Monday, June 21, 2010

Audiobook Week: Spreading the Aural Love

Devourer of Books is hosting Audiobook Week, and I had no idea it was going on until I woke up at 4am and starting flipping through the Google Reader app on my iPod Touch. Inane details aside, I decided to jump on this event bandwagon because there's a good deal of controversy when it comes to audiobooks and you know I can't keep my nose out of a good controversy.

In the olden days (2001), I started participating in online book discussion groups over at Yahoo! That's how I met my reading soulmate, Heather. At the time, audiobooks were not as accepted as I suspect they are now. In fact, I was a member of one group which tirelessly counted each and every book read during the year, and audiobooks WERE NOT ALLOWED to be counted. Given, it was a decision made by the group when they formed, but somehow it bastardized the audiobooks. It made them second class citizens.

The first audiobook I ever tried for myself was in 2003. I was on a cross-country trip to North Carolina, and I figured it was the perfect occasion to abandon bad radio and delve into a book--hands-free. I picked up that Ya-Ya book, read by the author, and I only made it about 10 miles before I was tempted to toss it out the window onto the highway. Her voice (and overly-thickened accent, I suspect) was grating and horrible. Fail!

This initial failure was enough to make me abandon audiobooks for another four years. Until...

David Sedaris. I always heard how funny his voice was and how much it enriched the experience of his essays, so after reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and laughing until I was downright snotty, I figured the listening experience must be pretty damn good. I was sooo right. I had a 40 minute commute each way to work, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim had me veering off the road in laughy-tears.

My second audiobook excursion was a completely different experience, fueled by a completely different motivation. I randomly picked On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, off of my shelves and quickly decided that there was NO WAY I would ever finish reading the print version of that rambly mess. And I really wanted another patch on my imaginary reading sash, so I just HAD to finish it. In walked reader, Matt Dillon, and I finished that booger in no time. I hated the story, but Dillon was a surprisingly good reader and well-suited to the book, so it was OK. And I got my imaginary reading patch. Gold star for me.

Finally, I've experienced some really amazing, jaw-dropping audiobooks over the years. The two that come immediately to mind are: The Stolen Child, by Keith Donoghue and On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. In the case of The Stolen Child, there were two readers who alternated and gave life to two very similar characters whose lives become all mixed up and intertwined. McEwan himself read On Chesil Beach, and I found that his voice brought a whole new level of emotion and atmosphere to the book whether it happened to be awkwardness, love, or heartbreak. Just gorgeous.

While I don't listen to as many audiobooks nowadays because I don't have a commute, I still like to delve into one now and then. My library system that I'm in now has a much better selection than my old one, and I have far less time for physical reading, so I suspect I'll be neck-deep in audiobooks again soon. In the meantime, if you haven't tried them, or if you haven't tried them a couple of times, take a lesson from my flounderings and give them another go. You might find a reason or six why you love them.


  1. God, I remember how furious I was when they didn't allow audiobooks. A book is a book is a book, no matter HOW you read it! Grrr.

    Don't you hate it when people use those obnoxiously thick and FAKE Southern accents? Gah, it's not wonder people think we're so stupid. They MAKE US sound that way!

    Okay, okay, off the soap box. ;)

    I am so glad you jumped on the bandwagon. This was a great post and I see a few books I need to try listening to!

  2. I'm so glad that you decided to go ahead and jump on in! My husband also told me that I shouldn't count an audiobook in my reading numbers when I tried my first one, but then as I listened to more, I realized I totally disagreed, and did it anyway =).

  3. Sometimes it just take a really good audiobook to get you hooked, doesn't it? And a really bad one to turn you off for a long time. I'm glad that it's much easier to get access to them nowadays.

  4. I hate McEwan (I listened to Amsterdam), but I loved The Stolen Child on audio -- it was great.

    I usually hate it when the author reads his or her own work (but there are exceptions).

  5. There's not a whole lot better than a David Sedaris audio book, that's for sure!

  6. Heather, no kidding! I know a lot of people were. And yes, I hate those accents. They do give us a horrible name. Which ones have you not listened to? Put Chesil Beach high on the list!

    Jen, thanks so much! Boo to your hubs. But yay for you for doing it anyway.

    Shelley, amen to that. I forgot to mention the VERY FIRST audiobook I tried which was read by a man with a gorgeous British accent. Put me right to sleep. I'd forgotten about that one myself.

    Aww, what did you hate about McEwan, Candace? Just curious. I thought he had a very pleasant reading way about him.

    Amen to that, Kathy! He's the best of the best.

  7. The narrator really does make a huge difference in how good an audiobook is. It could be the best book and have a horrible narrator and ruin the whole thing! My library (I mention b/c your's might too) is starting to build a collection of mp3 books that will hook up to earphones and you can carry with you like an ipod - very cool and convenient! Have a great week! :)

  8. I love it when an author is good at reading aloud and does his/her own audiobooks. So many authors seem to have a hard time reading their own work, but it's great when they do it beautifully, like Neil Gaiman.

  9. Andi....I love audio books as well and have been listening to them for about (10) years. I think my first audio books were ones by Anne Tyler or Barbara Kingsolver, and James Patterson. It's easy to multi-task and enjoy a book, so what a reader's dream :)

  10. I couldn't get through On the Road, either. I've got to figure out a way to listen to audio books, if only to get through Kerouac.

  11. Me Talk Pretty One Day is going on my audio wish list and the Stolen Child sounds amazing so adding that one too.

    Oh wait.... I dont have an audio wish list.... guess I am making one now :)

  12. Samantha, that's really cool that your library is building this e-book collection. I'll have to check on mine too.

    Jenny, I've always heard that Gaiman is exceptional at this. I know that Rebecca Wells certainly was not. I had a bad experience with Anne Lamott as well.

    Diane, no kidding! Now that I have a baby, I appreciate that fact so much more.

    LOL, Nancy! It was just too much for me. The rambling style was horrendous and unreadable for me.

    Sheila, I hope you enjoy your newfound audio wishlist. I think you'd love both of these. They are wonderful for totally different reasons, but wonderful nonetheless.

  13. I can't believe that book group of yours! I don't listen to audio books but I definitely think they count! Now that I am working and have a commute again I think I need to give audio books another go but we'll see. The problem is that I get hooked on NPR on my drive :)

  14. I'm more of a visual vs. auditory learner so I've never had much luck with Audio books. That being said, I would like to give them a try. I could imagine that I would enjoy the ones by David Sedaris but not sure if I would be able to follow and stay focused on a novel.

  15. LOL, Iliana! I would've loved NPR but the station I was listening to in NC (when I was doing most of my audiobook listening) was horrible! The audiobooks were definitely preferable.

    Kathleen, I was worried about that since I'm very visual, too. However, I found that if the story was involving enough, I didn't have too much trouble. It also helped that I was driving and didn't have anything else to pay attention to except the commute (long stretches of empty highway) and the words. I did have to rewind on occasion if I zoned out, though. :)

  16. I have become a huge fan of audio books! I have one going in my car (which winds up taking me forever to finish since I have a fairly short commute) and one on my iPod to listen to at work before the store opens and during my hour-long daily walks.

    I think my first audios were the Harry Potter books (loved the reader -Jim Dale?). I've recently listened to The Help (fantastic!), World Without End (magnificent!), The Art of Racing in the Rain (very good), and several of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries. I'm listening to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle on my iPod and am loving it! Next up, The Girl Who Played With Fire.

    Oh, and my f2f book club chose On the Road for our July read! I'll have to try to get it on audio. Either that or the Cliffs Notes!!!


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