Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thoughts on Audio Books

I listen to quite a lot of audio books so I thought I'd share with you why I love them and how I choose what to listen to. And I also want to get feedback from you so do check out my questions at the end.

*** Why Audio Books? ***

I love to read, but more than that, I love a good story. I also love to learn new things. My TBR (to-be-read) list has hundreds of books on it, and it is growing all the time. There is no way that I could read all these books in the time allotted to me, and besides, there are times that holding a book in front of my face just isn't possible (driving comes to mind ...). Enter audio books.

I grew up listening to reruns of the old time radio shows from the 1940s on the weekends with my parents, and I think my love of storytelling was nurtured then. Sunday nights in our house we'd have the radio tuned in to WAMU, the radio station from American University in Washington, DC and we'd all listen to shows like Gunsmoke, Lum and Abner, Dragnet, and others while we did homework, cleaned our rooms, or whatever. It was a weekly routine that I didn't want to miss.

Nowadays I take every opportunity I can to pop in an audio book and listen to a great story - it is a pleasure I wouldn't want to trade.

*** When Do I Listen? ***

Places that I CAN listen successfully: in my car (my very favorite place for audio books), at work while filing, at home while doing dishes/laundry.

Places that I CANNOT listen successfully: at work while actually working, at home while on the computer, in the car with Kiddo.

For me to really enjoy an audio book I have to give it my (relatively) undivided attention. This is especially true of books that I've not read/listened to before. Those require the most "effort" on my part because I truly do need to concentrate on paying attention to the story. If I am revisiting an old favorite, as I did recently with Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and the Wheel of Time series, I can listen anywhere, anytime, because it is fine if my mind wanders; I know the story so well that I won't really miss anything.

*** How Do I Choose? ***

You may think I have some super scientific method for choosing which audio books to listen to, and I do. Want to know what it is? Here's my secret:
  • open my TBR list
  • enter titles from the list into my library's website
  • search for any TBR titles that are available in audio
  • check out any that I find
Yup, that's it. That is all I do. Which is why you might notice that books that have been recently featured in my Friday Finds posts often are reviewed in audio format shortly afterward; I've already been through most of my TBR list looking for available audio books, and my Friday Finds give me new titles to search for.

Of course, this does sometimes lead to problems. There are some books that are simply MEANT to be read, not listened to. When I come across those I usually give up on the audio version and put the book back on my TBR list with a note that says to get the book next time.

*** Questions For You ***

Here's what I want to know from you:
  • If you are an audio book lover, what is it that you enjoy about them?
  • Where is the best place for you to listen? Why?
  • How do you choose which books to listen to versus which books to read? Is your method super scientific like mine? :)
  • If you are not a fan of audio books, why not? What can I do to change your mind?!
Please share your answers in the comments.


Zee said...

I am a fairly recent convert to the audio book but I love it for times when I can't read. For me that is the bus (makes me carsick) and while I am cleaning, eating lunch and other chores around the house.

My super scientific method of choosing is very much like yours. Is it available at the library? Is it available on audible for more than $14 (my monthly subscription)?

I recently listened to The Giver on audio and I want to read it too. It was that good. I am currently listening to The Kite Runner and I don't think I will want to buy that anytime soon. It depends on if I want to deface the book :D

Great questions!

bermudaonion said...

I do enjoy audio books and listen to them on road trips and when I'm in the kitchen. I don't always have one going, though.

Diane said...

Great topic Heather. I LOVE audio books, and generally listen to 30-40 each year.

I RARELY buy and audio book, and get most of mine from the library or through I always try to put the latest audio book releases on my library wish list, so hopefully when I get them they are in MINT condition (hate when you get discs that skip).

I copy audio books onto my computer and then transfer to my IPOD. I ALWAYS listen at bedtime, usually (1) disc most nights (no serial killers at bedtime though...LOL), and I also have an audio book going in my car, but since I don't drive long distances very often, I usually have the print copy as well, so I can finish it twice as fast.

My system is not scientific in the least. The audio book cannot have too many characters, or it gets confusing, and the reader must have a good voice. That's about it.

I LOVED The Art of Racing in the Rain or audio, as well as Kite Runner, The Commoner, Jodi Picoult's books and well...many many more.

Suey said...

I'd like to try sometime, but mostly my problem is that when I can listen to something, usually I want to listen to music. I need music in the car, while I'm working around the house, while I'm crafting, while I'm on the computer. Lots and lots of music. It wins over the audio books. BUT... still, I really should try it sometime.

Heather J. said...

*** Thanks, all, for chiming in with your opinions! ***

Zee - I can't read in the car either, although I could as a child. I so wish I could do it now, but audio books do make a great substitute. Glad to hear you enjoyed The Giver - I'm planning to get to that one at some point. Everything else I've read/listened to by Lois Lowry has been great.

bermudaonion - For us, road trips have become more difficult now that Kiddo is older ... we usually "compromise" by listening to a Star Wars audio book. :)

Diane - Oh girl, we have so much in common! I didn't mention it in my post but I do like to listen to audio books before bed from time to time.

