Sunday, September 15, 2013

Audiobooks! Love 'em or leave 'em alone?

People often ask me how I read so many books during the course of a year. My secret is that I listen to about 30% of them. Listening can be a tricky thing and I've learned it isn't for everyone. There are so many factors that go into determining what makes a good audiobook listening experience and what doesn't.  What follows is what I have learned about listening to audiobooks and a list of some of my favorites.

1. Listening to audiobooks while undertaking a large project or undertaking a boring task is a great way to stay motivated until the task is finished.

I don't tackle mounds of ironing, cleaning cupboards or the refrigerator without an audiobook handy. The crazy thing is that I find myself almost looking forward to these tasks if I know I have some good listening ahead of me. Laughing while Bill Bryson reads In a Sunburned Country while cleaning the refrigerator sure beats stewing about why no one else cleans up their slops while trying to figure out how old that bottle of hot sauce is.
The same goes for quilting. I love piecing, but dislike the actual hand quilting and sewing borders on my quilts. (I'm in the process of learning the quilt-as-you-go and it may alleviate the hand quilting blahs.) Long audiobooks such as How Green Was My Valley or Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn offer a little reward to this tedious job. The funny thing is that now I can look at quilts and remember what I was listening to while I quilted sections of them.

2. A bonus: When an author reads his or her own book you know the pronunciations and emphasis are correct.

Most of the time I love it when an author reads their own book. I forgive a lot in style, oration and voice quality in some cases, but look at it as a great gain in regards to the book being read with the correct emphasis being put on certain words, topics, etc. I often wonder while I listen to a book read by professional narrators if they have studied the correct pronunciation, are they missing the intended humor or if they know what the author intended emphasis to be put on. The author reading his/her own book solves these problems. Of course, some authors really don't have voices that are easy to listen to or read in such a way that it is distracting. One of my favorite authors to pick on in this regard is Barbara Kingsolver. She reads in an I'm-reading-this-book-to-you sort of way, rather than relaxing and putting herself in to the story. That's my take anyway... One of my favorite author/narrators is Bill Bryson. His humor, awe of nature and sarcasm (at times) come through clearly. I also enjoyed Edwidge Danticat's narration in her Brother, I'm Dying. I loved knowing that all the pronunciations of Caribbean towns, words, etc. were correct as well as the portrayal of emotions experienced by family members as they immigrated to New York City.
Another favorite was Neil Gaiman reading his children's short stories, especially his inclusion of his daughter's voice and comments into his explanation of why he wrote the stories. These I found to be exceptional. Note: this is not to say I only listen to books read by authors. I have many favorite non-author narrators.

3. Audiobooks are a great way to experience books/genres you wouldn't normally read.

Okay, you are probably asking why anyone would read a book if they didn't really want to, so let me explain. These are books that you as a reader have some interest in, but keep putting aside because there is something more intriguing you want to read first. I'm talking books like certain classics, for me it was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Watership Down, Dandelion Wine, A Room with a View and Roots. They all turned out to be books I was glad I finally read with Watership Down and Dandelion Wine even becoming  favorites. Other books in this category for me are historical books, biographies and even some of my beloved memoirs.

4. Audiobooks are a great way to unwind.

In the course of my listening, there are times that I just want to unwind with something light. When this happens, its not uncommon for me to start and stop several books a short ways in because they just aren't hitting the spot, so to speak. However, I have stumbled across a few new favorites this way. In fact, this is how I got acquainted with Melanie Benjamin, one of my new favorite authors for historical fiction. It began by listening to her popular Autobiography of Tom Thumb. This led to my listening to her Alice I Have Been  and her most recent,  The Aviator's Wife. Now I belong to the group of fans restlessly waiting for her to publish a new book! A couple of other books that I have stumbled across and enjoyed are Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and the very short,  The Mark of Zorro.

5. Audiobooks are often free!

Most of the audiobooks I listen to can be downloaded for free from my public library. My library also has a room with audiobooks in different formats; cd, mp3, etc. If classics aren't available, they can often be found in the public domain, download-able at no charge at sites such as Librivox or several other similar sites. I have listened to the v-e-r-y long War and Peace this way, as well as the brief Short Stories by Scott Fitzgerald.

Here are some of my other favorite audiobooks:

Audiobook titleAuthor last nameAuthor first nameComment
Mr. FoxOyeyemiHelenCan be confusing at times, but the narration is exceptional.
Sailing Alone Around the WorldSlocumbJoshuaFree on Librivox
Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel SocietyShafferMary AnnBest narration. Period.
Mistress of the Art of Death seriesFranklinArianaA fun listen with British narration
Book of Night WomenJamesMarlonAuthentic Caribbean-sounding narration
The DinnerKochHermanHard to stop listening to.
Lost in Shangri-laZuckoffMitchellCaptivating.
Their Eyes were Watching GodHurstonZora NealeSouthern-style seems authentic
BenedictionHarufKentLaid back style of narration fits.
The HistorianKostovaElizabethI don't like vampires, but I liked this book.

There is much more that could be said about audiobooks, but it will have to be on another post. Besides, I would love to know what you think about audiobooks.  Do you like audiobooks? Do they work for you? Why or why not?


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