Adventures in Audiobooks

As a busy mom who works best with some background noise, I used to listen to podcasts constantly. I’d never been able to listen to audiobooks, since I’m a very visual person. I’m the one who likes to have the subtitles on the TV screen, even when it’s loud enough to hear. It’s like a readalong story for me, I suppose. Because of the difficulty I had listening without writing notes or reading subtitles, I just always figured that audiobooks weren’t for me. Recently, though, I’ve found that podcasts weren’t cutting it. So I checked out some books that sounded fun on my library app to keep me company.

My first audiobook attempt was The Hobbit. I don’t think I made it past page 30. I got lost in Tolkien’s imagery — and not in a good way. It got to the point where I was simply unable to focus on what was happening. (I know, don’t be mad at me for criticizing a spec-fic classic, I was a little annoyed with myself, honestly). The next one I tried was Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon, from his fantasy series, Codex Alera. That one was highly recommended to my by friends, but I just couldn’t get into it. So I decided audiobooks must not be for me.

A few months later, I started attending a Bible study with my toddler that was an hour’s drive away. By the third or so trip of listening to VeggieTales and nursery rhymes for a solid two hours in one day, I found myself seriously reconsidering the audiobook option. So I tried again, and found that if I listened to certain stories, I didn’t find myself lost or confused at all.

If you’re interested in giving audiobooks a try, here are some things to consider beforehand.

  1. Explore your narrator options. I had no clue that the right voice actor could make all the difference. For instance, one of the first books I listened to all the way through was a fascinating story, but the reader sounded just like the Siri function on my iPhone. Barely any inflection, an almost robotic reading of the words, and the only reason I kept listening was because it was the first audiobook that had held my attention. Afterwards, I realized that there are many books, especially the classics, that are read by several differently people, and they all read differently. So if you find a book you like, but you don’t like the reader, try double-checking to see if someone else reads it in a way you prefer. Also, be aware that there are some readers who simply just do that — read. And there are some who really are voice actors, and make all sorts of funny sounds with their voices to indicate certain characters. Find which style you prefer.
  2. If you’re a highly visual person like I am, don’t make the mistake I did in choosing books that you may be familiar with, but that take a bit more concentration to listen to. What I learned was to start out with stories that had action and shorter sentence structure that were easier for me to follow. Less Sherlock Holmes and Tolkien, and more Jim Butcher (his urban fantasy Dresden Files, narrated by James Marsters, who is fantastic), and more Star Wars EU and YA adventure books. Even the childrens’ tale, How to Train Your Dragon, which is nothing like the movie, and is charmingly read by David Tennant with his Scottish accent, was one I had to “work up” to, since his accent is a little difficult for me to follow without the subtitles.
  3. Audiobooks can get expensive, so if you’re just wanting to dip your toes in the audiobook pool, there are several free options that you should check out. If you have a library card and a smart phone or even just a computer, OverDrive is an app/website that allows you to check out ebooks and audiobooks from your local library’s online selection without incurring overdue fees and without leaving the house, if that’s a dealbreaker for you. I was also recently introduced to the Libravox app. It’s also free, but the recordings are often done by amateur narrators, who might not always record in English or have less than quality sound equipment. But if you have the time to sort through and find people you enjoy listening to, it’s a wonderful resource. Libravox has mostly classics and some nonfiction, so OverDrive has been my main go-to for audiobooks.

Hopefully this gives you a jumping off point. If you already have a favorite narrator or audiobook, please recommend them below! I’m always looking to give new ones a try. And if you’re looking for a very fun, hilarious and sweet read, check out Finding Fireflies, by our own A.C. Williams, and read by the very talented Jae Huff.

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