The tales of an unapologetic nerd
There are very few times when internet trolls will so enrage me that I go off on a proper, thought-out, written rant. But, here we are. Recently, I came across a thread on Twitter that brought my afternoon to a full stop. In it, the poster stated with absolute certainty that audiobooks were not REAL books. He then went on to imply (and, later, to outright state) that anyone who listened to a book rather than read it was stupid, lazy, and couldn't possibly grasp the actual story at the end of it all.
And while I would never have said those words exactly, there was a time when I, too, felt something along the same lines myself. A time when, in my false sense of childish intellectual superiority, I truly believed that reading books was the only thing that counted.
Oh you poor, sweet, stupid girl.
To Past Kaitlin, and all the other readers out there who think like her, let me spell out just some of what I've learned over the past few years. Because storytelling, in all its beauty, transcends the page and should be respected in all of its forms. Especially audiobooks.
1. Quality Family Time is Whatever YOU Make of It
My mother loved to read. Not only was it part of her job as Orson Scott Card's office manager and proofreader, but it was a passion of hers. She belonged to book clubs, started a friendly summer reading challenge between me and my siblings, and would fall asleep deep in the pages of her latest book every night. And, as our family took to the road every year for vacations and beach trips, she would have my dad read aloud to us from the passenger seat. Because, unfortunately, she got carsick trying to read for herself. But, of course, Dad could only read for so long before his throat would grow sore and tired. So even those moments were limited.
And then, one year, we discovered Framed, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The audiobook was read by the most delightful Welsh actor and, on a whim, we gave it a listen. Immediately, we were hooked. We could listen to entire BOOKS without a parent throwing up or losing their voice? We could ALL enjoy, together, the discovery of a brand new story?
That one book changed everything, especially for Mom. She began actively seeking out great audiobooks for long drives, eager to find something we would all love. Drives to and from my college were filled with stories now, and we couldn't wait to take another trip that was long enough to justify a chapter or two. Because, as my parents proved to me time and time again as I was growing up, family time is what YOU make of it. Some parents don't have the energy to read TO their children. Or they feel insecure about their own literacy. They may be tired, overworked, or get headaches from reading too long. But audiobooks allow parents and children to gather around and be told a story together.
2. The Working Class Deserves Escapism
When Mom fell into the world of audiobooks, they expanded her literary world in a way I can't truly put into words. They began to keep her company even as she worked, and gave her more hours in the day to enjoy fictional worlds, autobiographies, and keep up with the stories that were important to her family. She had a full-time job, four children, and a house to manage. Who am I -- who is anybody -- to deny women like her the chance to absorb new stories through any means they can?
When I first moved to Orlando eight years ago, I quickly filled my life with half a dozen jobs. By the end of three years, I had amassed no less than fourteen part-time or seasonal gigs, all just to make ends meet. I barely found time to write my own books, let alone read anyone else's. But I was starved for good literature. My own creativity was drying up, and it sank me into a deep depression. And, on top of which, my mother was dying of cancer at the time. Everything about my life was falling apart, and I couldn't even find the time to disappear into the pages of a favorite book for a few hours.
Now, before you start on that "if it's important you'll find the time" garbage, let me just stop you. That is NOT always the case. Our bodies, our jobs, our surroundings ... all of these things get in the way. And for those lucky souls who can balance all those things effectively enough to make time for hobbies, a tip of the hat to you. But many of us are not so blessed. And we are struggling. There were days when I would take my book to work in the desperate attempt to read something between shows or on my lunch break. But the break rooms were loud, I couldn't focus, and I'd find myself re-reading the same sentence over and over again, never grasping any of it.
The same thing would happen at night, as I tried to read in bed. I'd snuggle in, book open, bedside lamp ablaze with the warm, cozy glow that promised hours of solitary reading time. But sleep would claim me almost immediately, and I rarely (if ever) managed more than a paragraph.
