In defence of audiobooks

As an English grad, I am horrified that I hardly read a physical book this year but audiobooks have been an essential in my life this year

Earlier this year, I shared how I have started to count audiobooks as reading. It still seems wrong to say but despite the fatigue and brain fog of long covid, I have read just shy of 50 books this year. Most of them are listens rather than read and some are also re-reads. But I have now fully convinced this is the best way to really appreciate a text and I am sad I have waited so long to consume books in this way.

The main reason I want to defend the audiobook is this is the year I finally “read” Anna Karenina. Now, I have battled through most of War and Peace and knew that I liked Tolstoy’s knowing narration, grand settings but until this year, I never made it through Anna Karenina. And I must admit I had missed out. The first modern novel, obsessed with it’s own modernity, attempting to understand the psychology of it’s tragic heroes as well of of course the new age dawning with trains and the death of feudal farming, I find this a deeply fascinating novel. I did know the ending, but I was deeply shocked when I got there. The depth of my investment in the relationships and the complexity are so rewarding for the reader. When I am reading a novel twenty minutes at a time, holding all the characters in my head, switching between the town and countryside is confusing to follow, particularly when my brain is fogged. Having a voice actor peform the audiobook, we gain so much in their characterisation and can more easily follow the changes in voice and place in the novel.

Finally read Anna Karenina

It has also been an amazing way to reread books. I’ve listed before books that I think it is worth rereading. I have enjoyed the comfort of revisiting Jane Austen and the Northern Lights series by Phillip Pullman. Though I know these books so well, you pick up extra elements on each reread and this was very much part of my enjoyment of revisiting these books on audio. The performance is adding to the nuances that you pick up on as you revisit favourite places like Pemberley or characters like the villainous Mrs Coulter

A friend recently asked me how I concentrate on audiobooks as she tends to realise she has drifted off. Well this is a danger and with the relistens is matters less because you know the story but as I have managed brand new books this year too, I think I must be able to concentrate. My secret if anything is that listening to the book is the activity rather than have it on in the background. With my fatigue condition I have been bone tired enough to rest for great parts of the day. Not always thankfully but I lot of the time I have needed to give my brain a break and as I wrote before, audiobooks have formed an important part of my active resting.

So as I go forward with a bit more energy and a lot of hope, it may be that audiobooks were just the thing that got me through 2021 and ill-health. But even if I don’t get this time again to rest and “read” I will forever now advocate for audiobooks as a great way to tackle books, particularly ones that you have put off for years.

Are you an audiobook fan?

Having a Reading Holiday

School’s out so it’s time for me to take a little break from the blog to rest and read

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season. I’ll be back in the New Year which always gives me a new season of writing motivation. If you want some reading inspiration, I have shared my Winter reads and favourite Gothic fiction.

In the meantime, I am taking what time to read that I can and have picked up a fun mystery to complete my Goodreads challenge.

Shh! I’m reading!

Hope you get some reading time in too. I’ll be back in January to share more about my journey to explore creativity, hone my craft and write NOW!

A new reading list

I haven’t posted here for a while but I have been reading, trying to educate myself

I am so saddened by George Floyd’s murder. And Breonna Taylor’s. And so many more. I have been learning too so much more about the problems faced in the UK.

I have watched the news, listened to many people talking about these deep-rooted issues and seen some remarkable activism as part of a larger conversation. I haven’t felt safe enough to protest. so I have tried to think of other ways to engage. I have really taken the chance to think about what the Black Lives Matter conversation means in the UK.

Being me, this has meant reading of course. These are all books that have soared up the Amazon charts. I am clearly not the only one trying to support more black authors. By adding these powerful voices to my life I hope to understand and learn more.

Read this month

Queenie by Candice Carty – Williams

This book had been on my list for a while. It discusses in a joyful way really what it is to date in the modern world. But particularly for Queenie, a woman of Carribean descent, the way her body and black life is understood by others and herself. She is a witty and fascinating character and you really root for her as she tries to navigate the pitfalls in her life. But underlying all the problem she comes across in work and dating life is a darker and political edge that has an important message. Ultimately an uplifting book with a powerful message.

Why I stopped talking to white people about Race by Reno Eddo-Lodge

An essential guide in the move towards becoming Anti-Racist. I have learnt so much more about others experience over this last month and this well written report on where we are has helped. It feels important. It includes a sweep of history that is oft ignored and shared insights into the systematic inqualities of now. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction but this feels like a necessary part of the conversation.

Reading now

Girl, woman, other by Bernadine Evaristo

Another one that has been on my list for a while, last year’s Booker Prize winner does not disappoint. I am part way through and fascinated by the women I have met so far. A series of vignettes about different women’s lives it speaks to many different aspects of British culture and exploring black lives from different backgrounds and perspectives. It discusses race, political difference, and womanhood in a lively and thoughtful way.

