Non Audiam – Why I REALLY Avoid Audiobooks

I’m sure I’ve talked before about audiobooks, and how I don’t like them. Most of that centred around the old standards for why people don’t like audiobooks: not hearing the same voices in my head as when I read, too easy to get distracted or lose focus, it’s better to read at my own pace, blah blah blah. To me, while audiobooks deliver the story, they don’t feel like reading, exactly, and reading’s what I like to do.

But there’s a deeper reason for me not liking audiobooks, one that I haven’t talked about before because, well, I don’t always like talking about my weird deficiencies all over the Internet. But if there’s one thing that my recent health problems have taught me, it’s how to have no shame when it comes to my health, and maybe talking about this will be a little bit cathartic for me.

The biggest reason I avoid audiobooks is because I can’t hear for beans.

My hearing has technically tested fine, though I have some minor loss of range in one ear compared to the other. And I have never been officially diagnosed with a problem because of that. But a lot of the time, when I hear words, I don’t exactly hear the words someone has said to me. Somewhere between my ear and my brain, the sounds  hear stop connecting to words and meaning. Sometimes they reconnect properly and I get things right. Other times, they connect to a similar sound but thus not the right meaning. Still other times they connect to nothing at all, and I hear gibberish.

Sometimes this ends up funny, like when my roommate once said, “Vending machines hate me,” and I heard, “Venetians hit me.” But most of the time, it’s disruptive and annoying. Not so much that it makes my life unliveable, but enough that it frustrates me and everyone around me. They have to repeat themselves often and that’s annoying. Sometimes I stand there, looking like an idiot as I try to puzzle out what was just said without having to ask for repetition, and I either get it or I don’t, and that’s annoying. It’s easier if I can look at your lips when you talk (I’ve gotten much better at lip-reading because of this), but on bad anxiety days when I can’t lift my eyes from the floor, that’s not an option. The garbled language is worse when I’m experiencing stress.

All my research tells me that this is called an auditory processing disorder. And that many people don’t even believe it exists. “You’re just tired.” “You need to pay better attention.” “There’s nothing wrong with your ears.” “You heard me.”

No, I didn’t. Not exactly.

Sometimes if I’m not looking at you, I don’t know that you’re calling my name. The sounds you make get lost in the background because my brain doesn’t tell me that what I’m hearing is something to pay attention to, is something meaningful.

Hearing aids don’t often help, because all they do is raise the volume, and volume isn’t my problem. And you can’t get subtitles for life.

Much of the time, when I’m watching something on TV that I haven’t seen before, I use subtitles. It helps prompt my brain to get the right meaning from the sound I hear. If I don’t do this, dialogue has been known to come across as garbled nonsense and I have to ask my roommate to tell me again what was just said. Or if I don’t, if I try to sit there and puzzle out what might have just been said from context, I may get it right and have missed more dialogue in the process, or I may not get it at all and miss out on the original thing I was trying to comprehend.

So it is with audiobooks. Unless I already know the story, and am paying rapt attention, I miss things. And having to struggle just to make out words doesn’t make for the most enjoyable experience. So I don’t bother with them. It’s far easier for me to stick with the printed word, because that requires the use of something that actually works (my eyes, at least when I’m wearing my glasses) instead of something that doesn’t.

All the reasons I previously gave for disliking audiobooks is true. Audiobooks give someone else’s version of the story, not mine, and I prefer mine. But what it comes down to is that even if those things were not a factor, nothing I considered worthy of consideration, I still wouldn’t be able to make use of them because of my hearing comprehension.

So if I ever meet you and am staring at your mouth, please don’t take offense. If  ask you to repeat yourself, please have patience; I’m not doing it to be annoying, I promise. If we watch a movie, don’t be surprised if I ask for the subtitles to be turned on. And please, don’t tell me that I just need to give audiobooks another try. It ain’t happening!

If you want to learn more about auditory processing disorders, Wikipedia actually has quite a comprehensive article on the subject.

2 comments on “Non Audiam – Why I REALLY Avoid Audiobooks

  1. This was really interesting, Ria. Not just because it helps me understand why some people don’t read audiobooks, but also because I teach a college course in human perception. This helps me know what it’s like to experience auditory processing problems (which I can tell my students) AND to be more understanding of different students’ learning styles.

    • I’m glad it was helpful to you. :) Especially since APD is one of those conditions that isn’t well-understood most of the time, and it was completely random that I ran into somebody who has it far worse than I do, and suddenly I thought, “Wow, there’s actually a name for what I go through?!”

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