I am dyslexic, I have irlen syndrome and I have chosen to work as a (senior) press officer and to write. All in all this leaves me frustrated and angry with myself a lot of the time – I am a glutton for punishment.
The wonder of spell checker has been a huge game changer for people like me, making different careers more accessible, but socially and recreationally the other thing that can make everything that bit brighter are audiobooks.
I began on audiobooks as a child when I used to listen to my parents collection of classic novels on cassette. I used to listen and listen to them every night and to this day I struggle to sleep without a story to listen to, though thankfully with Audible I can have them on my phone and schedule them to turn off after a while so I don’t have to spend too long rewinding to get back to where I was in the story. This learning as a child, because listening is learning, helped me when I studied gothic fiction during my degree. I got a first in the module and didn’t read any of the text while there because I knew them back to front from years of audiobooks. I do confess that the extra time in the exams that my dyslexia granted me did help though.
I love reading and have always been a great reader of books. I used to sit and read with my Mum and Dad when I was younger, the ones I remember are Roald Dahl’s books but I’m sure it extended beyond that to school books and the like. I remember foregoing revision for my GCSE’s because I borrowed my Mum’s copy of the Green Mile by Stephen King and devoured it during my study leave. I have always had shelves of books, too many to move around with me, and I love their smell and how they feel, but sometimes I struggle to read them.
I have the complete works of Edgar Allen-Poe which sits pretty much unread because without the tinted lenses that helped me at school and college with the irlen syndrome I simply can’t read more than a few lines at a time. It’s a real shame as I really do love his work, and so the book stands as a monument to the accessibility that audiobooks can provide.
By the way, those tinted lenses were bright pink Lara Croft style with purple frames, thankfully by the time I wore them I was confident enough in myself to give the two fingers to those who thought that they were hilarious.
I know most people prefer a book and I don’t blame them but audiobooks enable me on public transport to be able to squeeze in that bit more because I don’t have to make room for my book, I can walk down the street listening and I get through one or two books a week that was as well as the print book I am reading.
I shared a tweet or two with an author while looking into this who said that she wasn’t consulted over who read her book for audio, and I can only imagine that this is hugely frustrating because voice is such an integral part of writing that if you feel it’s wrong, it must be devastating.
Audibooks work for me quite simply because it’s an awful feeling watching words swim around a page, and when your eyes well up because despite all the effort you’ve put into reading and writing for years an unexpected size 10pt font can mess it all up in an instant, you feel absolutely gutted.
Sometimes I feel so upset that I turn off reading for a time. I feel locked out of some kind of exclusive club, of my imaginations own making, of people who can read with no difficulty and who obviously, in my head, sneer at me for not being able to do so. Over the last year or so as I have been regularly downloading audiobooks though, I have found that this feeling of being locked out disappears that bit quicker every time, quite frankly audiobooks are making words more accessible for me.
As e-books come to the fore and are fighting printed books for dominance, it strikes me as odd that audiobooks aren’t quite doing the same. Maybe it is the price of them, though I prefer re-listening to rereading so to me they represent good value, but maybe they are a guilty secret to some?
I don’t really know, though as someone who struggles with reading I am really thankful that they exist and I am really enjoying the rise in indie writers taking their works to youtube, audioboo and the like.
As an end note, I am sure it goes without saying, but if you’re a parent, in school or work with anyone, anywhere and they are struggling with reading – it probably isn’t because they’re not trying or not very intelligent – they may be devastated on the inside.
Be a confident parent, friend, employer, educator and make things accessible for people. It’s not too much to ask…