On audiobooks and why they are awesome

Last week I had thrown a small hissy fit on Twitter about audiobooks, specifically about people who don’t think audiobooks are real books. It really flew a bug up my butt (so to speak), and I felt compelled to write a big ol’ post about my feelings on the matter, as well as a list of my favorite audiobooks (to balance out the hate, you see).

This is that post.

Part 1: Anastasia wants something from you
You may think the book world is pretty drama-free (or maybe you don’t), but actually there’s quite a division between people on certain topics. Writing in books vs. keeping pages pristine. Dog-earing vs. bookmarks. Ebooks vs. paper books. And, the one this post is about: audiobooks vs. “real” books. And I think I’m about to start some drama– but hopefully some discussion, too.

Here’s the thing. There’s a difference between not liking audiobooks because they’re just not your cup of tea, and it’s another thing entirely if you don’t like audiobooks because you don’t think they’re “real” books. Saying that audiobooks aren’t real books is actually offensive to a lot of people, including myself. It’s a ridiculous statement, and while I think most people who say it are trying to be witty, it comes off as rude and, yeah, it’s hurtful.

I think the problem comes from the fact that readers listen to an audiobook instead of physically moving their eyes along a page. The different definitions of “listen” and “read” are tripping people up and making them say stupid things, methinks. But: if you’re getting hung up on that distinction? Get over yourself. Seriously. It’s like saying blind readers aren’t actually reading books because they have to listen to them instead. Is that what you actually meant to say? Or are you perhaps just not thinking things through before making such statements?

If you don’t like audiobooks because you prefer paper books, that’s fine. If you don’t like them because all the ones you’ve tried have crappy narrators, or because you can’t stay focused, or because you don’t have time, or because you don’t have an MP3/CD player, or because you can’t afford them, that’s fine too. But if you don’t like them because you don’t think they’re “real” books: please, consider what you’re saying. And then maybe read the rest of the post and see if I can convince you why audiobooks rock!

Part 2: Why audiobooks rock hardcore
For the people who love them, audiobooks are wonderful little gifts from the literary gods. You can listen to one while you’re cleaning the house, or exercising, or while driving cross-country. All those little places you can’t read a paper book (because you might DIE. Seriously, don’t read while driving), the blank parts where a book would fit in nicely: filled with an audiobook!

I think most people love them for their convenience. but some people (like myself) also love them because they’re simply fun to listen to! My favorite audiobooks are the ones with fantastic narrators and fantastic stories. The story is an important part, of course, but the narrator is equally as important. A narrator can make or break a book, and oftentimes I’ve kept listening to an otherwise crappy book because of the narrator alone. A bad narrator, on the other hand, can ruin an otherwise good book.

You may think it strange at first, to be listening to a book instead of reading it, and you may even have trouble paying attention. But eventually you get used to it and, if you keep listening to audiobooks regularly, you can even sort of train yourself to pay closer attention to them. I think it took me about a month before I could listen to an audiobook without missing half the words! And it helps to have a really good audiobook to practice on: which brings me to the next part of my post.

Part 3: Anastasia’s top 10 audiobooks
I love these audiobooks because of the combination of the narrator and the story. If you already love audiobooks but haven’t listened to these: please do! If you’re not yet a convert but want to see what’s out there: try one!

I haven’t gone into specifics but in most cases I’ve linked to my review of that book. I’d be happy to answer any questions about them if you need a question answered (always accommodating, me).

    10. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (read by Tim Curry)
    9. The Serial Killers Club by Jeff Povey (read by Holter Graham) (my review)
    8. The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (read by James Marsters)
    7. Whispering to Witches by Anna Dale (read by John Curless)
    6. Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher (read by Jim Dale) (my review)
    5. The Stars’ Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry (read by the author) (my review)
    4. the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer (read by Nathaniel Parker)
    3. Discworld series by Terry Pratchett (the ISIS Audio productions version) (read by Nigel Planer, most times)
    2. any P.G. Wodehouse book read by Jonathan Cecil. The Jeeves ones are particularly good.
    1. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (read by Rupert Degas)

Also, I haven’t finished reading it yet (too scared), but the Mister B. Gone audiobook, read by Doug Bradley, is also really good.