But then, audiobooks. On a whim, I subscribed to Audible just to try it out. I downloaded Bloody Jack by L.A Meyer (narrated by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren) and my entire routine was turned on its head. I listened at the gym. I listened as I cooked, or did my morning and nightly routines. I could listen in crowded break rooms and drown out the chaos far easier than I could read to myself, and I DID! One book led to another, and another. In fact, finding the time to listen to an exciting read during my exhausting day kept my energy up in a way page reading could not at the time. I started branching out to other genres. Things I never would have taken the time to physically read, but I listened to and absorbed with gusto. I found books on the sciences, and autobiographies by my personal heroes (usually ready by the author themselves.) I found a corner of my life in which to fit reading again. And sure, it didn't come to me the way I expected or planned, but it was what I needed. Modern problems require modern solutions, and the idea that only physical reading grows the mind and expands your cultural understanding is outdated.
3. On Ableism and Reading
As I've mentioned briefly in my past two points, there are often physical and emotional limitations to reading from the page. But I know from experience that briefly will not be nearly enough to cover the true ramifications of these issues, and how important they are to the reading world. So, buckle in, because this truly is (in my mind) the most important issue I will discuss in this entire post.
Takes a deep breath.
NOT EVERYONE IS AS HEALTHY AS YOU!
It is 2020, we are in the middle of a pandemic that succinctly proves that not every health issue is the same across the board, and yet I STILL have to defend all of us with invisible illnesses and physical limitations. Or, hell, even VISIBLE illnesses! Because, frankly, how dare you make the argument that those who can't read don't have the right to claim audiobooks as real, actual literature? Shaky hands from cerebral palsy or Parkinson's, crippling migraines from staring at small words too long, missing limbs ... every one of them a limitation that would make reading from books impossible. Not to mention severe ADHD, dyslexia, and certain types of learning that require an audible component, rather than a visual one.
When my father was suffering through the final hours of his own cancer journey, he couldn't speak. He couldn't move. He was in a strange place, surrounded by hospice nurses and family coming and going at all hours. In fact, he couldn't even acknowledge my presence by the time I made it to him. Except for once: when I asked if he wanted me to read to him. It was the biggest reaction anyone had seen from him in days, and I read to him my latest book until he died.
In moments of chaos and hurt, there is something deep within us that just wants to be told a story. And there will not always be someone like me at their bedside to read to those who are suffering. Audiobooks are, quite simply, someone reading a story. Like parents have done for their children for ages. Like my father did for me. Like I did for him. The idea that children can learn and absorb stories by having them read aloud, but that adults are not granted the same permission, is upsetting to my very core. And I will fight anyone who says audiobooks are not important, or real, or proper stories.
4. The Roots of Storytelling
Stories did not become important because they were written down; they were written down because they were deemed important. When Homer stood reciting epic tales for his rapt fireside audiences, a new type of culture was just beginning to take shape. And the transition from oral storytelling to written chronicles changed the world forever. But, before that, stories were still told. Perhaps not as elegantly or with such widespread impact, but told nonetheless. The art of storytelling is ever-changing, and it is much, much older and bigger than any of us.
And there was a time, when written fictions were beginning to spread, that books were considered the lesser art form. True storytelling was out loud and in person. Just as films were once considered base and flashy, as opposed to theatre and plays. Now, you're considered uncultured if you haven't seen Citizen Kane. Culture is subjective, and art adapts, friends. We have no choice but to let it.
Audiobooks deserve a true place of honor. For the same reasons ebooks are real, or graphic novels, or reader's theatre: the story is what matters. They bring those stories to places that might never have found them. They can make a world of difference in the right person's life, and shaming someone for only listening to books is narrow-minded, arrogant, and a desperate attempt to cling to your own sense of self-importance.
Now, then, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to record another chapter of my own audiobook, so I can share my stories with anyone who wants to listen.
Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance actor, indie author, and all-around nerd. Welcome to her world, adventurer. It's gonna get weird.