Two years ago, I made a significant commitment, investing a whole £7.99 per month in an Audible subscription. With this, I gained access to a vast catalogue of public domain audiobooks and received a credit each month for a book of my choice. It was like discovering a treasure trove of literature right at my fingertips, or, should I say, directly in my ears. While I don’t want to sound like I’m sponsored, I have to admit that embracing audiobooks has profoundly enriched my reading journey. 

Audiobooks are not without their critics. There have been many protesters against audiobooks, with some arguing that listening to audiobooks does not constitute ‘real reading’, that they’re easy to tune out, and that the narrator can become a mere background noise. Can you truly call it reading if your eyeballs aren’t moving across the pages? It is true that there is an undeniable magic in holding a physical book, feeling the pages, and inhaling the scent of fresh paper – an experience that audio formats simply can’t replicate. Still, the comfort of physical books doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the perks that come with the technological advancements of reading.

Additionally, I have stumbled upon several Audible reviews where readers abandoned a book solely due to a poorly performed narration. It’s true that nothing is more frustrating than enduring a monotonous narrator for 23 hours, and it’s disheartening to think about the wonderful literary experiences that people miss out on due to the lack of effort from audiobook companies. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed the profound impact of audiobooks, particularly when listening to autobiographies and memoirs. In these instances, you’re often treated to the author’s own voice, as they share intimate moments of their lives with us. It’s a literary opportunity that can’t be missed.

My own journey into the world of audiobooks began long before my university days. Let’s rewind to May 2019, just two days before my English Literature GCSE exam. While I had always enjoyed reading and dabbled in a wide variety of books for pleasure, the idea of trudging through all 300-something pages of The Lord of the Flies by William Golding was truly a teenage nightmare. I was supposed to read it in the summer before Year 11 but, naturally, had probably managed all of 50 pages before abandoning it, never to read it again save for a few extracts during class. I felt doomed until salvation arrived in the form of my best friend who, struggling alongside me, graciously introduced me to the magic of audiobooks on her Kindle. Discovering that I could experience a book without actually reading it was nothing short of a miracle. With my broken earphones, I spent the night before my exam listening to an elderly man narrate the story at double speed. I believe that my eventual grade 9 in that exam was partly thanks to the power of audiobooks. 

Fast forward to Oxford. Being at St. Hugh’s means a lot of walking – especially since I can’t ride a bike – which also means having a lot of spare time. Audiobooks have become my best friends during these walks, as well as during grocery shopping trips or any other activity that would have otherwise been filled by the same five songs playing on repeat. Not only do audiobooks make me feel productive without holding a physical book, but they also allow me to explore a broader range of literature, even during my daily pilgrimage to Tesco. Especially when I was feeling frugal, I’d delve into the selection of free audiobooks, stumbling upon countless memoirs and nonfiction works on topics as diverse as caffeine, relationships, and Henry VIII. I almost certainly would have never encountered these books if not for their audio counterparts. 

The accessibility options that come with audiobooks are also hard to ignore. As someone with ADHD, there are times when slogging through extensive reading lists becomes draining and listening allows me to retain more information than reading would. I’m certain that people with dyslexia and other learning difficulties can attest to similar benefits. There is no need to justify the preference of audiobooks over reading a physical book when they are so convenient and accessible, allowing those who may struggle with traditional reading to engage with literature. This past summer, when tackling A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (which, in reality, isn’t so little), I was cursed with a sore arm just by keeping the 700-page book open, and I managed to finish it only because I had switched to an audiobook. Why should something like the physical size of a book prevent me from experiencing a story that ultimately proved to be well worth my time? 

With the rise of audiobooks, the barriers of book size or reading challenges dissolve, ensuring that everybody can immerse themselves in the beauty of storytelling. Audiobooks epitomise the evolution of reading, and it’s about time we wholeheartedly embrace these remarkable advancements in the world of literature.