Readers, Do You Audiobook?

Last month I listened to my first audiobook.  Well, not exactly… there was that road trip many years ago where my husband and I listened to Fellowship of the Ring.  But this was the first time I picked an audiobook for my own entertainment. I’ve always preferred reading to listening, so why the change?  I’m trying to get in better shape, and I’ve discovered that audiobooks mean I don’t have to give up reading for exercise.

I’m not a huge fan of wearing headphones because I feel like you shut out the world too much, and it isn’t terribly safe on the bus or in some areas.  But I’m trying to be mindful of what’s around me.  And it does make walking a lot more entertaining.

But listening to audiobooks raises a whole host of questions.  For one, I’ve discovered that if I don’t like the narrator, I’m not going to enjoy the book.  I remember hearing one one male narrator on one of my husband’s audiobooks who was terrible at doing female voices.  But I’ve never seen a review of an audiobook that says the narrator is annoying or poor at voices. I just finished Ghost Wall and I thought that narrator was perfect.

And then there’s the issue of what types of books make for good audiobooks.  I listened to a great podcast, What Should I Read Next, that discussed different genres and what works best in an audiobook.  For example, memoirs read by the author are perfect as audiobooks (Michelle Obama’s Becoming or Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime). Detail-heavy nonfiction, not so much (as I’ve discovered with a few nonfiction picks recently).  

In the podcast, host Anne Bogel commented that she likes to listen to books set in foreign countries, because the narrator will give the names correct pronunciation (you hope) where we don’t do that in our heads.

On the podcast they also talk about books that are about music or poetry, or have some other element where listening might be preferable to reading (such as The Poet X or Daisy Jones and the Six).

For me, since I’m mostly listening as I walk, and that tends to be in 20-40 minute stretches, I need books that are not too long and that don’t require a lot of concentration.  For example, a book that has a lot of world-building might be difficult to follow.  I’m also much more a visual learner, so if a book has a lot of characters, especially ones with similar names, I’ll find it much harder to follow if I’m listening to it.  Although some of that might depend on a good narrator.

If I stick with the library, my selection is a lot more limited, though I can add books to my wait list.  I’ve been researching audiobook rental and purchase services.  I think I’ll probably listen to at least 2 audiobooks a month.  I don’t want to own these audiobooks, just rent them.  And I don’t like the credit system used by Audible and other providers that limit you to just one book. Right now I’m trying out Scrib’d, which seems to be perfect. 

Right now I’m listening to The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu, which may be too detailed to follow by audiobook, but we’ll see.  I’ve also got Freshwater, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and for fun, Wonder Woman by Leigh Bardugo.  I’m not sure yet whether literary fiction will work for me by audiobook, so I’ll have to see, though I just listened to Ghost Wall and thought it was fantastic.

What kinds of books do you think make the best audiobooks?  What audiobooks do you recommend?

  16 comments for “Readers, Do You Audiobook?

  1. June 7, 2019 at 8:59 am

    I audiobook when I exercise. And, I’ve critiqued narrators in my reviews for being annoying. I only started listening to audiobooks this year, but so far, my favorites are memoirs. They’re usually straightforward enough that I don’t have to rewind if I get distracted for a few minutes. Some fiction is too complicated for me to follow on audio while I’m exercising.

    • June 8, 2019 at 5:36 pm

      Thanks AJ, sounds like memoirs make for good audiobooks! Any recommendations?

  2. June 7, 2019 at 9:08 am

    I only listed to three audiobooks, and only because I had surgery on my eyelids and had to cover them with ice or hot compresses. When I wasn’t able to read, I picked up audiobooks instead.

  3. June 7, 2019 at 9:12 am

    I love audiobooks… they definitely allow you to fit more books into your life! I primarily listen while walking (wireless earbuds that hook over my ears, usually just one in, so I can still hear what’s happening around me) but also listen while cooking, cleaning, gardening, and driving.

    I often try to get a print copy of the book I’m listening to, especially for more complicated nonfiction. The Line Becomes a River would be one where I’d consider a read/listen combo. Nonfiction, especially memoir, and lighter fiction work best on audio for me.

    One of my recent listens was My Sister, the Serial Killer. That might be a good choice for you if you haven’t already read it. It’s short (just over 4 hours) and the narrator is excellent – I loved her Nigerian accent. I also just finished I Miss You When I Blink. That’s an essay collection read by the author, Mary Laura Philpott, and easy to listen to in short bursts of time.

    I’ve been an audible member for well over a decade. They have a plan where you can buy all your credits up front, which I love. There are also frequent 2-for-1 members only sales and you’re entitled to select 2 audible originals each month.
    I borrow most books from the library, overdrive or hoopla, but use credits for very long books or popular books with ridiculously long hold lists. Also, if you run out of credits before the end of the year you can buy more at a reduced rate.

