Audiobook Shaming is Ableist and Laughably Silly

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As I write this, I’m finishing my 75th book of the year. This is coming from someone who despised reading for many years. I’ve read books that have educated me and inspired me throughout this year. Truth be told, aside from the support of my loved ones, I don’t think I would have made it through this year without the books I’ve read.

What makes my reading a little bit different than the average reader is that I read by listening to audiobooks. A comment I get all the time is, “Listening to books isn’t reading.” I finally want to address this because it’s probably one of the silliest things I hear as well as ableist, and I’m pretty sure it’s a comment from people who don’t read.

But before we dive into the ignorance of comments like that, I want to share about how my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence made me lose my love of reading.

Reading is the Best Habit that I Lost a Love For

When I was a kid, you couldn’t stop me from reading. My dad was a salesman in Southern California, and a lot of my time was spent in the car with him on road trips as he visited different businesses he was selling to. These road trips were where I discovered my love for books.

My favorite books when I was a kid was a series called “Hank the Cowdog”, but what I really loved was reading the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stein. I had a weird childhood too.

When we weren’t traveling, my single dad spent a lot of times at restaurants that had bars trying to find him a new lady. Next door to a 50s-style restaurant we regulared, Hudson’s Bar and Grill, was a Borders book store. While my dad was trying to find his next wife, I’d hang out in the book store trying to find new books to read. I remember when the new Goosebumps book would come out, it was like Christmas for me. I’d be so excited.

As I grew older, I lost my love for reading for a few reasons. Reading was no longer something that was fun for me. Once you get to high school, you have mandatory books that you have to read, and I hated that. Over the years, I’ve learned that this is actually the point when many young people lose their desire to read.

Aside from being forced to read books I had no interest in, this was when my reading was no longer private, and my social anxiety was making me lose my interest in books even more. Rather than reading books that I liked, I had to read books I didn’t like, and sometimes out loud, and my anxiety made me screw up words, which made me feel stupid.

At this point, I also realized that I was a much slower reader than other people. This also made me insecure about reading. So, I did what many people do, which is that I quit reading.

Is it Better to Read or Not to Read?

About five years ago, I was becoming complacent in my sobriety and thinking about relapsing. I was working at a regular job with people who were going out and drinking on Fridays, and I kept asking myself what made me so different and why I couldn’t drink like a normal person. This is a scary headspace for an addict to be in.

As a way to stay sober, I decided I was going learn about the science of addiction so I understood what made me different than others. I read the book Clean by David Sheff (he’s the author of Beautiful Boy), and that book probably saved my life. After that, friends talked me into reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I loved American Gods, but I realized I liked non-fiction even more, and I then read The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery.

I read these books because I had to ride the bus 1.5 hours to and from work, so it occupied my time and didn’t matter how slow I read.

Once I got my license back and started driving again, I stopped reading. There was so much I wanted to learn about when it comes to addiction recovery, mental health, psychology, philosophy and more, but I’m constantly doing stuff to keep myself busy, and it’s difficult for me to sit down and just read.

I sat on the idea of giving Audible a try for a while, but if I did audiobooks, how the hell was I going to take cool Instagram pics of all my books to show people that I’m an awesome reader?! (that was literally what my mind was telling me).

Then, I simply asked myself, “Is it better to read books or not to read books?”, and the answer was obvious: read some damn books no matter how you do it.

I’m sure you’d agree that reading books is much better than not reading books kind of like how working out is better than not working out. So now, let’s talk about why people who say, “Listening to books isn’t reading,” is not only a dick thing to say, but it’s pretty rude considering you don’t know someone’s life.

The Ableism of Audiobook Shaming

When I was working at the drug and alcohol rehab, I had a man who would do phenomenal in treatment and be extremely engaged, but he kept coming back after relapses. This always confused me because they seemed to have all the tools they needed. So, when he came back from his third relapse, I pulled him aside and asked, “What’s going on, man? You do so well in treatment. What’s happening?”

Something I try to do with people is help them figure out what’s not working so they can pursue what does work. I knew he loved when I did Big Book study groups, so I asked him if he’d been reading his Big Book, and that’s when he dropped a bomb on me.