Part 4: This is the bit where we can talk about things
Since I don’t want to be ranting and raving out into the ether all by my lonesome, I thought I’d put some discussion questions at the end of this things. Then you can rant and rave with me! Huzzah for community!

Why do you listen to audiobooks? Or why don’t you listen to audiobooks? What audiobook would you recommend to an audiobook newbie? To someone who hated audiobooks (but was obviously willing to try again)?

Who’s got something to say? I feel a bit like I’ve just finished a presentation in front of a particularly keen-eyed audience who have lot of potatoes ready for throwing, so. Uh. Good night, and good luck!

Bookmark and Share

29 Comments

  1. I am the audiobook queen. I love audios, and when I have listened to a book, I have read it.

    Throughout most of human history, the only way to pass along stories to most people was orally. The oral tradition is thousands of years old, and audiobooks are part of that tradition.

    If a blind person listens to a book instead of using braille, has that person read the book? Or maybe if you are print purist, you wouldn’t consider braille to be reading.

    I listen to audiobooks all the time — even when shopping!

    Because I read for a living and because I’m an editor, audiobooks allow me to enjoy the story without straining my eyes and without silently editing every other sentence or analyzing why the editor or author made certain choices.

    Two awesome audios from this year are Wicked Lovely and The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Both are audio at it’s absolute finest.

    I totally agree that just because the medium isn’t a good click for you doesn’t mean that audiobooks are somehow inferior or not really reading.

  2. klarusu

    For me, there is a difference between a book and a story. The essence of a novel is the tale that is woven and this is the story. It can exist as a book or an audiobook. So, no I don’t think audiobooks are real books … but neither do I think books are real audiobooks. They are two different ways of receiving the story. I read books to my daughter all the time. The book is something separate to my reading but the story is the same. I rarely venture near audiobooks because I don’t like them very much. Not from a sense of literary snobbery but because I like to devote myself entirely to the process of reading and I can’t do that if I’m driving a car or cleaning my house. Yeah, I’m a purist. If I do listen to something, I don’t count it as ‘read’ until I’ve read it in print but that’s just my quirk, I wouldn’t force it on someone else. There’s something ritualistic about fondling paper, the opening and closing of a book and the smell of the pages (yeah, I smell books, I’m odd!)

    • I suppose the question is whether the medium is more important than the story it’s presenting. I don’t really care what form books/stories come in, be it audio or visual. If I consumed it, if I spent time on it, they’ve been “read,” and I guess that’s the difference between us two. 😀

      I also don’t really care what books smell like unless that smell is particularly fowl, but that’s a whole other matter, lol.

  3. I think audiobooks are every bit as real as books, and sometimes create a whole new reading experience. On the other hand, I can’t personally listen to them. I don’t spend a lot of time in commute or in any situation where it isn’t easy to just read a book, and it’s much faster reading than listening. I’m also one of those people who really like to hear my own interpretations of characters’ voices, and if I listen to an audio, their vocals will take over. The only time I find myself listening to audiobooks is if I can’t get the book in any other format (like old, obscure classics).

    • Yeah, some books I could definitely finish faster if I read it in paper than in audio, but for those books the narration is so good I (almost) don’t care. I understand not having a lot of time to listen to an audiobook, though; I don’t listen to any myself unless I have more than 15 minutes to do so at any one time.

  4. I love audio books too! I have come across people who object to them and thought they were quite snobbish – the same snobbery you find in people who look down on others for reading Dan Brown or chick lit. I hate that kind of attitude – you should feel free to read whatever you enjoy.

    I think the main problem with audio books is finding a good one. Most books don’t work well in audio format, but when you find one that does it is amazing – far better than the paper version.

