Reading while exhausted: why I love audiobooks

Ever since I learned how to read, it’s been one of my favorite ways to spend the time. My mom likes to recall that when I was a little kid and I would go up to my room with a stack of books, close the door, and read for hours. I remember staying up past my bedtime with a lamp on until I got a warning knock on the door. Saturday mornings, I would wake up and immediately start reading, staying in bed as late as I could get away with.

Let’s not even get started about the hours of sleep I’ve lost staying up too late with a book I couldn’t put down. (Now that I get woken up on a nightly basis, I mourn the lost hours. I should have appreciated the sleep while I could still get it.)

I was expecting it to be harder to read once I had kids. And it definitely is. You can’t just pick up a book on a weekend afternoon whenever you feel like it. There’s no way in hell you’re going to stay in bed until 10 just reading. And once the kids are asleep? Good luck having two brain cells left to rub together.

Woman looks tiredly at her phone with earbuds in her ears.
So very, very tired. (Photo by Siddharth Bhogra on Unsplash)

Enter audiobooks.

If you want to read, but you’re an exhausted parent (or really just a regular exhausted person with a busy schedule), I cannot recommend audiobooks enough. If you read fast, audio might be slightly less efficient for you, yes. But an audiobook diet will keep you from looking up at the end of the year and realizing the only things you successfully read for fun were articles about your kid’s developmental milestones or reviews of movies you’re definitely too tired to watch.

The main selling point for me is I can listen to an audiobook while I do other chores around the house. All the repetitive, mundane tasks that must be done every day can be enhanced with books.

I know a lot of people like to listen to music or the news or podcasts while they’re doing these kinds of tasks. And I listen to all those things occasionally too, but I’ve discovered that what nurtures my soul the most is busting through my to read list. (It must be said at this point: yes, listening to audiobooks is reading. Please don’t make me enter this debate.)

My favorite activities for reading audiobooks:

  1. Washing dishes/washing and filling endless cycles of bottles – My least favorite chore of all time, made tolerable by books. (Pro tip: Use earbuds or the rushing water will drown out the sound.)
  2. Folding and putting away laundry – Words cannot describe how greatly this task is enhanced when you don’t have to think about how much laundry you will be folding and putting away for the next five years of your life.
  3. Driving to the store – Grab twenty minutes of alone time by volunteering to pick up a curbside order and think about something that isn’t how to force your toddler to eat dinner.
  4. Going on a walk/run – I’m one of those weirdos who prefers to run to books instead of music, but it is an amazing motivator to try to work out so you can read at the same time!
  5. Trying to sleep – This one is tricky because you don’t want to actually fall asleep while the book is going. But if your mind is racing or stress is keeping you up, this is one way to crowd out the noise.

Some books don’t translate amazingly to audio, but many do. A good narrator can make a book. I love people with soothing voices or who somehow transform into the main character for me. Audio also helps teach me how everyone’s names are pronounced, which can be super helpful.

Now at the end of the day, I don’t have to deal as much with falling asleep in the middle of the same paragraph ten nights in a row. Or experience the dreaded flip side of reading “one more chapter” until it’s past midnight and I curse my very existence.

The past few years, more than half the books I’ve read each year have been audio. I wouldn’t have been able to fill the gap with print books. Which means I’d be missing out on 50% of my reads! And some of my favorite books from the past few years have been in audio form, which means I could have missed out on some really awesome writing.

An audiobook fan yourself looking for some reads? I got you!

Here are some of my favorite listens from the past year:

  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
    • A woman makes a deal with a god to extend her life, but in return, nobody she meets can remember her. I loved this for a whole host of reasons including historical settings, testing the boundaries of a magical curse, pondering the meaning of life, just to name a few.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
    • Two sisters grow up in the town of Mallard, founded by and for Black people with light skin. They cut and run as teens. Later, one sister returns with her daughter and the other sister disappears after working at a job where she passed as white. This book does not have a lot of action, but I loved the deep dives into every single character.
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
    • You’ve probably seen this recommended all over the place, but it’s really good and worth checking out! Especially if you want to be more informed about America’s criminal justice system and how people of color are disproportionately affected by it. Thinking about the number of innocent people on death row is terrifying.
  • The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa
    • The government keeps getting rid of things, like hats, and all the people who live on the island are forced to forget those things. The amount they are forced to forget continues growing to disturbing new levels. This is such a strange little book and if I had been reading it in print, I’m not sure where I would have landed on it. But having the narrator to gently lead me through it really worked for me.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    • A woman and her daughter show up in town and start shaking up the other characters’ comfortable suburban lives. I thought Ng did a masterful job helping you empathize with all the characters in this book. You get to understand where almost everyone is coming from and really understand how complicated they all are. It also explores a lot of tough issues without being preachy about them!

Let me know if you have any favorite audiobooks yourself! If you want to try audiobooks out but don’t want to subscribe to a paid service, check out your local library. Most have tons of options at this point.

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