And Next

N-w by Zadie Smith

White Teeth is probably one of my favourite novels in modern times but I haven’t read any of her work for a while so this book, about to be adapted to a BBC Drama seemed like an essential read.

If anyone else has reading suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Books I didn’t finish

Do you always read to the end? I am learning to give up…

I hope no-one is offended by some of the books I didn’t finish. I feel a sense of guilt if someone recommended something to me and I can’t get along with it. But life really is too short to always read to the end.

I have experience of not finishing because I ran out of time. When I went to a book club when my son was very young my brain was fried by little sleep and, even having a month to read, I didn’t get through the books quite often. I gave myself a pass but saved those books to a Kindle collection assuming I would go back to them when my brain was in tact.

Even when my brain was lively at university, I didn’t always finish the reading. I don’t feel too much guilt about this though I know I missed out at times. In both circumstances I did not get enough sleep to really concentrate.

I have shared my difficulties of finding time to read before, but more than that, the time I do have I have to be ruthless and if the book doesn’t grab me I have to consider stopping.

Here’s a few things that have made me stop recently:

Violence against women or anyone if it is done to shock but has not been shown to work in the plot. I haven’t got past the first chapter of Bad Teacher. I love a thriller but I am afraid I didn’t connect enough with the story first so my stomach was turned by the violence in the first pages. It is probably a great read but I didn’t finish it.

Complex plots. This is ridiculous of course, I love complexity and a thriller doesn’t work if it’s not cleverly plotted. I recommended The Perfect Girlfriend earlier in the year and read thrillers like it. So I don’t know why some books I just can’t get on with. I know at some point I will love the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as it has been rated very highly by reviewers I like . But this year when I tried I just couldn’t come back to it often enough to keep the twists in my head. This is one I am sure I will come back to but I didn’t finish.

The wrong season. Another book that has been highly rated is The Toymakers I started and decided it was a wrong season and am looking forward to this one over winter. This may prove to be wrong but the snow on the cover made it hard to start in the Spring.

A trilogy. I love a trilogy. I am currently reading The Winternight Trilogy and can’t wait to start the new Phillip Pullman but honestly it’s a big decision to start a series. I just know I will want to read it all when it’s complete but I put down Labyrinth earlier this year because it felt like too much reading ahead of me.

Too close to home This is a difficult one to explain without talking about some of the issues that I relate to too much. But I will say that I am very aware of portrayals of Autism in fiction (and TV for that matter). As a mother of a child on the Spectrum, I found the portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome in The Golden Hour hard to read. Sometimes it might be that something chimes too well with a reality and I will find myself upset, triggered I suppose.

to-be-read pile (TBR)

One of the main reasons that I haven’t finished some books though, is that my to-be-read pile (TBR) is just huge. If something doesn’t appeal, I can happily replace that book with another or six that might take my fancy. It feels fickle at times but I am starting to forgive myself for not always finishing.

I’d love to know what you haven’t finished and why?!

Creativity is Spirituality, Maybe?

This week The Artist’s Way programme asked me to dig deeper into spiritual practice by putting down my book and my phone.

Week four has asked a lot of me. Firstly, Julia Cameron prescribes a reading detox. Her more recent update here suggests this is actually a full on media deprivation. Well I  failed. I have known for a while.my phone usage is off the chart. I justify some of the excessiveness because my phone is where I:

  • Read books on Kindle
  • Listen to books on Audible
  • Write and read posts on WordPress
  • Keep up with the #WritingCommunity on Twitter
  • Keep up-to-date on Goodreads

Without excusing myself completely this could all be counted as work right now. It also gives me a sense of community whilst also, of course, writing into the abyss.

My phone is also my crutch, a place where I do not just “work” as I tried to describe it above, but also where I play mindless games. Where I listen to funny podcasts. Where I watch cleaning videos of YouTube. These are less productive, but still part of my down time.

Painting of Woman reading, reclined
Actual image of me reading….Painting by Gustave Courbet, Photo on by Cliff on Flickr

As a nod to the process I did delete some game apps so that I only do a daily Sudoku on there while my husband’s TV is on. But it is a concession to what she asks of us in this week. Alongside this process I have also got a GoodReads Challenge on the go and wanted to get back to that. At least being mindful of my phone time, gave me chance to read. But this isn’t what she means.

So I suppose I admit what I find hardest was adjusting not just to a new way of life, less dependent on my phone, but also the spiritual element that this chapter was talking about. For me, it is very difficult to believe in what she believes in. What I have done more of though is incorporate meditation into my mornings again. This quiet that she believes can help creativity, it’s something I crave too.  Reading deprivation is at least a little further forward in my mind now. It’s a tool I will probably come back to but for now, I copped out of this week’s challenge, making smaller changes instead.

I would love to know if anyone else has tried a reading deprivation or phone detox? I can’t be the only one to find it hard.