    When I review audiobooks, I always mention my experience with the narrator. That helps blog readers decide whether to go with print or audio.

    Sorry for such a long comment!

    • June 8, 2019 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks, I love long detailed comments! And I appreciate the recommendation, though I just finished reading My Sister the Serial Killer. I felt that way about Ghost Wall, the narrator was so good.

  4. June 7, 2019 at 10:46 am

    I love reading memoirs narrated by the author. I feel like I am having a conversation with them. If I do listen to fiction books, they are usually young adult. Wonder was my very first audio book and it was perfect because they had different narrators for each of the characters. I also listened to a Wrinkle in Time, and though it was one narrator, she was able to change her voice so I knew which characters were which.

    • June 8, 2019 at 5:43 pm

      Listening to young adult novels makes a lot of sense, they are probably a little less complex. I love the idea of listening to Wrinkle in Time, that’s one of my favorite books.

  5. June 7, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    What kinds of books do you think make the best audiobooks? That’s a tough question to answer; it’s very hit and miss I find. The narrator’s voice makes a huge difference as you say. I’ve given up on several because I strongly disliked the voice – it’s why I don’t care for Librivox even though they are free. Crime seems to work pretty well – though its a genre I don’t read a lot of, the pace is just right. Anything with a lot of description doesn’t work for me – I find myself drifting off and losing where I am.

    • June 8, 2019 at 5:51 pm

      I tried listening to Hidden Figures and it was a bit too detailed for me to follow. Thrillers seem to work well as audiobooks, but I don’t read a lot of them. I do like historical mysteries though.

  6. June 7, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    I was experimenting with audiobooks last year and now I think I’ve gotten the hang of them. I listen to them while I work, usually when I run out of podcasts to listen to.
    I agree that detail-heavy ones aren’t the best especially if you’re new to audiobooks and probably don’t learn well by listening only (that’s what I think due to my own experience with them). Since I review everything I read, I’ve reviewed audiobooks as well. I agree that most other reviews I’ve read don’t mention the narrator, but I mention them in my reviews because they greatly affect whether or not I like what I listen to. If the voices the narrator uses are annoying, then I can’t continue listening to them, which was the case with Rick Riodan’s Percy Jackson books. However, if I like the narrator, then I don’t mind listening to the same story more than once.
    When I started listening to audiobooks, I stuck only to books I’ve previously read so that if I miss any details, I’ll already know what happened. I did this because I knew I’ll tune out to daydream at some point. These days, I don’t mind experiencing a new-to-me book by audio first. Thrillers are best for the format because they are often quick and gripping so less chance of tuning out to daydream.

    • June 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      Thanks Zezee, I’ll definitely look at some of your reviews. I do think it’s a little harder to concentrate with an audiobook, although sometimes even when I’m reading I tune out and have to go back a few pages and reread.

      • June 9, 2019 at 6:36 am

        Same here but it’s easier to tune out n go back when reading a book than an audiobook.

  7. June 18, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I’m not a huge fan of audio books. They are fun on car trips, but I, for some reason always find my mind drifting away from the story. I simply prefer regular reading, I lose something from the experience when I just listen to it.

  8. June 19, 2019 at 9:06 am

    I love audio books. I always have one going and mostly listen when I am driving—occasionally I will listen while I cook (if the recipe isn’t new or complicated) and sometimes if I am walking alone or on the treadmill. I never sit and listen instead of read a book, so it doesn’t cut into my reading time at all. I started by using audio to explore new authors or contemporary novels that I probably wouldn’t make the time to read but still wanted to check out.

    Memoirs do work well as audio books, and readers can make or break a book. Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer is a treat, let me tell you!

    There are some series that I really prefer in audio—the Maisie Dobbs series has an excellent reader and I’ve listened to the whole series, and it’s great. Likewise the 44 Scotland Street series and the Louise Penny Armand Gamache series.

    I will very occasionally restart my Audible account if there’s a book I really want and will listen to again, but mostly I download books from the library onto my smart phone. I am on waiting lists for popular, new titles and then will scan the “what’s available now” list if I need a book and all the waitlisted titles are too long.

    Finally, the Great Courses on CD from the library are incredible. I’ve listened to many history courses and lit crit courses over the years, and I’ve also done the Pimsleur Italian course before I went to Italy a few years ago. I wonder if I could get the Great Courses as a download? Will have to check that out!

    Enjoy exploring the wonderful world of audio books!

    • June 21, 2019 at 5:03 pm

      I’m also finding quite a bit I like from the library. Thanks for the suggestions! I love the idea of listening to The Scotland Street series online. I’ve struggled with nonfiction and I’m finding I need to read it visually to process it, but fiction seems to work better. Still it’s been hit or miss, I find I either love a narrator’s voices or it annoys me.

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