    I haven’t listened to any of your top 10, but can recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Child 44 and Testimony as excellent books to listen to.

    I hope you manage to convert a few audio sceptics, but unfortunately I think they’re the type of people who are set in their own ways!

  5. I often blog about the similar format-specific snobbery that ebooks face. I can identify with the above commenter’s decision not to listen to audiobooks while doing something else, but not to his or her need to hold a paper book. If the book doesn’t immerse me in the story enough that I no longer notice the paper (or my Kindle) then it’s not worth my time.

  6. I love audiobooks. I work nights in a very repetitive job, and it’s nearly a requirement to have something to listen to. Audiobooks keep me sane. They occupy my mind instead of just letting my brain fill with dust while I’m doing some tedious activity, like opening 1000 pieces of mail.

    I don’t even understand how someone can say audiobooks aren’t books. It’s the same words, or nearly, as what you’d read on a printed page. I’ve actually switched back and forth between paper and audio. When I’m physically reading, I hear the characters in my head, and when I’m listening, someone else supplies the voices for a change. It’s very relaxing and also exciting.

    One of the best audiobooks I’ve listened to (so far) was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein.

    The only downside to audiobooks is the expense, but many local libraries can help with that aspect. I frequently borrow physical audiobooks from my library, but they also have an online download system where the books have already been converted to mp3 format. So high tech and convenient, at not cost to me.

    Audiobooks are so much more than just someone talking into a microphone. I wish more people would give them a chance.

    • Another place to get cheap audiobooks is from websites like LibriVox (free, made by fans of the book) or Audible (subscription, the cheapest I think is two audiobooks for $22?). The library is probably the best place to get them free/cheap, though, yup!

  7. I’ve only ever read 2 audiobooks. The last being just last week: The Book of Lost Things (you might like that one). I enjoyed it because it took my mind off cleaning the toilet and such. My review will be up soon.

    I was unsure at first if I’d like it but I got hooked on the story. I’ll probably find a few more at the library.

    My daughter wanted to know what I was listening to when I had my headphones on. When I told her, she thought it was funny, like I was being read a bedtime story. It kind of is!

    I think it probably uses different parts of the brain- being mostly a ‘reader’ I did notice a difference (attention was a big difference). In some way I can’t explain it. But the parts that produce the images in my head, were the same. I could still see the story the way I do with print.

    I didn’t like having to stop and download the CDs to my MP3 player. Takes up too much space all at once.

    Very interesting discussion! I enjoyed it.

    • I actually read The Book of Lost Things in paper; I wonder if I would have liked it better in audio?

      And I totally agree about the pictures-in-my-head thing! That’s how I read books, too. It’s nice knowing someone else does the same thing. 😀

      As for MP3s taking up too much space– I might be able to help. How are you ripping them onto your computer? With iTunes? What bitrate are you ripping them as? A lot of times audiobooks only need to be 64kbps (just as good quality as, like, 320kbps) and you can save a lot of space if you rip them at that rate.

      Of course, it also depends on how big your MP3 player is and how long the audiobook is.

  8. I’m a huge proponent of audiobooks. I’d say at least half of my reading is done via audio. I actually did a blog post a few weeks ago about how great Nathaniel Parker is on the Artemis Fowl series (only to discover they replaced him for the 6th installment), and I’ve argued many times that Jim Dale improves the already great Harry Potters with his narration. Not every book is well-suited to an audio interpretation, but some are made even better by it.

  9. I created a post regarding audiobooks and my transition to becoming an audiobook junkie:

    http://jensbookthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/08/do-you-audio.html

    I listen to audiobooks for many of the same reasons you’ve mentioned, Anastasia. I’m now to the point where I feel like I NEED to hear someone reading to me if I’m not reading from a print book myself. Sometimes I think we also forget that most of us learned to love reading by listening to someone else read to us. I recognized that when I was teaching a high school reading class and incorporated a short section where I would read to the class each day – about 10 minutes. At first they thought I was off my rocker, but it didn’t even take a week before they were looking forward to that time each day when I would read to them.