Suey - I go through phases where I only want music, then phases where I only want audio books, so I do know how you feel. Still, as you said, you really should give it a try sometime - but make sure you get one with a good narrator or you'll give up on it. :)

The Single Gal said...

I love audio books. In fact, I got a library card from the Baltimore Co. Public Library just so I could download them directly onto my Creative Zen. I don't have to go the library and if the book isn't available when I want it the library sends me an email to let me know when it is available. Love, love, love it!!!

Susan Dunman said...

I'm an audiobook fan and enjoy someone reading to me. I like to hear the different approaches that narrators and directors take toward an audiobook. Generally, I prefer dramatic readings and those which include multiple narrators, music, and sound effects are particularly intriguing. I like to listen in my car and on my daily 2 mile walk. I always prefer audio over print and now, only read print books if there is no audio of it available or I know there are illustrations or some other reason that the printed version would not translate will into audio. Audiobooks engage my attention and imagination in a way that the print does not and I promote audiobooks any chance I get.

Satu said...

I've never listened to an audio book, I just don't feel that they are for me.

Main reason for that is that things get to my head better through my eyes than through my ears! :D

I don't think I could really keep my concentration when listening to an audio book, my thoughts would start wandering and then I'd have to find again the spot where I stopped listening... Which would be quite frustating. But of course I cannot be sure that would happen because I've never tried! :)

Maybe a long drive would be a good chance to try an audio, as I can't read in a car either.

Amy said...

I can't read one of the comments!! ;)

I have a hard time concentrating on audio books. The only time I've been successful with it is when I'm driving long distances.

I tried at the beginning of this year to listen to audio books on my commute, but I found the style of reading distracting. Since a good chunk of my job is listening to adults read all day long and listening for certain patterns, I think this is the problem. :(

kristentsetsi said...

I would love audio books if I weren't so lulled by voices while I drive. In the car is the only time I would listen to an audio book, but something happens when I listen to stories (good ones, anyway) or sports (which I hate) while driving, and that's sleep.

audiobooklove said...

I love audiobooks! I am a stay at home mom so audiobooks are a much more practical for me than a paperback. I can listen while changing diapers, doing laundry, sitting the in carpool line at preschool, watching the kids play, etc whereas I get very limited time to sit with a book for more than two minutes.

I get through most of my tbr list through audiobooks thanks to a great library system and audible.

Megan at

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I just started listening to audio books this year, but so far the only place I can listen is in my car when I'm driving. I tried walking to class, but I get distracted and miss things. I tried while cooking and cleaning and ran into the same problem. But in the car, audio books are awesome.

I've had good luck with nonfiction books that I want to read but haven't managed to add to my TBR pile yet. Fiction is tough for me because if I get distracted and miss plot that's a problem. But overall, audio books are awesome!

Lisa said...

I love using audio books as a way to work my way through the tbr list! I think I might die before I can finish it without audio books even if I never added another book. I like to listen to books that aren't too complex but I never listen to them in the car. Either I'm going to space out on my driving and miss a red light or I'm concentrating so hard on my driving that I miss some crucial point and then I'm driving along going "What the he*&?"

Justin Narin said...

Hmm...I haven't tried audio books yet but will do so now. Thanks.

Freedom Debt Solutions

Heather J. said...

The Single Gal - I LOVE the downloadable audio books from the library - they're the perfect fix! And welcome to my blog. :) I love finding local MD bloggers!

Susan Dunman - Thanks for sharing your preferences! I love people who are passionate about audio books. Personally I prefer the more standard version (without all the music, etc.) but I do love that there are choices available to suit everyone's preferences. (PS. I just checked out your blog and will DEFINITELY be reading more soon!)

Satu - Audio books DO take some concentration, and I admit that there are times when my mind wanders, but for me it is worth it. Maybe a long car ride would be the thing you need to give this a shot. :)

Amy - I think that if my job focused as heavily on reading as yours does, I might not be as big of a fan of audio books as I am. ~LOL~ (Oh, and I deleted that comment.)

kristentsetsi - Hmm, I say you leave the audio books to me then, at least while you're driving! ;)

audiobooklove - YAY for another audiobook fan! I loved listening to my books in the car when Kiddo was younger ... now he is way to chatty, plus there are things I don't want him hearing. But I do thing audios are the perfect solution for busy moms!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) - Nonfiction on audio is fantastic, isn't it? I've got a review coming up this week of my latest nonfiction audio (The Hot Zone) and it was GREAT!

Lisa - I'm so glad to know that I'm not alone in this! There is simply NO WAY that I can actually "read" every book that I want to before I die. Oh, and I've totally done the "what the heck just happened" thing while listening in the car ...

Justin - Here's hoping you get hooked!

Rebecca Reid said...

