Being read was one of my favourite things when I was young but once I was old enough to read for myself (and conceal a torch under my duvet for late night reading binges) it became a past pleasure. Until recently, when a repeated spate of headaches highlighted that I need to give my poor over-reading eyes a rest occasionally. My problem was that I couldn’t think of a leisure activity to do around the house in the evenings that didn’t involve using them.
My eyes may get a break when I sleep but they spend most of my waking hours deciphering text or pictures. Between work and writing I probably spend 10 hours of my day staring at my computer screen and, as two of my favourite leisure activities are when not writing are reading and watching comedy, I probably often rack up closer to half my waking hours with my eyes on a screen of one type or another. I’m aware that knitting or similar is an option some people choose, but these are probably not people who naturally stab themselves with needles. I considered demanding my partner amuse me for 4 hours every evening, but realised he would probably end up stabbing me with the discarded knitting needles.
The doctor recommended less time straining my eyes but I was straining of something that I could do that didn’t involve them one way or another – until I rediscovered being read to in the form of audiobooks. It’s all the joy of a book without needing to stress your vision.
I’m not the only person who occasionally like my books read out, as I then remembered from when I worked for a company that wanted all senior managers to read a certain business book. I was in charge of the office library, and found that I had a far better better odd on persuading time-starved executives to take an audio-book on CD and listen to it on their commute than giving them a hard or soft copy. The paper copies lingered on the shelves and in peoples’ briefcases, while the audio books were checked out, listened to, and returned in just a few days.
But, despite the obvious popularity of the audiobook in the office, I never got around to trying them out myself. I might have missed out on audiobooks up until recently but plenty of other people had it already figured out although you wouldn’t know it from the press about books. Plenty of articles have been written about the e-book share of books published but audiobooks generate a lot less noise, if you can forgive the terrible pun. 2009 figures in the US showed that e-books held around 3% of the market but audio books were pulling in 10% to 15%. That’s a lot of listening readers.
Many publishers view creating an audiobook as a natural accompaniment to a book release, just like making a e-book available. You can sample some sci-fi with the Sarah Jane Adventures (a Doctor Who spin-off series) read to you by Elisabeth Sladen herself or hear some of the best non-fiction out there, with Malcolm Gladwell reading one of his many books. Stephen Fry will read to you about his own life or Harry Potter‘s, depending on your mood. Whatever mood you are in, you find an audiobook to suit and soothe your ears while giving your eyes some time out.
But most of all, you can do other things while listening to a book. With both my hands and my eyes free, I can use the time to clean or exercise or just go for a walk. Which means I can obey my doctor’s orders and rest my eyes without giving up on my favourite hobby, or ending up being stabbed by a knitting needle.