    Some of my favorite audiobooks? The Three Pines series by Louise Penny. They are read by Ralph Cosham. The Mark Hammer readings of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels are AMAZING! I can NOT listen to a Will Patton recording of the Robicheaux novels because he simply can’t compare to Hammer’s work. And probably my favorite narrator of all time – George Guidall who reads the Walt Longmire books that are written by Craig Johnson. Guidall also reads the Tony Hillerman books…among many others.

  10. Awhile back I created a post regarding audiobooks and my transition to becoming an audiobook junkie:

    http://jensbookthoughts.blogspot.com/2008/08/do-you-audio.html

    I listen to audiobooks for many of the same reasons you’ve mentioned, Anastasia. I’m now to the point where I feel like I NEED to hear someone reading to me if I’m not reading from a print book myself. Sometimes I think we also forget that most of us learned to love reading by listening to someone else read to us. I recognized that when I was teaching a high school reading class and incorporated a short section where I would read to the class each day – about 10 minutes. At first they thought I was off my rocker, but it didn’t even take a week before they were looking forward to that time each day when I would read to them.

    Some of my favorite audiobooks? The Three Pines series by Louise Penny. They are read by Ralph Cosham. The Mark Hammer readings of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels are AMAZING! I can NOT listen to a Will Patton recording of the Robicheaux novels because he simply can’t compare to Hammer’s work. And probably my favorite narrator of all time – George Guidall who reads the Walt Longmire books that are written by Craig Johnson. Guidall also reads the Tony Hillerman books…among many others.

  11. Interesting conversation. I think it’s ridiculous to say that audiobooks aren’t “real” books. Even if they’re abridged, they’re real abridged books.

    But “to read” is a specific verb that has a specific meaning (“to look at and comprehend the meaning of written or printed material”), so no, I don’t think you’ve “read” a book you heard on audio whether you are sighted or blind. Klarusu said she reads to her daughter — has the daughter then “read” the book? No. She listened to her mother read it.

    It dilutes the language to use a word that has a specific meaning to mean something else. Maybe we need a different word to mean “to experience” a book, as opposed to the more specific “to read” or “to listen to” a book, but choosing to define a word in a non-standard way just fosters confusion.

    However, it’s no less real an experience to “listen” to an audiobook, nor is it any less “real” a book.

    • I’m not entirely sure I agree about the read/listen thing, since I do think that while I’m “listening” to an audiobook once I’ve finished with it I’ve “read” it. I don’t it’s really that confusing, plus I do think that language changes over time and words gain new meanings. So “read” to me means I’ve “experienced” a book, and I think it means that to at least a few other people as well.

      I mean, “read” already has so many definitions (including “to hear and understand”) I don’t think it’ll hurt to add one more, surely. 😉

  12. I don’t care for audiobooks for myself, but more for the reason that, since I’ve stopped commuting to an office, I don’t have the extended car time that would make them worthwhile to me.

    BUT, audiobooks have been truly awesome for my daughter! She is often reluctant to try new books, but seems to be willing to lie and listen to audiobooks of new things. New vocabulary seems to throw her when reading the printed page, but less scary when it is being read to her. Once she has listened to an audiobook, she is then willing to try reading the print version of a book. They have been probably the single best motivator for my daughter’s reading.

  13. I couldn’t agree with you more. I LOVE audio books – when they are done well. Your comments about the quality of the narrator are especially true.

    About a third of the books I review every month are audio books. I listen in the car, when I’m cleaning, cooking, etc. And if the book is appropriate I listen w/ my 7 yr old son as well.

    The Jeeves books you mentioned are all lots of fun – I enjoy the audio better than the printed books in that case.

