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Audiobooks Are Keeping Me Going | The Human Connection Project #6

The Human Connection Project
Audiobooks Are Keeping Me Going | The Human Connection Project #6
By Olivia Anne Gennaro • Issue #6 • View online
listening to writers read their work as I drive through cornfields

Am I book blogging again?
Kidding. I want to write beyond the actual texts I’ve listened to, but there will be a list at the end.
My audiobook listening has really ramped up this past year and now they’ve become the majority of the books I’ve finished. Some of this is practical: I’ve spent a lot of time driving for work, and the back/neck pain I’ve been dealing with has made me not want to (and worsens) looking down at paper. Also, I’m kind of in the middle of like seven physical books, so…
I began listening to audiobooks more consistently last year. At the beginning of 2020 I had to drive 20-30 minutes to student teaching, and then at the beginning of the pandemic I spent a lot of time playing Stardew Valley while listening to audiobooks I checked out from the library (Libby/Overdrive is your friend!). A lot of these were fiction, especially literary fiction: Little Fires Everywhere, Exit West, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Trust Exercise, Red at the Bone.
I have an odd nostalgia for that time. Stardew Valley and audiobooks were ultimately distractions to disengage from the chaotic outside world and the fact I wasn’t in Wales doing more student teaching like I had prepared two years for. When I think back to remembered scenes from those books, I’m often greeted with a particular segment of the Stardew Valley map. When I think about my desire to return to reading or even writing literary fiction, those images and the emotions and mental state that accompanied them are what I think of.
Since I changed jobs from teaching to journalism, I gained a commute and even additional out-of-work hours assignments, so I had more time for audiobooks. In 2020 I had gotten a membership (same price as Audible, but instead of supporting Amazon you support independent bookstors) and had collected quite a few books, and I resumed my membership briefly for some new releases.
I gravitated toward essay collections and nonfiction read by the author. The shift to nonfiction was happening in my own writing life; my day job now was journalism, and my fiction I needed a break from because it was too personal that I couldn’t figure out yet where my characters would end up because I was still going through similar emotional journeys myself. Plus, all the middle grade and YA I had collected just reminded me of my students, so I had trouble. I also had trouble focusing, and with the limited time I had, I was frustrated at progressing slowly through novels that I switched to collections.
I have a lot of complicated thoughts on my new life during these drives, and the best essay collections helped me process them. It almost felt like a dialogue, or an assignment: I was being challenged to think over big ideas. The narrators, usually the authors themselves, were speaking to me, sharing thoughts that had been carefully constructed. With nothing rushing me through–if I get distracted, I’ll usually switch to music–I became accustomed to the cadence and structure of essays. I never thought I could examine something technically when only listening to it, but I’ve genuinely learned a lot. I started planning out my own essays, words coming easily during the drive, and I work on fleshing them out in prose when I can.
Sometimes, though, books just don’t click. I generally have the best luck with books read by the author, fairly short works (under 10-12 hours usually), nonfiction, and contemporary fiction. Still, there are sometimes when a book seems like it will work and just doesn’t. I listened to the entirety of Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell at various levels of interest, often compelled but ultimately bothered by detailed description of suicide, sexual assault, and other horrors–as well as the author’s insistant certainty. Recently, I thought I could read Annihilation (I’ve seen the movie, but it’s been a while) on audio since it’s only four hours, but the writing is so dense (albeit interesting) that it was just not how I wanted to start my morning.
(Also, I’m a 1-1.15 speed listener. I like that it is sort of slow and relaxing. I also listen to podcasts on 1x speed. I don’t believe in listening to faster than sounds natural, because for me it is about deliberately slowing down and paying attention, not just consuming content.)
Some recommendations
I haven’t properly recommended books in a long time, and I’ve been quite picky due to my fluctuating moods. So I’ve mostly stuck to nonfiction, especially read by the author. I mixed in some others here, though, from years past.
  • Anything by/read by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas
  • Switch by A.S. King: I didn’t listen to this one, but it’s read the by the author and I’ve listened to her read excerpts. There is a poetic quality to it that I think might go down easier on audio if you’re not already a fan
  • You Will Get Through This Night by Daniel Howell
  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green
  • The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
  • Perfect Sound Whatever by James Acaster:I ended up reading this in print because it wasn’t on Libro and I wanted the list of music to refer back to anyway, but it’s a style that works well for audio.
  • Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu
  • How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones
Recommended Reading/Watching
Julien Baker on Little Oblivions, addiction and why sharing her sobriety comes with pressure
What's making me smile
All the memes about how Facebook and everything they control (Instagram, etc) were down largely because of an oversight on their part. I was busy all day so I just thought my wifi was bad and I’m still catching up on the memes.
Meanwhile on the Insta...
Instagram was down! I actually was at a zoo yesterday, so there will be animal pictures incoming. Here is one!
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Olivia Anne Gennaro

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