Saturday, March 3, 2012

Audios, Amigos!

Do you remember being a kid and having your parents read you bedtime stories? Or being read to in pre-school, or regular school for that matter? I do. I loved just listening to someone telling me a story and having the freedom to just imagine it all in my head while I listen.

But somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of listening to someone else read to me. I learned to read, and since I was an early reader, this was a point of pride with me. I could do it myself; I didn't need anyone to read to me anymore.

Oral storytelling has been around far, far longer than the written word, and many cultures still rely on it to this day. Yet for many readers, myself included for a long time, audiobooks are discounted as "not really reading" and are avoided. I felt this way for many years. It took me a long time to appreciate letting someone read to me again, and even to this day, I'm very particular about audiobooks. But now I have quite a few under my belt, and I've come to really love them.

So here are 5 reasons why you should give audio another chance, and 5 awesome audiobooks that I'd recommend. Read on!

Reason #5: Multi-task & Make Use of Wasted Time
Life is short, so why not enjoy the most reading we can while we're living it? Audiobooks can help. Listen to one while you're scrubbing the toilets, doing dishes, or laundry, or alphabetizing your DVD collection, or being the crafty knitter, crocheter or painter you always dreamed you could be. Listen to an audiobook while you're driving to and from work, chauffeuring the kids around town or to various commitments, or while running errands.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is an excellent audiobook. Read by several different women, it really pulls you into the story and experience. I listened to this first as an audiobook and then read it for myself later, and I prefer the audio version. These women truly bring the characters, the community, the attitudes of the era to life, and I highly recommend it.

Reason #4: Learn Something or Improve your Listening Skills
I admit it, non-fiction &/or educational based reading bores me a lot of the time, but I find that listening to these as an audiobook is easier for me. Since I can multi-task, I feel doubly productive - reading something educationalish and getting things done at the same time. In addition, I'm a very visual person, so I really have to focus to absorb information aurally, which helps my focus in other aspects of my life, like taking instructions at work or driving directions, etc.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein is an excellent example of this. Not only is the book much more interesting than I would have thought, the reader does a great job, too. I was never bored listening to this audiobook, and it was very interesting and informative.

Reason #3: Author Experience
I can't say this for all authors, but there are many authors that read their own work and do an excellent job of it. They add a certain something to the experience that another reader just cannot match. Perhaps it's the characterizations being just how the author imagined, or the harrowing experience of an author telling his or her own story, or an ethnic authenticity.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is read by the author himself (as many of Neil's books are) and he does an absolutely fantastic job of it. Perhaps it's that Neil is a natural born storyteller, or maybe it's the accent, or maybe it's his voice or a combination of all of those things, but The Graveyard Book is definitely one of the best audio performances I've listened to, author read or not.

Reason #2: Audio Brings the Story to Life
There's something about a really good reader that just makes me want to close my eyes and listen and imagine. A good reader catches the nuance of the characters without overacting, they have a certain cadence to their speech that just falls right into place with the story and just brings it to life in a way that just reading the words on the page doesn't match. As I mentioned with The Help above, after listening to the audio, reading the book itself, while still great, isn't as full of an experience. I still hear the characters' voices as the ones their readers gave them.

Duma Key by Stephen King is one like that. John Slattery reads it dang near perfectly. The characters are identifiable by voice alone, but it never really feels like he does "voices". The whole thing is just creepy and perfectly Stephen King... it hardly feels like I'm listening to anything at all. More like I'm living inside the world.  I love when it's like that.

Reason #1: Pure Entertainment
Do you really need a reason to re-experience a book (or series) that you love in a new way?

Why not try the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling? There are two versions to choose from, depending on your tolerance for "performance". Jim Dale reads the American versions. He does all the voices and many people love his performance of the series. Stephen Fry reads the UK editions, and his performance is more understated, but more to my personal preference.

Feel free to share any audiobook recommendations in the comments. I'm always looking for good audiobooks to listen to! :)


  1. I used to listen to audio books when I drove to and from work. I had a 25-mile drive one way, so over the years I listened to a lot of good audio books. Some of my favorites: Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, The Luncheon of the Boating Party, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Meet Me Under the Umbu Tree, Angela's Ashes. I listened to a lot of books I never would have read: books by Maeve Benchy, for example. It's probably not quite the same as listening to stories around a campfire, because they can change and get better over time. But sometimes hearing a story (audio books) is better than reading one. This is particularly true if the narrator has a great style and voice.

  2. Oh, yes, I avoid abridged books. Only the complete book will do for me.

  3. Couldn't agree more with you about the Harry Potter books and The Help (whose audio performance elevated it about the quality of the book itself, IMO). I've tried finding the Stephen Fry versions of HP to listen to 'cause I've heard they're great (and I love Fry) but I've only been able to round up the Jim Dale ones.

    Bill Bryson is also an accomplished audio book reader, all the more unusual for also being the author.

  4. I loved Bryson's A Walk In the Woods.