“I’m dyslexic”, he said with some shame in his voice as he stared at the ground. He then explained to me that when I read the book in groups, he could follow along because hearing the book read out loud helped.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?!”, I said with excitement in my voice.

I then scheduled a meeting with his therapist and the clinical director of our facility, and I explained to them the man’s learning disability that he hadn’t told anyone about yet. We had a strict policy on no devices at the inpatient level of care, but I fought for him and told them how engaged he is with the Big Book and how he has difficulty reading it.

I went to him later and told him I spoke with his therapist and clinical director, and we were going to give him his smartphone back so he could download the audio version of the Big Book. He got excited and said, “What?! There’s an audiobook version?!”, and he thanked me for fighting for them to make the exception.

The last I heard, he was 2 years sober.

Now, when I hear people say that listening to books isn’t reading, I think about that man and everyone else with a variety of different disabilities that may prevent them from reading. Approximately 3.5 percent of American students struggle with dyslexia. What kind of message are we sending them if we tell them that listening to audiobooks isn’t “really reading”?

Dyslexia is only one disorder that may keep people from reading. There are some people who have poor eyesight, and maybe they can’t afford glasses, but audiobooks are affordable. I don’t have ADHD, but one of my issues is I can’t focus long enough to sit and read a book, but I can listen to audiobooks while I work, do the dishes or play videogames. I can imagine people who actually have ADHD have difficulties sitting down to read, but they have an insane amount of passion for subjects they’re interested in, so audiobooks may help them foster that passion.

I’m sure you can think of a million other reasons why someone can’t read books in a traditional way as well. We should be encouraging these people (especially young people) to read in whatever way that makes them feel comfortable rather than talking down to them.

Why Do We Read?

Now, let’s talk about how telling people that listening to books isn’t “really reading” is so laughably silly.

I’m an outside-of-the-box type of thinker. One of the reasons I thrive in jobs where I can be creative is because I work by looking at the end goal rather than the path that’s laid out to get there. The best bosses I’ve ever had have realized that about me.

At the rehab, I had a few major responsibilities, which were to help people get back into treatment, increase attendance at events and meetings as well as different duties. We had these scripts and templates they wanted us to use, but they never worked for me. Then, I started thinking outside the box. During my three years there, I was consistently #1 in every metric that mattered, and it’s all because my boss told me, “As long as you reach our goals, do whatever method that works for you.”

So, why do we read? I’m a non-fiction lover. I read to educate myself about topics that I’m interested in. These books help me with my own mental health, but more importantly, they educate me on ways I can help others. I wish I could get into fiction, and I may try to read some fiction books soon, but consider yourself lucky if this is your favorite type of book.

Studies that people who read fiction are more empathetic than most people. This is because they’re constantly reading about characters who have various struggles, so the reader gains new perspectives and can really feel for the characters. You also learn some great life lessons throughout fiction books, and this was one of the first methods for teaching important subjects like morality. Ancient Greeks, Native Americans and many other societies have used fiction to teach incredible lessons about life.

Now, ask yourself this, “Does listening to books take away from why we read books?”

The answer is obviously a big fat “no”.

Whether you read a book or listen to a book, you’re consuming the information. You receive all of the benefits from books no matter how you decide to read them. Hell, if we ever get to the type of the future of The Matrix, maybe you can consume books by plugging something in the back of your head and download the information instantly.

Telling people listening to books is just another trivial way to put people down for absolutely no reason, so I don’t take offense to this at all, and you shouldn’t either. I lost many years of not reading, and maybe that’s why I read so much now, and I don’t want you to lose your passion for reading like I did. If you’re someone who wants to read but have been told that listening to books isn’t “really reading”, I hope this inspires you to start checking out some audiobooks.

I’ll end by discussing something amazing I heard in one of my books. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was along these lines: We’ve had so many wise people throughout history who have shared their wisdom through books. To not take advantage of that is ridiculous.

Check out my last post 7 Books That Will Make You Rethink Your Mental Health

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @TheRewiredSoul. For more mental health blogs, check out www.TheRewiredSoul.com or grab one of my books on anxiety, depression or sobriety here.

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Psychology/mental health/philosophy. Stay up to date by following me here & on Twitter/Instagram @TheRewiredSoul. Books available at www.TheRewiredSoul.com/shop

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