experienced phases of wintering as well, I felt reassured that I’d made the right decision. Taking time away to rest and regroup isn’t abnormal; it’s just part of the natural life cycle of human beings.

While I did buy both of these books in print and as audiobooks, I found the print books tied me to a single spot while I read. But as an audiobook, I’d listen while walking under sprawling oak trees full of Spanish moss and watching the wetland wildlife scuttle across the ground. I’ve always felt that audiobooks have helped me directly engage with ideas around mindfulness, engaging so many more senses while I listen and move about the world.

By the end of both Can’t Even and Wintering, I felt myself unwind, more relaxed and engaged with the world beyond my screens. I finished Wintering while at the dog park, throwing my corgi’s favorite pink ball over and over again. As the end credits rolled I paused, took out my ear buds, and listened. For the first time in far too long, I could hear everything around me.