Hi Virtually Readers! I’m an avid listener of audiobooks. They help me read so much more and process things in different ways. However, I didn’t recently find myself listening ton an audiobook for a class, and the only effect it achieved was making me fall asleep (ironically enough, the book was called ‘The Big Sleep’). However, there are so many good audiobooks out there. what makes an audiobook compelling?
First, though, I thought I’d chronicle my relationship with audiobooks. I always get them from the library. I used to have to download them onto a special reader (gasp!) and then convert them into iTunes files, then put them on an iPod. That was in 2013, I think? I got a phone 20 months ago, however, and since them I’ve pretty much exclusively listened on that.
For a few years I would only listen to audiobooks while running, taking about a month to go through each one. I found it interesting how, when I returned to those places, I could remember vividly the story I was listening to. Narratives wove into the land. Then, I started listening to audiobooks on train and bus and car journeys, and while knitting and cooking. The story disrupted the monotony of travel or craft, kept my mind alert. About two or three years ago, I stopped listening while I ran, and instead appreciated the silence of my brain. Now, I still listen to audiobooks while cooking and crafting, and often when I’m walking places on my own. With a phone app (I used OverDrive initially, now I mainly use Libby, which is also made by overdrive) you can speed up the audiobook, which I usually do. If I need to finish one urgently, I’ll put it up to 2x (like when I had 10 hours until The Secret History expired, five hours of the book left, and it was late at night), otherwise I usually hover around 1.5x, depending on the narrator. Last year, I was going through about 1 audiobook a week; at the moment, it’s more like 1 ever 18 days.
Narrators make such a huge difference to audiobooks. A good audiobook will have a narrator with a voice that you can believe is the voice of the character. this is important, because you’re going to associate that voice with the character forever. Assuming it’s a novel (I have listened to some excellent non-fiction audiobooks), then the narrator should be able to do distinctive voices for each character’s dialogue, without it feeling forced and unnatural. I’ve listened to a few full-cast audiobooks, but I generally find the swift transitions a bit irritating.
A good audiobook will hold your attention. Having a book read to you is very soothing, and can be a nice thing to do before bed; but you don’t want to be falling asleep (at least, not in terms of the story. If you’re sleep deprived and audiobooks help you sleep, then that’s great!). The narrator needs to have enough variety and cadence that you can listen even when you’re distracted by cars or pots boiling over or traffic lights or notifications.
I try to choose the audiobooks I listen to quite carefully. Audiobooks often motivate me to read a book that I’ve been struggling with, because it takes a lot longer. This can be really good for books that are long or that have elaborate language, or books that are generally a bit outside of my normal reading area. I love listening to literary fiction audiobooks, for instance—I’m currently listening to Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and the lyricism of the words suits the audiobook so well. A good audiobook is pretty in language, and made more compelling by being given voice.
Maggie Stiefvater’s audiobooks are super cool—she records music for each of them. And other audiobooks sometimes have cool musical bits. While I can get confused around characters, when each of them has a distinct voice and you can hear how they’re feeling, the book becomes that more real. For me, this is enhanced by the fact that my surroundings of needles and knives and footpaths when I listen to audiobooks are so mundane. Audiobooks make the world come alive—in your head if not everywhere else.
Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have any favourites? Let me know in the comments!