Welcome to Audiobook Week. From now until Friday, celebrate with us as we offer insights into the power of audiobooks, as well as a load of reviews. Join in and share your thoughts as we discuss the excitement and challenges that being an audiobook listener brings.
Today, we’ll be talking the pillars of journalism: who, what, when, where, and why (mostly).
I’ve always been an audiobook listener. When I was a child, my family would take annual road trips to various destinations across the country, and to while away the time, we always checked out a big stack of audios. (Luckily, my hometown library allowed us to keep them for three weeks, so we had no worries about late fees.) I remember I really loved to listen to the scary story collections, but we would check out a number of different genres. This still being the era of cassette tapes, the player in the van would occasionally overheat and the narrator’s voice would be transformed into a chipmunk’s – all part of the audiobook experience. The long car trips in between national parks would not have been nearly as bearable (for my parents, certainly) without these books.
As my siblings and I got older, the selections did, too, and we were soon listening to Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich. I credit audiobooks for broadening my book horizons. The public library’s collection of audios was of course much smaller than its collection of print books, so I couldn’t just stick to the genres that were my particular favorites. I was also not the only selector, so I ended up listening to my brother’s and sister’s selections as well. While I still have my preferred genres, I read widely and tend to give anything a shot, provided the writing is good.
When I went away to college, my dad would occasionally send me an audio that he had enjoyed recently. This introduced me to Davina Porter, who so wonderfully narrates Marion Chesney’s clever books and remains one of my favorite audiobook narrators. It also provided me with a connection to home (I grew up in Texas but went to college in North Carolina).
Now, as an adult, I listen to audiobooks constantly – in the car, while I get ready in the morning, while doing the dishes, or any other time my hands and eyes are occupied with something useful. The quality of audios varies greatly, just as it does with print books. It’s not a replacement for the print book in any way – it’s a much different experience. There’s no tactile component to an audiobook, and that wonderful smell is missing. But sometimes, an audiobook can bring the story to life much more clearly than just words on a page. I worry constantly about an audio production marring a story I love by interpreting the voices in a “wrong” way, but each time I’ve listened to one of my favorites, it has only deepened my love for it (if you are a Harry Potter-phile and have not yet listened to the Jim Dale audios, you NEED to check them out now).
I have encountered a few narrators I do not care for, so often if I see a book narrated by someone whose voice I know I enjoy, I’ll pick it up, even if it’s not a genre I usually read. Anything narrated by Jim Dale, Barbara Rosenblat, or Davina Porter is almost guaranteed to be a hit with me. A good audio production can sometimes compensate for lackluster writing or a less than engaging plot. The best audios allow me to close my eyes and feel like I’ve been transported into the author’s world – something a print book can’t do.
I was never an audiobook listener. I’d been listening to people talk about them for a long time, but I never really understood how I could work them into my life.
That was, until I moved to a very rural town in northern Illinois and commuted to the suburbs for work a little over a year ago. My commute, approximately 45 minutes, left me bored with radio; we have about three stations that come in decently. My iPod doesn’t work well because of the poor radio frequencies. I only wanted to listen to my home made CDs so many times.
It was then I dove into my library’s large audiobook selection. While my selections were so-so for a long time, it was after attending a fantastic day-long conference on audio literacy when my mind changed. And the audiobook that did it was M. T. Anderson’s Feed. Besides being well read, it incorporated a ton of cool effects, including commercials that fit the story line. It was journey that made me fall in love with the spoken word, and I’ve been listening non-stop since.
I have only ever listened to audiobooks in the car. It’s a space where I don’t need to do a lot of thinking and a space when I can become fully absorbed in a story (driving through miles and miles of farm land helps). I have been meaning to give listening to them while working out a try, as I’ve known many who find this to be the best way to convince themselves TO work out. Maybe this will be my goal after audiobook week.
What do I listen to on audio? Anything. I find I am a much more receptive listener than reader. I will try new genres and styles, knowing that what makes the book work for me on audio is the reader. I loved Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight on audio, even though the thriller genre is not one of my favorites. The reader sold it to me completely. I really dug Art of Racing in the Rain and The Help on audio, as well. And Sarah Dessen is an easy one for me to pick up on audio.
I thought, too, listening to non-fiction may be difficult on audio, since it takes a lot more to absorb. But I was wrong. The Geography of Bliss may be the best audiobook I’ve listened to. In my car right now, too, is Shooting Stars, the Lebron James story — a recommendation from the high school librarian I collaborate with. It’s not my genre at all, but she told me listening to it made it work really well. Of course, it makes sense: sports WOULD come more alive through listening than reading.
If you have always been curious about audiobook listening, give it a whirl. Your local library likely has a nice selection of titles, including copies of those on the best seller list. Pick up something that’s been recommended, even if it’s outside your genre: much of the art of the audiobook is in the production itself. A good story helps, of course, but sometimes I’ll forgo the story for the production.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).