A few too many words about audiobooks…

So I commute.  I sit in traffic.  I cycle through the radio stations often enough to know that if I keep going for at least 40 seconds, I’ll end up grooving to a Fleetwood Mac song.  Usually from Rumours (is there even another album?).  Isn’t it a relief to have a book on cd (or Playaway, or digital download) waiting for me on the passenger side seat? Well, yes and no.

Audiobooks are a challenge to listen to.  You have to buy into the reader to really get the most out of the book.  A couple things that are deal breakers for me:

  • A narrator who reads at too slow a pace.  I’m driving.  I’d prefer not to fall asleep because the super slow narration is making it impossible to get into the book.
  • Readers who can only get a line out at a time cleanly, rather than read a scene at a time.  Believe me.  You can actually hear the editing – it’s a weird hiss in between lines.  Don’t listen too hard, because once you hear it, you can never un-hear it.
  • Narrators (usually American, and often men) who, rather than develop a different character voices, just…read.  With more.  Emphasis!
  • And my very favorite peeve:  male readers who do female characters by channeling their inner female impersonator (might as well throw on a pair of heels and mother’s old frock), rather than getting into character.  Bugs me to bits.
  • Authors who read their own books.  Yes, it can be expensive to hire a seasoned performer.  But, there’s a reason scriptwriters don’t often star in the feature films they pen.  Unless they are Nia Vardalos and that movie is the very underrated and very funny Connie and Carla.

So what makes a good audiobook?  It really comes down to personal taste.  I’ve been commuting for a while, so I’ve developed my own preferences.

  • I usually enjoy narrators that are English, Irish, or Scottish simply because I like the accent.  I know, right?  Too much BBC America, probably, but I just find that the accents make even mediocre writing seem solid.
  • I like books that are on the longer side.  I need continuity in my commute, and that means listening to the same story from week to week.
  • No scratches on the disc!  I check all of my discs before I check the audiobook out, and so should you.  Small smudges can be cleaned with a cloth.  Light scratches shouldn’t interrupt the story.  But if it looks like the disc was used as a drink coaster or a Frisbee, give it to the circulation desk, and they’ll send it down to Tech Services for rehab.

A couple of tips for the new audiobook listener:

  • Start with a few authors that you know and like, and grab a some of their audiobooks.  Listen for    10 minutes or so, and if you don’t like the reader or if the book isn’t as exciting as you’d hoped, go ahead and try one of your backup books (sticking with an audiobook that you’re not stoked about is like being on a really long, really bad first date).
  • Once you do find a book that you like, let it spin for at least a half an hour.  It’ll be easier to pick it up a day or two later if you’re already hooked into the story.
  • Keep an eye on that due date!  Audiobooks have a habit of going longer than the three week lending period (could vary at other libraries), so you’ll want to renew your stuff before you start racking up the fines.

Okay.  Lest you think that I don’t appreciate how tedious it can be to produce really good audiobooks, let me say that these people work really, really hard at bringing books to life.

Johanna Parker, narrator of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, takes you into the recording booth:

Scott Brick narrates for some of the most famous writers in the market.  He also has a lot to say about breaking into the business.

The Audies are like the Oscars of audiobook narration.  Find new narrators or new authors by listening to the best of the best.

Digital downloads from Overdrive

Digital downloads from One Click Digital (a.k.a. Recorded Books)

Are you absolutely in love with a particular narrator?  Would you happily listen to them read the phonebook?  If so, know that you can search for them in our catalog under “Author.”  No, they didn’t write the book.  But they did contribute to the audiobook’s creation (like actors and directors do for movies), so that gives them an author credit.  Search last name first, first name last, and be sure to open it up to “all locations collection.”  If you feel like you’re getting too many results, hit “modify search” and limit your search to “spoken CD” and/or “book on player.”

Overwhelmed yet?  Don’t worry!  We’ve got an audiobook display on the table by the 1st floor lobby elevator (Robbins main library), so you can just grab a couple on your way to the circ desk to check out.

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7 Responses to A few too many words about audiobooks…

  1. Craig says:

    Recently I found audio books a great motivator for a weekend or evening walk! A nice walk around Spy Pond is great enhanced by an audio book (OK, there’s the ice cream at the Capitol Theater that motivates me too).

  2. linda says:

    Great post! I struggle with audiobooks (I’m not a fantastic listener and my mind tends to wander) so I stick with young adult or children’s books usually. But this is the second blog post I’ve seen this week expressing distaste at authors reading their own books and I’m a little surprised. Maybe I’ve just lucked out but I loved Daniel Handler reading the Lemony Snicket books as well as Libba Bray reading Beauty Queens. Maybe they are exceptions?

    • Craig says:

      I would add “Bossy Pants” by Tina Fey as another excellent author voiced audio book.

    • 1rebecca says:

      Certainly, yes (Craig mentioned Tina Fey being a great example. But she’s also a trained performer). I just wanted to highlight the fact that reading an audiobook is a tough, detailed job, and best done by a professional. Last year I accidentally got the edition of The Lovely Bones read by Alice Sebold. A lot of that book is taken from her life (there was a rape in her past, if I remember correctly), and hearing her voice some of those scenes that were so personal to her was really, terribly uncomfortable. It would have been hard anyway, but with a different reader, at least there would have been some distance. But, whatever. Let’s just agree that audiobooks are awesome and that we’re all happy they’re out there!

  3. icydaylight says:

    Craig, I’ve heard great things about Tiny Fey reading Bossypants. I would add that Life by Keith Richards (narrated partly by Keith himself, partly by Johnny Depp, and partly by Joe Hurley) was also excellent. Another author who reads her own work in a brilliant and entertaining fashion is Sarah Vowell – try The Wordy Shipmates.

    Rebecca, I agree about continuity and long stories – I like series for that reason. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Golden Compass) makes excellent audiobooks, as do the Harry Potter books, read by Jim Dale. Of course, both these series have the advantage of accents. 🙂

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