I’m not talking about the lovely noise made by riffling through a paperback, or the sound when you snap a good book shut after completing it (this is much more effective with a hardcover than a paperback!). No, I’m talking about audio books. 5 few years ago I decided to try audio books during my then commute, which was about 30 minutes each way. Since then I’ve listened to an average of 2 books per month. I was worried that my shortened commute after we moved would highly impact the amount of books I could listen to, but my Blackberry changed that.
The first book I ever listened to was Jane Eyre, selected by browsing the small selection of books available on CD – back then most books were on tape. Then I started to make my way through Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books. I learned some narrators are better than others – I remember being annoyed at the way the reader of the Plum books would pause between sentences, or the way she pronounced Trenton – making it obvious she was not from New Jersey (the proper pronunciation is more like “tre-en” – hard to describe in print. Basically you kind of skip over the “nt”. Anyone who says Tren-ton is not from New Jersey). I started to request books on CD through the library system, often listening to a book simply because it was available on audio.
I like to listen to series, or books by the same author, or even by the same reader. If I listen to the first book by a new author, I tend to listen to others by that same author. On occasion I’ve found a narrator I recognize – Alice in Wonderland is read by the same person who read em>Outlander, which I read 2 years ago, yet I recognized her voice. When I listened to Rebecca Wells’s most recent book, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder, I found I remembered the reader’s voice from Ya-Yas in Bloom, which I read back in 2005. Often an author’s books have the same narrator – Jonathan Safran Foer, for example, has used the same person for all of his books. This is more
common with a series but also happens with books that are unrelated. Anne of Green Gables, the Chronicles of Narnia, all of the Stephanie Plum books – all of these I listened to on audio. The Anne books have been recorded several times so I make sure I listen to the same narrator each time. When I’ve listened to one book in a series and then read the printed copy of another, I’ve found I heard the voice of the reader in my head.
Sometimes a book is even read by the author, though this seems to be more common with memoirs. David Sedaris reads his own books and hearing the stories in his voice really makes them come to life. His books also include live readings of some of the stories and hearing the audience’s reactions is so much fun. I have read a few fiction novels narrated by the author though – Khaled Hosseini narrated The Kite Runner, and Neil Gaiman read The Graveyard Book.
Even more fun is when a famous actor is the narrator. The Narnia books were read by well-known Brits – Patrick Stewart and Kenneth Branagh among them. Cell, by Stephen King, was read by Campbell Scott. The version of The Great Gatsby I listened to was read by Tim Robbins. And then there are the books read by a whole cast – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society had 5 different narrators. Stories told by more than one character often have multiple readers, one for each character. This makes the book feel more like a production rather than just a guy with a mic, reading a
book. I like when a foreign book is read by someone from that country – The Kite Runner wouldn’t have been the same if read by a New Yorker.
Listening to audio books has actually improved my language skills – I’ve found that words I’ve only seen in print are pronounced differently from what I say in my head. On occasion I’ve both listened to a book and read the print version – I did this with The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, which I read for my library book group. I would listen in the car, then pick up where I left off in the book. There were a lot of words I wasn’t familiar with and it was nice to both hear them read aloud and to see them in print. Of course I often get things wrong, especially character names. Once I even found the print copy of a book I was listening to so I could see the names written out.
Listening to a book does have disadvantages. Drawings obviously are a big one that’s missed – I wouldn’t want to listen to a book like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, as there are drawings and pictures that are part of the story. Or The Book Thief, where a whole section is written in graphic novel format – how would that translate to audio? And then there’s the fact that it takes a lot longer to get through a book when someone else is reading it. You can’t just skip over parts. But you also can’t skip to the end, so it adds an air of accountability if you just can’t help yourself. But
one book where this got frustrating was Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella. If you’ve read any of the Shopaholic books you know that there are letters throughout the book, usually to the main character from her bank, and vice versa. Which meant every time the narrator came to a letter, she read the entire heading – name, date, address. The kinds of things you would normally skim, if not skip entirely, when reading the book.
5 years ago, I chose books on CD off the shelf, which was slim pickings at the time, or requested them through the library system.
Over time the library’s selection grew and started to include Playaways, portable devices that require headphones or an aux jack. The Playaways weren’t my favorite since you had no idea how far you
were into a book. When NetLibrary was launched I downloaded a few books, but at the time they couldn’t be played on an iPod, and I found I couldn’t really listen to a book on the computer – if I tried to
listen while working I’d either not get much work done, or lose my place in the book. Carrying a laptop around with me wasn’t really an appealing idea.
So until recently I only listened to books in the car. But when I got my new Blackberry Storm a few months ago, one of the first things I did was figure out how to listen to books on it. I finally found an app that would do what I wanted. Podtrapper shows how far along in the book I am (it shows both the time passed and time to go, the total length of the book and the percentage listened), lets me rewind or fast forward, and saves my place when the Blackberry is rebooted or if I switch to another book. Well worth the $10 as you’d be surprised how important these features are. The one negative, of course, is I can’t play protected WMA files, which is how NetLibrary stores most of its books. So I’m limited to the few MP3s that are available. But my library’s selection of books on NetLibrary is supposed to be largely increasing in March and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what I can get.
In addition to filling the time while I’m driving to and from work, audio books have allowed me to read a whole lot more books. Since Jane Eyre back in 2005, I’ve listened to 84 books on CD, Playaway or Blackberry. Except for a 6 month break in 2007, which I don’t really remember why I didn’t listen to any books then, although some of that time was maternity leave after having my youngest son, I’ve listened to one book after another. In 2008, I read a total of 39 books – 19 of those were on audio. Half the books I read were consumed by my ears instead of my eyes.
If you haven’t listened to audio books yet, give it a try. You just might grow to love it as much as I do.
Nancy Talan recently moved her family from New Jersey to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. She blogs about adjusting to life at 5,000 feet, her two boys and her love of books at Life With My Boys.