    Other good audio books include: The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson (non fiction), The Saxon Chronicles series by Bernard Cornwell (historical fiction), all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (fantasy), and The Endurance by Caroline Alexander (non fiction).

    And anything narrated by George Guidall – he’s wonderful.

    I’ve also listened to The Iliad and The Odyssey on audio. That was a wonderful experience since they were originally meant to be heard aloud.

  14. I’m actually in the midst of a love-hate relationship with audiobooks. And it’s not because I don’t think they’re real books or even that I don’t like them. In fact, I’ve been trying very hard to get some to listen to while I’ve been moving since I have to clean and organize. I guess my problem is that I’ve been having difficulties getting the audiobooks to work properly.

    I’ve had problems getting the audiobooks to play on my computer and also getting it onto my (admittedly ancient) mp3 player. I’m frustrated at some of the downloading issues. I usually end up not being able to play them at all. Which makes me angry and also sad.

    So, I WANT to listen to audiobooks, but I think the fates are making it impossible for me!

  15. bo

    Audiobooks are awesome! I love listening on my daily commute; it makes traffic much more bearable.

    Thanks for helping to eliminate some of the stigma that comes with this form of reading. I’m often sheepish about recommending audiobooks: what will people think when they discover that I actually read very little? But, you’re absolutely right: with a good narrator, many books are actually enhanced.

    Some of my favorite audiobooks include “The Book Thief” (also an amazing book in print) and the “Portuguese Irregular Verbs” series (alright in print, but made much more entertaining thanks to a great narrator).

  16. I hardly ever listen to audio books because I’m never in one spot for very long, and I guess because I never have listened to them much in the past. When I’m driving short trips, I play music and sing loudly, cause it’s the only time I can sing loudly and not bug anyone; and when I’m on a longer trip (alone), I make up stories out loud or practice for my future Letterman appearances. 😛

    I may give audio books another try next time I get the cross-stitching bug and go back to working on my big cross-stitching project. And it’s ridiculous to say they’re not “real” books – what?? That doesn’t make any sense!

  17. I just started listening to audio books this year because I wanted to try it out. I’ve found that I don’t like them for short periods of time — the time it takes me to walk to class, for example. I need to listen to them for big chunks of time — driving two and from my parent’s house in the Twin Cities, usually. In shorter periods, I always forget what’s going on and it frustrates me. I’m thinking of doing an audio book week on my blog sometime soonish and post audio book reviews every day since I listened to so many this summer!

  18. Great post and wonderful comments. I don’t think there’s too much to add. I ‘ear-read’ at least 2, usually 3 audio books a week, along with my 1-2 hardbacks, and decided last week, to separate those out on my blog and highlight that they were in fact absorbed in audio format. I’ve started a weekly post Earplugs-The Weekly Audios to review and highlight this underrated format.

    Each week I’ll be doing mini-reviews of the words that kept me sane during my very busy week. If you want to pick up the theme, please feel free–just link back to my blog, and leave me a comment with your link.

    Let’s get the word out and keep it out there!

  19. Pingback: Books Trailer Tuesday: (a spiel) « Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog

  20. LibraryLady

    I happened upon this post while searching for “Skulduggery Pleasant” discussion questions for my book group on Google and wanted to chime in with some fantastic audio news. It turns out that Listening Library, the publishers of the “Artemis Fowl” audiobooks, FINALLY wised up and are republishing the 6th Artemis Fowl with Nathaniel Parker reading it! It should be released July 2010. The 7th book will be coming out in book form and on audio in August of 2010. (My guess is they got enough whining from customers that they had to re-do it!)

    I was on an audiobook award committee for the American Library Association and seriously hate it when people say audiobooks aren’t really books! They are and not only are they real books, but they are incredibly important for those who have difficulty reading or for children to increase their language skills. Besides that, they’re just plain awesome! I’ve listened to many of the audiobooks mentioned in Anastasia’s list and they were wonderful. Thanks for the recommendations!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.