A self-described “girl who reads books and does makeup,” content creator Serena Kelly has taken her interests and put them front and center on social media. Millions of fans around the world now seek out her rapid-fire comedic videos.
As an avid reader, Serena also loves listening to audiobooks as a way to immerse herself in a story, whether she’s at home or on the go. “I think audiobooks are the most spellbinding form of media out there,” Serena tells For the Record. “When I listen to someone either tell their own story or narrate this incredibly rich story written by someone else, I think of how humans have been telling stories for thousands of years and I feel so connected to all the generations before me.”
We sat down with Serena to learn more about her love of reading, her emergence as a content creator, and the audiobooks that should be on everyone’s list.
What prompted you to start documenting your life online?
I grew up in what I consider the golden age of YouTube. I was watching Zoella, Tyler Oakley, DanandPhilGAMES, and all of the classic BuzzFeed videos. So from a young age, I always wanted to be a content creator and start my own YouTube channel, or something like that. But I was also always terrified of what other people would think. Then the pandemic came along and I was so isolated that, ironically, I felt the most free I had ever felt. I wanted to express myself and didn’t care if I failed or people disliked my content.
So I started making videos, and of course they were terrible at first. But once I got my footing and genuinely began to have fun, I got on a roll and never looked back.
What do you love most about audiobooks?
As much as I love watching short-form social content, the more hours that I spend consuming it, I can feel my attention span dwindling away. So when I turn to something longer-form like an audiobook, it feels like just a multivitamin for my brain, which is really nice.
And then I love that feeling of getting invested in a really good book. There are always moments where I have to hit pause on an audiobook and go back to my own life, but I spend the entire day wondering what’s gonna happen next in the book and slowly count down the hours until I can start listening again.
Have you always been a voracious reader?
Growing up, I was very, very into books and I loved classic YA novels like The Fault In Our Stars and The Hunger Games. I was making fan edits of those from a very early age. But from high school through college, I never really had time to read for fun and I missed it so much.
Once I graduated college, I didn’t even know where to start again, and audiobooks really helped me get back into reading. I was working a warehouse job where I was doing mindless tasks with my hands and I had a lot of free time. So I’d put on a pair of headphones, find an audiobook that looked good, and get wrapped up in them. Specifically, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller really got me into audiobooks.
What books have had a big impact on you?
I would say The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green, and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I’ve always been a diehard fiction girlie, and nonfiction has never been my cup of tea, but I listened to both audiobooks and got so drawn in to each story. Even though they’re “informative texts” there’s still this underlying personal story in each. They made me look at the world in a different way because they go into such educational detail about plants or things we encounter in everyday life. Like, there must be so many beautiful backstories to things that I haven’t discovered yet.
How do you go about choosing your next listen?
I’m a huge mood reader. I only read a book if I’m in the mood to read a certain book, which is hard because my mood changes like every 30 minutes. For me, a good rule of thumb is to pick a book that fits with the seasons. So right now I’m listening to Bunny by Mona Awad. And it starts off at the beginning of the academic year, and then as it goes on, it moves into the chillier holiday months. It’s funny because I was listening to it while walking my dog, and it’s describing these wintery city conditions as I’m in the bitter cold. I was like, “Oh my God, it’s like I’m in the book.”
Do you have any advice for people who are just getting into—or getting back into—reading?
First and foremost: Audiobooks totally count as reading.
And then I would say to start as small as you need to. There’s so much pressure for adults to read “smart books.” Like nonfiction books about things going on in the world or classics or really intense contemporary fiction. But you’re not going to have a ton of fun if you just jump into those. It’s kind of like deciding you want to start running, and you immediately try to run a marathon.
So find an audiobook that’s fast-paced, character driven, and not super long, because then you can build up momentum by getting really into a book, finishing it, and experiencing that dopamine hit. It will make you super excited to find your next read.
Share a few of your favorite audiobook recommendations.
One of my favorite audiobooks of all time is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I realistically would never have read it in print form. But there was a time where I needed something to listen to and noticed it was narrated by Tom Hanks as I was browsing through audiobooks. I didn’t even read the description. I just hit play and he gave such a good performance, and now it’s one of my favorite books.
I also love If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. They’re especially great for if you’re just starting your reading journey or getting back into it.
Make your next read an engaging listen by pressing play on one of the many great audiobooks available on Spotify.