Audiobooks

1 September 2012. Filed under category Life.
Ear Glasses

Ear Glasses, perfect for enjoying a good audiobook.

How do you feel about washing the dishes, ironing or cleaning? How do you react to a delayed flight, grounding you for several hours? What do you think of that hour-long commute in the car each morning?

My answers used to be, “Boring but unavoidable.” Used to be, but not anymore! Not since I discovered the joy of audiobooks. I no longer mind waiting for anything (except Christmas) and I don’t mind house chores (except scrubbing the toilet) because it is only my poor earthbound body that is engaged with this dullness. My mind is elsewhere, such as walking across the deserts of planet Dune, flying a hot air balloon listening to the lies of Lyra or freshening up on 50 philosophical ideas that changed the world.

How can one be bored ever again? Welcome to a world of wonder!

Past sins of abridged audiobooks

Where they abridge books, they will ultimately abridge people also.

Where they abridge books, they will ultimately abridge people also.

Audiobooks have been around for a long time and, like a reformed ex-convict, is haunted by the shadow of past crimes. Back in the bad old days, audiobooks were delivered via cassette tapes. They could hold about 45 minutes of audio unless you had one of the new-fangled double-sided tapes in which case you had a whopping 90 minutes to enjoy. But, the reading of a book takes about 600 minutes, requiring seven tapes. “Too many tapes!” thought the distributors and came up with the grand idea of abridging books.

You might be thinking, “I wish there was an abridged version of this article,” to which I would reply, “I wish I had an editor to do the work for me.” Because that is why book publishers employ editors, to cut down the sprawling ego of the author to the point that only the excellence remains. But there the cutting should stop, or you start cutting into the excellence. Further cutting, as in abridging books, is akin to cutting off a person’s feet on account of his being too long; the whole thing falls apart.

Modern recordings of audiobooks, however, are generally unabridged, but the bad taste remains in the public idea of audiobooks as being aberrations of the original work.

Common complaints and why they are wrong

Most people react with some strange knee jerk reaction of scepticism towards audiobooks. “Oh no, I don’t like audiobooks,” they say, only to confess when asked that they have never actually listened to one.

I listen to audiobooks using an iPod Nano, usually worn with a wrist watch strap.

I listen to audiobooks using an iPod Nano, usually worn with a wrist watch strap.

“Oh no, I need to be able to go back and re-read parts,” they say, forgetting the rewind button. Also, speed-reading tests show that when people are prevented from backtracking, they read faster with very little loss of information.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly focus on an audiobook and drive/clean/queue at the same time,” they say, ignoring that they do all of the above whilst also holding conversations (bi-directional at that!) without falling apart.

“Oh no, I can’t read an audiobook as I can’t take notes,” they say with surprising frequency, as if the margins of the majority of Harry Potter books were full of scribbles on the suspected location of the Philosopher’s Stone and insightful theories as to Lord Voldemort being a metaphor for the patriarchal structure of post-modern society. Bullshit! And if you prompt must make notes, for god sake, get a pen and paper!

The truth is that when people give audiobooks an honest chance, they usually fall in love with it, just as I did.

Top reasons why audiobooks are better than traditional books

Voice acting: a new dimension to your books

Voice actors, a creed of artists I have a deep and new-found respect for.

Voice actors, a creed of artists I have a deep and new-found respect for.

I am amazed by the quality of narration in modern audio books. The narrators don’t simply read the book aloud; they breathe life into them. They change their voices to fit the different characters, they hesitate, whisper and yell as appropriate and they employ a number of other tricks to spin an atmosphere in which the books seem more vivid and alive than ever before. Some books have not just one narrator but several, for different characters.

More reading time

Many feel they don’t have time to sit down and read, apart from perhaps a few minutes before bed. Instead, they entertain the notion that they will catch up on their reading during their holidays. Isn’t that both strange and sad in equal measure?

With audiobooks, it is easy to find the time to read. You can read while driving, cooking, taking out the trash, running, riding the bus or pretending to work.

At the time of writing, I have read 64 audio books since I began 2 years and 10 months ago. That is roughly one book every 16 days. I have read a total of 42 thousand minutes. That is 40 minutes per day, every day, of free reading time for which I have not had to sacrifice anything. In fact, that time would have been ‘dead time’ doing chores like washing dishes or walking to tango, now reclaimed as reading time!

Portable

Want to carry all your books in your pocket? No problem! Try doing that with your paperbacks. OK, there are Kindles and other e-readers today that will do the same, but as for paper-based books, this is a clear advantage of the audiobook format, especially for nomads.

Audible, the best way to get audiobooks

Audible

Audible is a company that provides top-notch audio books. I’ve been a member since 2009 and I have been superbly happy with their books and service. Here are a few reasons why Audible rocks!

