Listening Books member Katie Lawrence discusses how audiobooks helped her rediscover the joy of reading after being diagnosed with a chronic condition.
As a child who struggled to fall asleep, I learnt the value of audiobooks at a young age and nothing was more exciting than being taken to peruse the selection at our local library. I’m so grateful for this early exposure to audiobooks, as when my health deteriorated and made reading difficult, I knew there was another option. I still resisted the need to transition away from print, and initially grieved for physical books and the tangible way they connected me to a story. When I looked at my unread paperbacks gathering dust, I was devastated by how unattainable they had become since fatigue ruined my memory and concentration, but I was reluctant to admit defeat and make the switch.
When digital and postal library services, such as Listening Books, began to make audiobooks increasingly accessible without leaving home, I finally took the plunge. It was like the first rainfall after a long drought, and I felt the stories soaking into my bones and refreshing my spirit. The comforting familiarity of the experience and the joyful exploration of something new was uplifting, and gave me the same sense of opening a door into a new world that I’d encountered time and again alongside Harry Potter, Lucy Pevensie, and Mary Lennox.
As I listen, I can lose myself in stories and briefly escape the pain, fatigue, and anxiety. Audiobooks accompany me through sleepless nights, hospital stays, and weeks trapped in bed, but they are also the old friends I turn to on rest days, and the new crush I can’t wait to snuggle up with after a busy day. Whatever life throws at me, I have a library of characters waiting to join the adventure.
One of the things I missed most about reading printed books was the camaraderie of sharing them. I found that traditional book clubs often excluded listeners, with many still viewing audiobooks as ‘cheating’. This encouraged me to start an audiobook discussion group on Facebook – Chronic Creatives Hearing Things – with a few chronically ill friends who also craved greater inclusivity, and I have adored being part of a book-loving community again. It inspired me to begin reviewing audiobooks on my blog, Miss Lawrence is Hearing Things (www.hearingthings.co.uk), to help others find stories they would love, and to thank authors, narrators, and publishers for the entertainment they provide. Despite the challenges involved in writing thorough reviews whilst accommodating fluctuating health issues, it has been wonderful to give something back to the listeners and creators who have enriched my life tremendously.
For a long time audiobooks were viewed as a charitable afterthought, but this is changing as they become more mainstream. Whilst my group is a space where disabled people can share their current listening, I’m thrilled that my blog reaches people of all abilities, and that I can now discuss audiobooks with healthy friends and family who have embraced them as a way of reintroducing novels into their busy lives. The tradition of oral storytelling is going from strength to strength as audiobook production becomes more considered, and the importance of an excellent narrator is being recognised at last. Bedtime stories are no longer the preserve of parents and children, but something people are now gifting themselves as a way to switch off and unwind.
Audiobooks gave me back that special kind of magic you can only find in books, by whispering it into my ears. It’s a privilege to pass it on and recommend audiobooks to others who are longing to hear those magical words.