I enjoyed listening to podcasts. A friend recommended the Pocket Casts app and it completely changed the way I listen to podcasts (it’s far more stable than the iOS standard app). And then I realised something: I could be listening to a book right now. Don’t get me wrong, I still dip in and out of podcasts from time to time, but I have fallen head over heels in love with audiobooks. Why? I’d love to tell you.
1. Audiobooks are portable.
So this might seem obvious, but when you’re not limited to just sitting down (or laying down, or however you read a physical book) it’s quite remarkable where you can read when you’re listening to an audiobook! Indulge my definition of reading here, please. Being read to is actually pretty damn special. You can read while you’re doing the dishes. You can read while you’re in the bathroom, even while brushing your teeth! You can read while walking to the train station. If you suffer from motion sickness, you can read in the car or on a bus. You can read while driving. You can read while you hold a tea in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other. Dream combo. With a charged device and some headphones, you can read just about anywhere. Finding time throughout the day to listen to an audiobook can drastically increase the number of books you read per year, and can also help you to read books you otherwise might not pick up.
2. Audiobooks expand your reading options.
Roy Dotrice is 92 years old. He fought in World War II and spent four years in a German POW camp. Upon returning to England, he commenced a 50-year long acting career that sees him hold the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of solo performances by an actor in a play. In 1988, the year I was born, Roy Dotrice met George R.R. Martin. Roy Dotrice holds a second Guinness World Record for voicing the largest number of characters in an audiobook, 224 in total and each with their own distinct voice for an audiobook that runs for just shy of 34 hours. And I’ve listened to every minute of it. I own the box set of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series. I may never physically read a book in the series, but I sure do love listening to them.
3. Audiobooks can be major productions.
If the staggering statistic about Roy Dotrice isn’t enough to convince you, how about the Locke & Key audiobooks, which have been described as both a performance and an audio drama? Hayley Joel Osment is the voice of one of the characters. It has sound effects, and it’s kind of like listening to a movie that’s been crafted to be heard but not seen. Powerhouse women like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling all narrated the audiobook versions of their books, and it is pretty fun hearing the writing of favourite celebrities being read to you. Closer to home, the Illuminae audiobook had 20 separate narrators, along with a sound bed to tie the audiobook together.
4. Audiobooks allow you to view stories in a different way.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that my favourite book of all time is Under the Dome by Stephen King. I’ve read it three times, suffered through a season and a half of a truly terrible television adaptation, and I’ve listened to the audiobook. Those of you familiar with the story will know that there are despicable people doing abhorrent things in this book, and hearing those things read out aloud produced an anger in me that the book simply wasn’t capable of producing. Sure the book made me angry and sad, but listening to someone painstakingly go through the actions and the conversations of the wicked characters was the most intense thing I’ve ever listened to. When I was driving, I frequently had to pause the narration or switch to music for a short time because I was so incensed. Someone with a brilliant brain wrote the words that made me so mad I wanted to scream, yes, but it’s another thing entirely to bring those words to life.
5. Audiobooks can make places and people with foreign names easier to follow.
I’m currently listening to I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork, which has been translated from Norwegian. I am a big fan of Scandinavian crime novels, but traditionally I have found them hard to get invested in because the names of people and places are hard to keep track of. This is the first Scandinavian novel I’ve listened to as an audiobook, and it’s totally changed how I engage with the story. Sure, unfamiliar names are still tricky to begin with, but after you hear the names pronounced 2-3 times they become as familiar as if Luke was wandering around Sydney. I recognise the way the sounds merge together and better make important connections, whereas when reading off a page I’d often find myself flipping back to double (and sometimes triple) check details.
6. Audiobooks force you to pay attention.
I also find that I retain information better when listening to audiobooks, particularly when listening to crime novels. I listened to the first two Robert Galbraith novels on audiobook last year and of course have Bjork’s impressive debut playing at the moment, and when I’m listening the audiobook has my full attention. This is going to make me sound like a crappy reader, and I promise I do pay attention to the words I’m reading off the page, but zoning out while listening to an audiobook is far harder to do than when reading a physical book. I know when I do it. I’m listening intently and then all of a sudden I’m lost, scrambling to figure out who’s talking and what’s happened. Fortunately audiobook apps have the ability to + or – 30 seconds, and zone-out mistakes can be rectified easily.
7. Audiobooks can be sped up.
I usually listen to my audiobooks at 1.25 to 1.5x speed, although the other afternoon I experimented with 3x speed and gave up after about ten seconds. Since I don’t own a car anymore I don’t drive, and when I’m listening at 1.5x speed I can give my full attention to the story. If only listening at regular speed, I do find it easier to zone out. Audiobook apps are customisable for the listener, though, so this isn’t mandatory if speeding the narration up does not work for you. When I try to speed read, in comparison, I often find myself skipping over important details or, even more, skipping ahead (especially when I’m reading the second-last page of a chapter on the left, and the final page of the chapter is on the right). Audiobooks give you the freedom to speed up if you want, but not so much that you spoil key details for yourself.
While nothing will ever replace the feeling of curling up with a book in my hands, audiobooks have become an essential part of my reading life. Do you listen to audiobooks? Can you recommend any particularly good ones? Leave me a comment and let me know.