As a Dyslexic, reading is something I’ll always have a love hate relationship with. It’s frustrating, exhausting and downright daunting. But on the flip side, being engrossed in a book can be a magical experience. As a child I loved to read factual books. Atlases, encyclopedias and science books; especially those with complicated diagrams. These were my literary drug of choice. These books were great, as I could read a small amount of information and then use the visual stimulus’ to continue my learning.
When I got to primary school, because of my slow reading, I was sent to
special classes called, Fuzz Buzz. In Fuzz Buzz I was stopped from reading factual books and forced to read fiction. For me reading fiction was so grueling that I was put off voluntarily reading any other books for the next ten years. So when people rave about the memories of the books they read as a child the only references I have are of a book called The Computer Nut; which I randomly read for some reason and Talking in Whispers, which I had to read for GCSE English. I desperately wanted to read A Brave New World at GCSE but I was told it was too hard for me and was force to choose something else. To this day I still can’t remember what the substitute book was. It ‘obviously’ made a massive impression on me!
At the age of 20 when I finally picked up a book of my own accord and grappled my way through a couple of books I then set about conquering A Brave New World. I reluctantly admit that I did find it a difficult read and never managed to get past the first few chapters, even after multiple attempts. It then lay unread for years until I was in a library and happened upon the audio books section. Nestled amongst a wall of titles, sitting there was the title that had eluded me for so many years, but now in dyslexic friendly audio form. The audio book was on CD’s so as soon as I got home I loaded them on to my phone and spent the next week listening on my daily commute. A Brave New World was everything I’d hoped it would be a more. As the closing lines of the book were read out and I pulled out my earphones I realised I was at the beginning of my own audio book revolution.
Over the next few months I tried other books with varying success. I loved the books where the voice was a bit more theatrical but felt patronising when books were read in a constant monotone voice. It was like being back at school and being read to by a teacher. I started to find audio books from narrators that I liked and on one of my audio book pilgrimages, I spotted a new book from an author whose books I’d loved reading in the past. There are very few authors for who I’ve read more than one book. However Mike Gayle’s quirky, ‘chick lit for men’ as I call it, seems to hit a certain spot. Up until that point I think I’d read all his books. I raced home to start listening to the book but was quickly disappointed.
Although the narrators voice was engaging there was something missing. Mike like me is a black British guy but about 10 years older than me. His books are generally about typical people living typical lives. They seem pretty auto-biographical and because the characters and settings are so normal, I feel I can project myself into those characters and get a feel for what my life might be like in 10 years’ time. Listening to these books didn’t seem to give the same level of intimacy with the characters as reading did.
My thing with reading is that it takes me a while to get into ‘the zone’. The first ten minutes are always really hard. It’s almost as if there is a draw bridge between my eyes and my brain that is slowly lowered. Once down, the information flows much more easily between the two. At the start of a book I don’t know or care about the characters, so it’s even harder to get engaged and in ‘the zone’. For every book I’ve ever read, no matter how great, the start of the book has always been a bit pedestrian. And if I am not invested, the immense effort and concentration needed to get into the zone just can’t be justified.
Realising this I developed a new style of reading. I would get the ‘dead tree’ book and the audio book together. I’d listened to the audio book for the first few chapters to get me engaged and then switched to the ‘dead tree’ book to get me immersed.
It seems like I was a head of my time ‘cause amazon has launched a service that does just this. Whispersync marries Kindle digital books with Auiable audio books, so that you can swap between reading and listening on any devise that supports both apps. This is a great service for anyone that gets tired quickly when reading. One of the things about being dyslexic is it takes FOREVER to read a book. Swapping between reading and audio could be a great way to build up your reading stamina, while allowing you to keep on top of your reading list.
So, the listening vs reading debate has now been solved by a marriage of convenience between Kindle and Audiable. It’s now time to take on the ‘dead tree’ vs digital debate…maybe I’ll leave that for another post in a few weeks’ time.
For more news and views on dyslexia check out The Codpast, the Internets first Dyslexia Podcast. Listen Here