Audiobooks: When a Book Is Worth a Listen
Wednesday, Mar 25, 2020
It wasn't until about five years ago that I became a fan of audiobooks. The tedious commute to my temp job required more than just a string of good songs, I wanted a story to elevate my journey there and back. I can't recall the first audiobook I chose, but I quickly became hooked. And then I discovered the glory of downloadable audiobooks, which enabled me to bring stories into more than just the driving parts of my life--suddenly, things like gardening or cleaning or cooking could also be times for story.
Here are other reasons to love audiobooks:
- If, like me, you love books set in the UK & Ireland -- you can hear them read with that accent!
- Listening to actors you like -- imagine having Richard Armitage read to you! (it's better)
- Listening to a book you already love let's you experience it in a new way (reading Harry Potter on the page is one thing, but listening to Jim Dale read it to you is another level).
- Listening to a book set in a non-English speaking country -- you can hear the correct pronunciation of names and foreign words.
- Listening to nonfiction: (1) you often get to hear it read by the author (especially autobiographies or books written by comedians, (2) if it's something you need to learn but it's not that captivating of a read - listening to it allows you to get through it faster (you can adjust the speed on downloadable audiobooks -- this has helped me get through quite a few books that I ended up appreciating).
- Similarly, by increasing the speed (most readers are quite slow, so you can go up to 1.25x or even 1.5x without it sounding weird), you can get through a book faster and you can even finish books you need to but don't like (trying to finish that book you voted against for book club?).
- Books that mention music or singing often actually play/sing it in the audio version.
- Sometimes audiobooks have multiple readers (1 for each character), which brings the story to life in a new way.
- Some books are soooo long that it's hard to think of sitting down with the doorstop-sized tome, but with an audiobook you can read it and get that big house project done at the same time!
- On the other hand, funny books can be even more hilarious with a good reader -- I listened to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on a plane and was laughing so hard I made the stranger next to me very confused.
- Again - my favorite reason is that you can read and do something else at the same time! I get so much more done now that I can entice myself with a good story to accompany my tasks.
I always choose downloadable audiobooks, because I can download it to my phone and have it with me wherever I am; but we have way more cd audiobooks in our catalog so those are still a great option.
There can be drawbacks to listening versus reading a physical book: As a visual person, I do sometimes miss something by not seeing the words, which makes me remember books I've listened to differently than ones I've read. And if a book is complex it can be harder to keep the pieces in mind when you can't flip back and scan pages. Also, the way some books are structured (e.g., a compilation of letters) can make it hard to track with audibly. However, when the reader is really good, it feels more like an experience -- like the depth of the book and the emotional aspects of seeing the film/show mixed together; and when you're caught up in a well-told story, you can overcome the drawbacks.
In addition to the beloved Jim Dale Harry Potter audiobooks, here are a few more titles that exemplify the benefits of listening:
- Red Rising trilogy - one of my favorite audio series; the story and how it's read is so compelling I would actually have to stop whatever else I was doing to pay full attention
- Cormoran Strike novels - more great writing that is enhanced by listening; Robert Glenister (an actor in several of my favorite shows) brings the characters to life in a way that makes them even more endearing than they are on the page
- Born a Crime - autobiography written and read by Trevor Noah; you get to experience the cadence of his speech, which enhances the humor, and hearing his own voice share the hardships he faced makes the events all the more personal
- Shout - poetic memoir written and read by Laurie Halse Anderson; again, the vulnerability of an author reading her own story adds a depth to the words; plus, part of her story includes her time living in Denmark, so getting to hear the correct pronunciation of Danish words keeps you moving through the memoir rather than stumbling to understand
- The Unwomanly Face of War - an oral history of Russian women's experiences during WWI; listening made me feel like a witness to a chorus of voices, hearing what had been hushed; again, getting to hear the proper pronunciation of names (something I would've had to skip over on the page) gave each woman more of a face, while hearing the stories in the accent added an extra humanity to their stories
- Echo - a great example of how the audiobook gives you something extra -- music is a key part of this story and the audiobook actually plays the songs
- Seedfolks - a multi-person cast adds richness to this story by making each character more distinct and highlighting their cultures through sound
- The Stormlight Archive series (Way of Kings #1) - Brandon Sanderson is known for his extremely long but well-written epics; if the 1,007-page doorstopper seems too daunting to even pick up, why not try interspersing the 45-hour story into your life through audio (remember, if you download it, you can even speed it up!)
- The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - a story made up of letters; when I first started listening it was a bit confusing and I wasn't sure if I could understand and enjoy the audio version; however, because they use different (good) readers for the various characters (e.g., letter writers), I soon found myself caught up in the story without any problems
If you're into award-winning titles, check out the Audie Award Winners to find each year's best audiobooks in twenty-four categories (from 1996 to present).
Or browse a more complete list of some of my favorite audiobooks.
Hope your ears enjoy their next adventure!