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Audiobooks and Literacy: When Reader Fatigue Strikes

The SlaveStress plays havoc with our emotions and our capacity to think clearly—even the good stress (I got married! I have a new puppy! I earned a raise!) and certainly the bad (I’ve been sued. My children have been sick for a month. I can’t figure out what this teacher wants.). All stress undermines our sense of balance, and we look to a variety of substances and activities for relief, from potato chips to weeping. Yet our tried and true remedies may fail when the stress is chronic: We lose interest in favorite pastimes, we can’t concentrate on what ordinarily engages us, and we can’t seem to break through a resistance to righting our inner world.

We are living through a civic era in which news and opinion sources blast a constant high-pressure stream of information, misinformation, guesswork, and prognosticating. Because this flood comes to us through the same activities that many of us employ as stress reducers—reading, listening, conversing—we know that we are not alone in suffering communication and expression fatigue. But how do we find a way to reboot our connections to well-chosen and artfully expressed words? How can we get back to a better sense of balance, and relief from the crumbling attributes of stress?

Tambourines to Glory

As someone who has been supporting reading/listening advisory with librarians and teachers for 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with individuals seeking their own next good book or audiobook and classes working to hone skills and resources that will serve them in reaching out to individuals and their communities. During these two decades there have been several points when shattering events have placed enormous stress on large numbers of Americans, sending them in search of reading relief that suddenly seems elusive. In the wake of 9/11, for example, several nonfiction readers I encountered turned to genre, while genre readers switched genres in order to re-engage with casual reading. Now, many who have read with their eyes for a lifetime are open to trying audiobooks to lift themselves from the stress that their reading habits hasn’t assuaged.

There Was A Crooked Man

Reader fatigue is about stress. Finding a way to listen away that stress—at least for the duration of an audiobook—can go far to give readers the relief they need.

If you’re already an audiobook fan, you may find yourself switching genres, or trying some thoughtful historical fiction, or another type of audiobook new to you. Even dipping into a unique print format such as shaped poetry or comics can be a way to recharge. That’s okay: We know you’ll be back to audiobooks! The important element here is that sometimes a genre change is enough, and sometimes a format “vacation” helps.

With audiobooks, listeners also have the availability of performance differences. If you’re a dedicated single-narrator listener, try some full-cast performances. Maybe you go for author-read audiobooks? Try listening to an actor’s approach to similar content. Make use of audiobooks for casual genre listening only? Step out and try audiobooks that engage your brain in a new way—perhaps comedy or instructional material you’d like to absorb.

Buddhaland Brooklyn

You can also make simple changes in your listening times and routines. If you typically listen while exercising, try listening while sedentary—and vice versa. If audiobooks for you mean commute time, while print is for your lunch break, try listening on that break. However you mix it up, be kind to yourself and don’t judge yourself for when you run into fatigue. It’s stress-induced, and you can usually find a simple way to make listening and reading your friends again.

I’ve gathered some suggestions to help lift your reading fatigue through audiobook listening below:

by Isaac Bashevis Singer, read by David Chandler, Tracy Sallows
Jewish Contemporary Classics
AudioFile Earphones Award

by Langston Hughes, read by Myra Lucretia Taylor
Recorded Books
AudioFile Earphones Award

by K.J. Larsen, read by Carol Monda
Blackstone Audio

by Richard C. Morais, read by Feodor Chin
Blackstone Audio
AudioFile Earphones Award

UNSTUFFED: Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul
by Ruth Soukup, read by Windy Lanzl

This post has been adapted from the original Audiobooks and Literacy column published in the October/November 2017 issue of AudioFile Magazine.

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