MY TEENAGE SON RECENTLY discovered audiobooks.
An avid reader until high school, he all but stopped reading because he “couldn’t find any books he liked.” Sound familiar?
Maybe he read so much for his classes that his reading capacity was tapped out, or maybe it was a developmental issue. However — although I didn’t say this aloud (much) — I found it hard to believe that with the thousands of books published every year, he couldn’t find anything good.
That is, until he tried listened to an audiobook. Now he’s listened to three books in the space of a month, and if he finds a part “boring” he just puts the narration on 1.5 speed until the next chapter begins! I’m thrilled.
Will this last? Who knows. But I believe it’s a good thing for however long it continues. Studies show that reading fiction helps to develop empathy and increases your attention span. Teen Read Week, an organization which advocates teen reading, calls audiobooks “a great option for teens with a time crunch, because they’re the perfect way to listen on the go.”
Journalist Kristen Luby goes on to state, “Reluctant teen readers often find that audiobooks make for a more engaging and entertaining experience – sound effects, music, and multiple narrators bring stories to life!”
Of course, there is something soothing about being read to, and this goes for readers of any age. The neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, as quoted in the The New Yorker, states that “Language comprehension and production evolved in connection with HEARING probably 150,000 yrs ago and to some extent is ‘hard wired’.” However, writing and reading are merely 5000 years old—and for most of that time, limited to a small section of society.
I myself am an avid audiobook reader when I drive, and not just on long commutes, either — I listen to books while I drive around doing errands, picking up my children from activities, going to the store, and I find it calms me down in erratic city traffic. I couldn’t do without it. I’ve listened to a lot of Dickens, to Donna Tartt, to Daphne duMaurier, to Jeffrey Eugenides. Sometimes, in a pinch, I listen to my Book Club selection on 1.5x speed if I’ve gotten behind and our meeting is coming up (please don’t tell).
I can say from my own experience that readers who listen to the audiobook will sometimes buy the print version, too. There are passages in Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield that I wanted to read for myself after listening to the audiobook. Sometimes I go back and forth between print and audiobook (the same book) because I want to read before bed, and I also want to listen while I do the dishes.
The only thing I wonder is: can I truthfully say I’ve read the book if I’ve listened to it?
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The audiobook version of my novel Thieving Forest, though written for adults, has been given an 800 Lexile Score, which means that it’s appropriate for readers in the 8th grade and up.