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The Sunday Salon: The Year of the Audiobooks

The Sunday 
Salon.com

I listened to my first audiobook a little less than four and a half years ago. It was a nonfiction titled The Monster of Florence about a serial killer who killed lovers at their most intimate moments, leaving behind horribly mutilated bodies. I had rated it only 2 stars even though the narration was splendid and the first few chapters terror-inspiring. The rating was more for the narrative style of the story than the narration itself. Over the following three and a half years, I've listened to only 20 more audiobooks, mostly fiction, some of them okay, but most of them disappointing. I couldn't really adjust to a "narrator" - the accents and the dialogues were most of the time crummy and fake and distracting me from the substance of the book. Sometimes a male narrator would put on a high squeaky voice to imitate a female character and that would make me cringe. And sometimes, a narrator would try to speak in a very polished obviously fake manner that I would find it hard to focus on the words. The worst was when a narrator would try to pretend to be an annoying sulky bratty teenager.

I had to limit my audiobook choices to mostly preteen books such as Newbery medal winners. I found that most narrators of such books kept their voices truthful to the character and there weren't many voice fluctuations to worry about. Still, my audiobook non-habit died soon and the country music channel overtook my commuting minutes.

Last year, though, we bought a home a little farther from my office, and I was tasked with trying to fill in the 20-25 minute commuting. I started with Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air - there could not have been a better choice with its nonfiction material and nerve-wracking pacing. That gave me the idea of listening to nonfiction in the car. I have a bad record with nonfiction books - my attention span with books is poor unless there is a plot to follow. But narrative nonfiction have plots too - they just happen to be real.

(Picture source)
Thanks to that "lightning" realization, I listened to a lot of narrative nonfiction in the car - some of them chunksters that have kept me away simply due to size - Unbroken and The Warmth of Other Suns. 40-45 minutes a day isn't really much in terms of making a dent into my audiobook progress, so often, it would take me a month, and sometimes two, of listening to a book to finish it. But it felt great to have that option work for me eventually.

The plus side of listening to audiobooks is how I can be in a reading rut and still listen to audiobooks daily. That kept my reading count climbing, albeit slowly. Towards the end of November, I had extinguished my library branch's supply of nonfiction audiobooks and although I could browse their website and request something from a different branch, I preferred picking one up at the library itself. There were a ton of fiction choices available, but not having had a good record with them, I was still hesitant. Last month, not having an audiobook available from the library and being pretty much out of options, I decided to listen to Life of Pi, the movie of which I had already watched and hence if I missed something in the book, I didn't have to worry about it. At least, I didn't have to feel bad about putting the book down and calling it quits, if it came to that.

Life of Pi worked very well for me. Sure I had some accent issues but the narration style kept me hooked otherwise. Last week, AmazonLocal had a deal going by which the Audible membership was available for 95 cents a month for three months (the deal's still available if you are interested). I thought I could give that a try and began to browse their selection. I had a few shortlisted but eventually settled on Me Before You, because 1. everyone loved it, 2. I did give it a try months ago and put it down after hating the sappiness of the prologue and 3. won't bug me if I put this down again. Luckily for me, I loved Me Before You. I had an entire movie filmed in my head as I listened to the story.

Now that I started knitting as well, my reading time is even more reduced - it definitely helps to have a book read in my ear. Of course, I will still be the picky chooser when it comes to selecting an audiobook (no literary fiction in the car, thankyouverymuch), there are several books I won't or can't read that I could definitely listen to (Me Before You is probably in this category, along with theory nonfiction and classics).

How do you listen to audiobooks? I think I like Audible quite a lot, but I can't help but think that it is a morbidly expensive option. One book a month for 15 bucks is a bit too much.

Comments

Diane D said…
I enjoyed this post about how you came to enjoy audio books. I've been listening to audio books for at least (20) years - way back with them on cassettes. I used to put about 800 miles a week on my commutes and they were such a welcomed source of entertainment. Honestly I think I always have (1) going in the car -- even now when my commute is 8 miles each way to work.

Narrators can make or brake the experience for sure. Life of Pi was one I call enjoying in audio format as well.

