books · shanti

What makes a good audiobook

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?

a good audiobook will....png

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!



6 thoughts on “What makes a good audiobook

  1. Oh I utterly adore audiobooks! I basically always have one going and like to listen while I exercise…I mean it makes exercise strangely enjoyable?! (Although I don’t listen while I run either because I like to just think.) And I looove The Scorpio Races audiobook. Hands down one of my FAVOURITES. And Strange the Dreamer (which I’m currently listening to!) has the same narrator and he’s so perfect. I also discovered I prefer British narrators to American ones a lot. And I always have to do 2x the speed. 😂

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  2. Audiobooks can be so fun and a nice way for myself to revisit the book. I usually listen to them when I go for walks because I’ll get a good three or four chapters in around my neighborhood.

    Sometimes it’s the only way I finish a series actually?? (When I was reading Divergent, I learned who the actor was voicing Four and I was like, eh, ok!! Even though I did not like the book at all, it was pretty nostalgic for me hearing his voice haha.) I love it when audiobooks are more like plays as well, or taken from radio plays. I really enjoyed listening to a BBC Radio production of Neverwhere with James McAvoy and Sophie Okonedo. It wasn’t as good as the book but it added some other elements to it. Music and action sounds really make a story come to life! Other recent ones that I liked were You Know Me Well by Levithan and LaCour, the duel narrators were so well cast, and The Book Thief *cries forever*.

    Thanks for writing such an interesting post! I need to go find a new audiobook now!


  3. I love your writing style in this blog post??? it is so fab.
    Also I’ve found audio books to be kind of tedious to listen to because of the long winding descriptions that I totally forget every time my mind starts wandering haha. But I do love podcasts though, especially story-telling ones. I even did a whole blog post about them lol.

    I think that a good voice actor really is necessary, because they’d know how to work with the dialogue and stuff the right way, plus the cadence and rise and fall of their voice would be nice to listen to–calming, I think.
    But I’ve never enjoyed re-reading my favorite books that way, because I’ve already assigned certain KINDS of voices and vocal expressions and accents to the characters in my head, and the voice actors have always just. RUINED it for me.
    Great post! You just kind of reminded me to listen to the Illuminae audiobooks. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an interesting post, Shanti. I never tried listening to audiobooks, but maybe I should try? It sounds like a fun experience for sure and I am curious to see how I would immerse myself into the story. I’m certain, like you said, that the narrator’s voice has to play a lot in your enjoyment of a book.. I’m a bit nervous though that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on it all? I’ll have to try this out 🙂 Thank you for sharing this great post 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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