I normally listen in the car but I've been finding that without long trips it takes too long to get through a book and it bugs me. Plus, I keep happening upon abridged audiobooks and it bothers me when it's not clear until the end (the cover on my last book did not say abridged!) It makes me very mad.

I've actually been in a music mood. And so I think the next few weeks will be Christmas music, not audiobooks, for car rides!

Alyce said...

I tend to pick audiobooks for titles that I have been hesitant to read for one reason or another. I listened to several award winners earlier this year that way. I figured that I am a captive audience for my drive to and from band practice, so that gives me an hour and a half of listening time to figure out if I'm going to give the book a chance. That's how I ended up listening to and loving: Life of Pi by Yann Martel, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and A Northern Light. I also listened to and liked The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. So for me it's about stretching my horizons a little bit. I've only had a couple of audiobooks that I haven't clicked with and that's been mostly due to annoying narrators.

Heather J. said...

Rebecca Reid - I LOATHE abridged books, especially when they take me by surprise. I try to be VERY careful when choosing audio books to get only the full version. I do know what you mean about Christmas music ... my current audio book is a gothic ghost story and it doesn't quite fit the Christmas mood. :)

Alyce - That is a great way to choose audio books! I'm glad to know that SOMEONE out there actually had a plan. :) I also enjoyed Life of Pi (after thinking I'd hate it when my book club chose it) and People of the Book. The annoying narrator can be a problem though; I've written about it here before, about one specific narrator that I will never listen to again.

J.T. Oldfield said...

I agree that the car is a great place to listen. I don't drive that much anymore though so I've found a couple new places: while cooking, and while ironing. These are activities that take a chunk of time and not too much concentration on my part, so it's a good time to listen.

Heather J. said...

JT Oldfield - Cleaning the kitchen and waxing the floors are my other places, for the same reasons you mentioned. :)

Beth F said...

I love audios and listen every moment I can: in the car, while shopping, while walking, gardening, cooking. cleaning . . . I have no method; like you I just pick them from my TBR pile.

I listen to everything: nonfiction, fiction, YA, literary fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, mystery -- you name it, I'll listen to it.

Heather J. said...

Beth F - Yay! Another audio addict! :)

Darla D said...

I am a total audiobook junkie! I love them, and I always have one I'm listening to on my ipod, and another lined up to listen to right behind it. I listen during long walks with my dog, on car rides, while I'm rowing or running, doing laundry, dishes - any time I'm doing mindless tasks and family members aren't around to chat with. It's an especially great way to try out a title or author I'm might not want to dedicate precious actual reading time to, and some books I love the audio versions so much I'd never consider reading them myself (Terry Pratchett's books narrated by Stephen Briggs, Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy, and the J.D. Robb books, to name just a few).

zquilts said...

I once thought that I would never enjoy audio books - now I can't imagine life without them! I listen to them at work, when I working on my art or walking. Some books, "Pillars of The Earth' comes to mind, that I found I could not 'get into' reading I fall in love with when they are audio books. I was SO sad when this audio book ended! I love my IPod much more than ever now it contains a part of my library!

Heather J. said...

Darla D & zquilts - YAY for more audio boo addicts! Thanks for sharing the places you like to listen.

Elisabeth said...

Hey, Heather - just stumbled upon your blog today & love it!

I love audio books, too... but I typically pick things to listen to that I think I might not take the time to read. I have a 30+ minute commute - one way, so audio books are my salvation in the car!

trish said...

The reason I don't listen to audio books is because I'd need to listen to them in the car, and I'm too easily distracted. :( Also, it's really rare if I have time to listen to an audio book since I've been taking the bus to work, as I just don't drive that much anymore. *Maybe* an hour on the weekends while I do errands. I promise to keep an open mind, though, if my circumstances change! :)

Heather J. said...

Elisabeth - WELCOME! Yes, audio books in the car are a godsend!

Trish - An open mind is all I can ask. :)

Sarah G said...

I enjoy audiobooks, but I rarely find an occasion to listen. Like you, I do have to concentrate so I don't miss anything. I have tried listening while in the gym, but I tend to get distracted by the music they play over the sound system, and my train commute is my primary "real" reading time! I have had success on long drives though, so it's a special treat to pick out an audiobook for that occasion.

Anonymous said...

Little known fact: The world's largest independent audiobook publisher is right here in southern MD, in Prince Frederick. Recorded Books offers a program similar to Netflix for audiobooks!

Avid Reader said...

I'm a huge audiobook fan. I always have one going in my car/at work and a different one going at home to listen to while cleaning/cooking. I also listen to it while taking a shower and getting ready in the morning. That's another time when you can't be reading a hardcopy book, but you're not doing anything else with your brain.

I pick audiobooks the same way, putting my TBRs into my library's catalogue. I also search out some audiobooks if I've heard they're particularly good.

I love having a way to fit more reading into my daily life. There's also something fantastic about having someone telling you a story. It's magical.

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