That audible 3-mth deal sounds hard to pass up.I've been borrowing from the library and copying onto my iPod. It's a time consuming process, but I get to stockpile books for future listening free:)

Happy new Year
Kate Towery said…
I listen to audiobooks all the time! I listened to some growing up with my dad on road trips- usually Agatha Christie or some kind of mystery. I've had my Audible account for a few years now, and I listen to most books at 2x speed via my phone app. I have a 35 min drive to work, so that's over 5 hours a week in the car, but I also listen when I'm doing housework, working out, or playing Candy Crush, or any mindless activity. Sometimes I listen while I grocery shop. I love that I can preview a narrator before I buy on Audible, and I've found several narrators that I simply adore. I also review audiobooks through Audiobook Jukebox. 2x speed might seem fast at first, but we can listen so much faster than we can speak, and most audiobooks are recorded with a very slow pace, so 2x sounds more natural.
bermudaonion(Kathy) said…
I have two audiobooks going all the time - one in my car, and the other on my phone. I do find nonfiction and memoirs work very well for me if the narrator is decent. I have trouble staying focused when the narrator is bad.
pattismith said…
I haven't had much success with audiobooks on my phone :( I do enjoy listening to them in the car though. I have the audible subscription as well and am probably going to cancel it. I just don't buy enough audiobooks for it to be worth my while.
Lisa Sheppard said…
Love the idea of narrative nonfiction to listen to while driving. I've had mixed results with audiobooks, too. In fact, this year there were more books I didn't like the narration of than those I did. Still I always figure at least I'm getting something read. Part of the problem is probably, too, that the books I pick up are not necessarily books I had high hopes for in the first place. I always figure I want to actually read those so I don't risk missing anything by being focused on actually driving. I can't make myself do Audible, partly because of the cost and partly because it's Amazon, which I like to think of as the evil empire!
Ti Reed said…
I work audio books into my walking time. I seem to do well with them while walking. Driving, I tend to not pay enough attention to what is going on. I loved Roger Ebert's Life Itself and Diane Keaton's Then Again. Both memoirs. Both great to listen to.
Tanya Patrice said…
I cannot justify the expense of Audible at all. I rely on the library. I have an excellent multi-county library system. Plus I work in another county where I joined the library, so can borrow books from there as well. And in NY, you can join the NY Public library as long as you're a resident. I haven't done that yet, but will the next time I'm near one of their libraries.

Tanya Patrice
Girlxoxo.com
Leah said…
I used to use Audible for my audiobooks, but now I subscribe to paperbackswap.com to trade used audiobooks. It is equivalent to spending roughly $6 per audiobook, and when you're done with one, you can trade it in for a different one. Totally worth it!
Yes! So true. Rut or not rut you can always audio. That should be a slogan or something.
Sam_TinyLibrary said…
I just can't get on with audiobooks, but there are some great tips in this post. I'll have to try narrative non-fiction.
My biggest problem is one in my own head - I feel like audio books are somehow 'cheating' compared to 'real reading' so I never want to listen to anything that I want to read in the future. This limits my choices drastically!
Shweta said…
I have a difficult relationship with audiobooks but in this past year I have managed to read a few good ones. To me it's the narrator who is the deal breaker. Some good books have been abandoned because I just couldn't bring myself to identify the narrator with the characters.

I read a paperback copy of Me Before You and loved it! I mean it was probably the top3 reads for me this year. It was so good on so many levels. Just needed to fan girl it with another reader :)
Athira / Aths said…
I've had a lot of trouble getting used to narrators. Part of the problem was short commutes. So I really never got to like a narrator much since I would listen to, maybe, five minutes and reach my destination. My current longer commute helped solve that problem somewhat but I have still been like the hesitant newbie. I think I'm finally willing to experiment with audiobooks and narrators without worrying too much about suddenly losing interest in them. That helps.
Athira / Aths said…
I did try 1.5x speed recently and I think I can do that. I need to try 2x sometime soon. How do you get books via Audible? Do you just do the 1 credit a month or is there any cheaper way to get audiobooks via Audible?
Athira / Aths said…
I can imagine memoirs would work very as audiobooks. I think I have listed to a couple of memoirs but I don't remember them that much.
Athira / Aths said…
I usually average 1 audiobook a month which is good from the Audible perspective because I can just use the 1 credit each month, but 15 bucks a month for the subscription is still pricey to me.
Athira / Aths said…
I find that I listen to books I don't particularly want to read. So far, I've been surprised to find that the books are better than I expected them to be. Also, the books I want to read for their writing, etc (most fiction), I tend not to listen to.
Athira / Aths said…
I had a lot of trouble initially focusing on an audiobook while driving. I think I got better at it. But there are times I miss some parts of an audiobook when driving, so then I have to rewind a bit.
Athira / Aths said…
I would love to be a member of NYPL. I've heard that they have a lot of audiobooks in their collection. Mine has a decent one, nothing huge.
Athira / Aths said…
Using paperbackswap for audiobooks is a great idea! I should try that!
Athira / Aths said…
Oh yeah! I love your slogan!
Athira / Aths said…
I used to feel that way too. Heck, I still feel that way now. So I listen only to books whose prose I don't necessarily need to enjoy. To me, nonfiction is all about fact and less about how lyrical and beautiful the writing is. So I find it easy to listen to nonfiction. I don't think I could listen to literary fiction. But genre fiction, probably yes.
Athira / Aths said…
I loved that so many loved Me Before You. I couldn't get into it the first time but tried it on audio and that worked. Yay!

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