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Listen to Accessibility Matters

Published onMar 30, 2023
Listen to Accessibility Matters

I’ve always believed accessibility to be one of the cornerstones of readers' advisory. We often espouse the long-held maxim ‘there’s a book for every reader’ and we mean it. With every interaction, we seek to find books that should allow any reader (no matter their taste or ability) to find the act of reading easy and enjoyable. We also ought to apply this same idea to the format of the book. We have such a wealth of format options available to our readers. Need the audio version? We have both digital and physical copies. Large Print? No sweat. E-book so you can adjust the screen color, brightness, or text size? Yes, yes, yes (my very favorite answer). While there is always room for improvement, I love being closer to the place where we can present every patron with a full spectrum of services and formats without fuss or fanfare.

Speaking of varied formats, we’ve got a particularly wonderful resource here in Washington state and that’s the Talking Book and Braille Library. Anyone who cannot read standard print due to certain conditions can get books, materials, and equipment mailed to them at no cost. The only thing that individuals need to do is fill out an application. Applicants do need a signature from a second person to confirm eligibility, but that second person can be a doctor, educator, social worker or your friendly local librarian. 

Since we readers’ advisory folk suggest across genre, style, and format, it behooves us to know when something is a winner no matter how it is consumed. It’s a wonderful thing to spread the joy of a certain book, knowing that folks will enjoy it regardless of the method they use. Perhaps this excitement is why I’m so baffled by the occasional sour assertion that “audiobooks aren’t really reading” or “Oh, you’re reading on your phone. That’s not a REAL book.” I trust that I don’t need to have the discussion of whether listening to audiobooks ‘counts’ here, but just in case it needs to be repeated: print, digital, physical, graphic, audio or otherwise, it’s all reading! Keeping that muti-format approach in mind, I thought I’d shout out some nonfiction (a genre often thought inaccessible) audiobooks that are fantastic whether they’re read or listened to. 

Cover image of audiobook Pasta, Pane, Vino: Deep Travels Through Italy's Food Culture features a white background with the words Pasts, Pane, and Vino made up of the items they represent.

Pasta, Pane, Vino, by Matt Goulding, narrated by Will Damron. The author brings his readers on a grand tour of Italy, stopping everywhere from Sicily to Sardinia to examine the places, people and food that make each location unique. Listen if you'd like to deeply explore a country by way of food–although don't listen to this while hungry! Narrator Will Damron welcomes listeners into the text like a seasoned tour guide, inviting them to relish each new flavor. 

Cover of the audiobook titled The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table, read by the author, unabridged, features an old family photograph in the center and old-fashioned font for the title in light blue and orange.

The Best Cook in the World, written and narrated by Rick Bragg. After his mother had a health scare, Rick Bragg was determined to record her recipes for future generations. Along with the recipes, listeners are treated to the history of Bragg's blue-collar Southern family from the early 1900s onwards, as well as the food that sustained them. The author narrates this read with his comfortable Southern accent, which lends itself particularly well to some of his mother’s razor-sharp commentary. 

Cover of New York Times best seller book titled We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby features a bright yellow background with a kitten meowing expressively in the center. The title and author are in lowercase black san serif font.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, written and narrated by Samantha Irby. Irby narrates her own memoir in a series of essays that touch on everything from ‘The Bachelorette’ (Irby's unique answers to ‘The Bachelorette’ questionnaire alone is worth the read) to the perils of dating. Neither Irby’s own life nor pop culture is spared from her witticisms and she narrates with verve and feeling.

Cover of audiobook titled Lab Girl by Hope Jahren features the word LAB spelled in all caps as soil with a small plant sprout coming out of the A. Below Girl is a pair of tweezers holding an acorn.

Lab Girl, written and narrated by Hope Jahren. This read intersperses Jahren’s life experience in the world of academic science with stunningly beautiful little chapters on miraculous plant life. Her narration is soothing, thoughtful and straight. 

Easy Beauty, written and narrated by Chloe Cooper Jones. A thoughtless debate about her quality of life sends Jones on an international journey, interrogating standards of disability, beauty, parenting, art, and travel. The author doesn't shrink from showing us her flaws as well as the terrible ableism that makes her life difficult. Chloe Cooper Jones' way of telling her own story results in an intimate, searing experience. 

Cover of audiobook titled Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer features a golden yellow background with multiple braids of sweetgrass.

Braiding Sweetgrass, written and narrated by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Read by the author, this is a beautiful meditation on humans and nature coexisting, told with an intriguing combination of science and spirituality. The author's voice is calming, assertive and easy to listen to. A wise, multifaceted approach to environmentalism. 

Cover for audiobook titled The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein, read by Rachael Tidd includes the words “one woman’s extraordinary life in the business of death, decay, and disaster. The background is grey with a orange gloved hand using a yellow sponge to wash the title with soap.

