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Is Summer Reading More Fun with Audiobooks?

There’s a special joy to spending a warm afternoon in the shade with a book—and a set of headphones.


It’s summer reading season—a term that strikes terror in the hearts of certain middle schoolers who would rather have a “free” summer, but for us grown-up book lovers, it’s a phrase that brings to mind languid summer afternoons, hammocks and frosty glasses of icy lemonade.

I’m a believer in reading for pleasure—and science is on my side. Beyond simply offering an escape from everyday life, reading opens our minds to new perspectives, helps us understand ourselves and the world we live in and is just plain relaxing. Need more convincing? Check out “bibliotherapy,” a mental health practice that dates back to 1919.

But as all-in as I am as a reader, I’ve seen over the years that my ability to immerse myself in a book, whether in summertime or by a cozy winter fire, waxes and wanes. Sometimes my mind wanders, other times I get stressed out trying to track details in a complex story, and other times—I’m not afraid to admit it—I follow the siren song of the internet and drift away from the books I have stacked by my bedside or tucked into my purse.

For these reasons and more, I’m grateful to my friend, the writer and bibliophile Amy Sullivan, for writing a strong and uplifting defense of audiobooks. In her essay, she describes how audiobooks—far from being “tolerable alternatives to wood-pulp-and-ink tomes”—helped her rediscover her love of reading when depression and discouragement had disrupted her lifelong literary habits.

Sullivan describes a number of benefits to listening to, rather than reading, books. Among them: the joy of being able to read while walking along Lake Michigan, near where she lives; the education of hearing authors pronounce names and terms in their native languages; the sense of accomplishment of completing a book without feeling like it’s been a chore to get through it.

And perhaps most powerfully, audiobooks were Sullivan’s companion as she journeyed through her symptoms of depression and early menopause. “Audiobooks were the first crucial phase of a regimen to regain my confidence and sense of identity,” she writes.

This summer, even if you relish the written word, perhaps audiobooks can meet you where you are when you need a different way into the glorious gift of reading. Borrowed from your library or for a very low fee, you can travel to distant lands, explore different cultures and characters, and remind yourself that there are many ways to enjoy summertime—but few as pleasurable as diving deep into a refreshing, excitingly good book.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

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