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What audiobooks not to listen to (In which I try to review a book I didn't understand at all)

Audiobooks are seriously one of the coolest inventions ever, especially when you are a bookworm who always likes to have a nose inside a book. I didn't always feel like that, but I'm glad I do now, because I can listen to an audiobook even when I am in a reading rut.

But once in a while (okay, not that frequently, but so far just one time), I end up listening to a book that may have been brilliant or awesome, if not for the tiny teeny problem that I didn't grasp a single plot thread from it. Normally, when I'm not getting anything out of an audiobook, I unplug my iPod, or eject the disc, or hit the pause button and move on to another audiobook, or, if I didn't have another one, then sing aloud in the car to the radio. But when you got the audiobook via Audible and you have already used up your audiobook return limit, you just have to suck it up and listen to the book, hoping that at some point, magically, everything will be clear to you, and you'll go Ah-a!

That didn't happen.

The book in question is The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. An author that has been read by so many people that I feel like I am one of those people totally missing out on invitations to an elite club. This book specifically has probably been read by at least one person in almost every household. With all that going on this book's resume, I had to try and earn a ticket to the "I read The Joy Luck Club" club.

And I did listen to the book. The entire book. Enough to get me into the club. Except I still feel like I don't know what the book was about. Not the book's fault. Oh well, it is the book's fault since an audiobook should just not have been made for this one.

Because, if a book
  1. Has more than 5 principal characters, or
  2. Has teens as protagonists (Most narrators think that shrieking comes with this territory.), or
  3. Is an epic-ish story

then chances are I'll be scratching my head a lot while I try to understand what the narrator just said.

Oh, and not to mention poor understanding of certain languages or accents. That's not the book's or the narrator's fault, just my poor worldly awareness.

(But it is the narrator's fault if he/she mispronounces words.)

The Joy Luck Club was a Yes for #1 and #3. I think I would have enjoyed the book, if I had chosen to read it. It had a Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (which by the way was one of the first few audiobooks I listened to) feel around it, and the stories that the characters shared were quite engrossing. A few years ago, I would have loved the book but since my tastes have changed a lot, I may have just liked it now. But not having followed the story at all, I cannot say I understood anything. Eventually I did something that is scorned by book and movie fans - I wiki-ed the book! Let's keep that between us, shall we?

So unless you have an amazing capacity to follow more than 8 characters and as many plots, and can distinguish between identical sounding characters (if one narrator can successfully play 8 distinct voices in the same book, that would be a super-human ability!), then this is for you. Otherwise, go for the book. I've heard it's good. Even though I can put this book in my read shelf now, and invite any kind of questions or discussions about this book, I will most likely be that kid in the Physics class who walks out scratching his head thinking what the heck was that all about.

Tell me about your epic audiobook failure. Or about a book you read and still couldn't summarize. It may make me feel relatively better.

Comments

I have never gotten into audiobooks! A frustrating experience like this would put me off completely. What would be really great would be for the producers to spend the money to have different narrators when it's a case like this. Some books (like this one) really beg for it. And make sure they pronounce words correctly! That's just embarrassing.
Jackie Bailey said…
I read this book about 10 years ago and LOVED it! I can see why it might not work on audio though. I agree that audio works best when there aren't many characters. It also works best for first person narratives (can't remember if Joy Luck Club is?) I suggest leaving it a while and then picking up a physical copy - I'm sure you'll enjoy it more that way.
bermudaonion(Kathy) said…
I've listened to a few audios like that and I get what you're saying. Some books are just better experienced in print. I loved The Joy Luck Club when I read it too so you might want to give it a try in print.
Vasilly said…
I agree with Jackie. I loved this book but I don't think the audio route was the way to go. Was it just one narrator? I hope you give the book another try later on. When it comes to audiobooks, I find that I won't listen to nonfiction since I always want to make notes.
JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing said…
I've read several of Amy Tan's novels, but not The Joy Luck Club. It's on my classics club list and I'll be sure to read rather than listen.


The last (well, only) audio I've returned to audible was TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. I absolutely loved Let the Great World Spin, but couldn't get into this one at all...listened to half of it and just didn't care. Still wonder if it was just my mood at the time.
Andi said…
Yeah, I think this one would suffer pretty terribly on audio because of all the rotating characters. I have a hard time making connections when I listen to books as opposed to reading them on paper, so this one would've been torture for me.
Biblioglobal said…
Unlike most other people it seems, I wasn't much of a fan of Joy Luck Club in paper book form either. I manage to avoid #1 and #3 by mostly only listening to short stories on audio!
Diane D said…
So sorry to hear this. I like this one, but print format. I do best with audios when just 1 or 2 characters and first person POV.
Aw, too bad it wasn't any good in audiobook! I can imagine how that would be, though -- I had a hard time keeping track of all the characters when I was reading the physical book, and that was with me having the ability to flip back and forth to remind myself who was who.
Lisa Sheppard said…
Do you think it would have been easier to "get" this one if there had been multiple readers? The problem with audiobooks is that we're always doing something else at the same time that we're "reading." Clearly we can't be 100% focused so it's got to be clear what is going on.
For me non-fiction/ memoir is so much easier for me on audio. I just don't seem to get fiction the same way as when i read it.
Care said…
I can't do mysteries on audio but do OK usually with epics. And NO! There is a return limit?!?!
literaryfeline said…
I am sorry The Joy Luck Club didn't work for you in audio. I confess I don't often listen to books--finding the time is my biggest challenge. I have discovered that nonfiction is least favorite type of book to take in via the audio format. I do okay with memoirs, which I don't read very often anyway, but if it's another type of nonfiction book, forget it. Maybe I'm just not experienced as a listener to enjoy nonfiction that way.


I also don't especially care for long books in audio format. Since it takes me a long time to get through an audio book, I don't enjoy the longer books as much. I find myself losing interest faster.


My favorite audio books are mysteries and suspense type novels. The more intense, the more likely they are to withstand my constantly wandering mind--because it will wander. It always does.

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