The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein, narrated by Rachael Tidd. This is the story of Australian trans woman Sandra, who works as a trauma cleaner. Trauma cleaners tackle the hardest jobs, like scenes of hoarding, illness or traumatic death. Although Sandra has endured countless tragedies in her own life, she has found a measure of peace while competently tidying other people’s catastrophes. With a soft Australian accent, narrator Rachael Tidd does an excellent job of exploring the fullness of Sandra’s tale, in all its human griminess. 

Cover of audiobook titled The Last Stargazers, by Emily Levesque features a handdrawn image of the galaxy with trails of gravitational path for each planet. The main title is in red while the subtitle is in grey: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers.

The Last Stargazers, by Emily Levesque, narrated by Janet Metzger. A wonderful blend of memoir and career deep dive. Levesque discusses the reality of working as a modern-day astronomer and sings a love song to the tedium and wonder of astronomy. Metzger, the narrator, does wonderfully at subtly emphasizing the moments of humor and invoking Levesque’s passion for looking skyward. 

Cover of audiobook titled 100 Animals That Could F*cking End You features a large "100" made out of various different animals with a man wearing a grey shirt and backwards cap in the upper left corner. The text at the top includes the author's name and the words "creator of #mndiaye_97 on TikTok."

100 Animals That Could F*cking End You, written and narrated by Mamadou Ndiaye. This is the audiobook version of a wildly successful TikTok account that details the terrors of creatures guaranteed to mess you up. Delightfully ghoulish trivia is leavened with Ndiaye's dark humor. This book does feature a bit of language and modern slang (I had to explain ‘OP’ and ‘merk’ to a colleague). The author has a voice that's a pleasure to listen to - smooth and deep with just the right amount of emphasis on particularly deadly facts. 

Cover of audiobook titled Lost and Found by Kathryn Schulz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize features a black sky background with golden stars and a moon in the upper right with the words "a memoir" inside.

Lost and Found, written and narrated by Kathryn Schulz. Schulz focuses on two major events: her father’s death and the moment she met the person who would become her beloved wife. Schulz breaks down concepts of “lost” and “found,” and the space between them. The author’s engaging voice unpacks grief and loss with gratitude, tenderness and love. Unmissable, but keep tissues handy. 

Cover of the audiobook titled Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson features a shadowy background. The "i" in being looks to be an open door where light is reaching out.

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman's Fight to End Ableism, written and narrated by Elsa Sjunneson. This brilliant read is a biography and call to action from a member of the Deafblind community. Events and snippets from Sjunneson’s own life enable readers to check their biases and recognize the relentless, systemic misrepresentation of people with disabilities. Sjunneson’s matter-of-fact narration is confiding, inviting, wry, and easy to listen to. 

Cover of audiobook titled Sitting Pretty: The View from My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig features an orange background with white and black handwritten text around an image of a white woman with blonde hair sitting in a wheelchair.

Sitting Pretty, written and narrated by Rebekah Taussig. Author Taussig seeks to bring education and insight through the lens of someone living in a paralyzed body. Her experiences in disability advocacy are varied, from obtaining her PhD in disability studies and creative nonfiction, to amassing a vast following on her Instagram account. Throughout every essay in this book, Taussig maintains a conversational, self-deprecating style that makes listeners feel as though they’re having a chat with a close friend. 

Cover of audiobook titled Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America: Essays by R. Eric Thomas features a pastel pink background with confetti flowing up from a left hand at the bottom.

Here for it, written and narrated by R. Eric Thomas.  In this funny and heartfelt memoir/collection of essays, Eric tells the reader about his life as a gay, black, Christian man trying to find community and a good reason to laugh. A particularly humorous essay looks to the future as Eric talks about how well he would survive an apocalypse (hint: not well). Thomas’ narration will inspire listeners to gut-busting fits of laughter and deepen their empathy. 

Cover of audiobook titled Below the Edge of Darkness: A Memoir of Exploring Light and Life in the Deep Sea by Edith Widder features a black background with tentacles coming out from the ight side. Some letters in the title, B, O, D, O, DAR are illuminated by light.

Below the Edge of Darkness by Edith Widder, narrated by Allyson Ryan explores the deepest depths of the ocean and marvels at the life and light to be found there. The narrator does a fantastic job of injecting just the right dollop of enthusiasm and emotion when needed, but overall keeps narration to the point. 

Smiling woman with sunkissed cheeks and brown hair up in a bun looks directly at the camera. She is wearing a floral print jacket with a yellow, button-up shirt.
Jenna Zarzycki is an adult services librarian at King County Library System who lives and works in South King County. She adores talking about books to anyone who will listen and regularly contributes to KCLS’ BookMatch and booklist services. Her favorite reads tend towards fantasy, romance, and narrative nonfiction, although any book has the possibility to become a new favorite.
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