The books are all priced at one credit per book. A cost of a credit range from $10-$15 (US) / £5-£8 (UK) depending on if you subscribe to one credit per month or buy up to 24 credits in bulk.

There are two versions of Audible, www.audible.com for the US market and www.audible.co.uk for the British. Yes, it matters which one you use, as some books are not released in some regions.

Top 6 audiobooks

Caduceus-Scales

Click through to read the full list of my audible reviews.

I have also written a separate but related article about podcasts. If you want more audio-goodness, click through and check it out.

Free Audiobooks

If the Audible prices are too steep for you (Really? I pay on average £0.74 per hour!), then you can get free audiobooks from Books Should Be Free. But, they only have books that are part of the public domain and the recordings are done by volunteers. Bless their hearts for their best effort, but I am simply not as charmed by their performance as I am by the professionals at Audible.

Affiliation

For the sake of full disclosure, all the links to audible from this article are tagged with an affiliate code such that I earn a small commission if you sign up using any of those links. Trust me; the amounts are so small that it would never be worth losing my self-respect and credibility by endorsing something that I don’t use and love myself, and feel confident you will too.

12

Which are your favourite audiobooks?

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  1. matt says:

    I’m with you mate, I really love my audio books. Was thinking of getting an audable subscription, the only thing putting me off is the cost once you’ve used your “free” monthly download, 30 quid for unabridged books. Just joined our local library though and they do books on CD for a nominal charge and have a good selection – can order from any where in the county for 60p. Not sure a library subscription would fit the nomad lifestyle you’d end up with a wallet filled with cards!

  2. Mike says:

    Great writeup Gustav. I feel I never have the time to read and this might be a good alternative!

  3. Brother Henrik says:

    My best audio book is (Sven i skogen) he having a great lifestory to tell.
    From his shildhood as an farmer boy, the time he was working on a steamboat and diesel driven boat around the world, the time as an truckdriver around europe and midleeast, the time as an alcoholic, and the last 27 yers as an clean and sober ex alcoholic man.

  4. Craig Brown says:

    Gustav, introducing me to audible.com is one of the best things you’ve done for me. I really thought I would have a hard time concentrating while doing other things because I am a terrible multitasker. But on the contrary it is sharpening my listening skills if anything. It is indeed amazing how much more “reading” you can accomplish this way. My favorite audible book so far has been “A Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor. I suggest people google her TED talk and listen to her enthusiasm and then imagine what it would be like to listen to her book in her own voice and with her own passion.
    I have another audio discovery. I have purchased quite a few courses at thegreatcourses.com where can you hear awesome lecture series by the best professors. The world has fantastic resources now and you don’t have to be a modern nomad to find them useful.

  5. Craig Brown says:

    I forgot to mention, you’ve done a bang up job in finding pictures to go with your posts. I love those glasses! I bet those scales have been waiting in the wings for awhile though;-)
    To the reader, when Gustav says The Child Thief is dark. He’s not kidding!

  6. This is so true. Those are the excuses of one that hasn’t tried listening to audiobooks. They maybe just don’t like to entertain the thought of it overcoming the books that they so dearly loved but this is a new generation which allows audiobooks to be easily available thanks to technology of today.

  7. Greg Kuhlman says:

    Another audio book lover! I can’t understand why audiobooks aren’t a bigger thing in the world. We all own a music player or a smartphone, so what gives? Audiobooks rock!

    Thanks for the reading list btw.

  8. Phil Stevens says:

    Gustav, you have just rekindled my interest in Audible. I downloaded a couple of their books via Amazon a few years ago, well not books in the strictest sense, they were BBC Radio 4 biography broadcasts (another of their genres). Anyway, I was very happy with them but for some inexplicable reason I never bothered to subscribe, hence forgotten about – until now.
    They have numerous categories from which to choose from, everything from Sports and the Classics to Sci-Fi, Education and Erotica (not sure if they have any decent gay male erotica, or indecent come to that, haven’t delved there yet) but you name it they have it, marvellous. I have a number of Audiobooks on CD and many paperbacks/hardbacks which have been accumulated over the years and I do still appreciate traditional books for things like photography, coffee table style content and hard to find vintage originals. But you are right about the many benefits of Audible that you outlined so clearly in your post, which I have to congratulate you on (you should be in marketing, on second thoughts No, you’re better off where you are now). You’ve definately sparked my interest again, whose a clever boy then!

  9. Anne says:

    Can’t say I have a favourite audio book, but sure hope I can change that soon!! It’s really wonderful to fall into this blog. Perfect timing.. Have 14wks of having to ride a bus down to town, am shocking for motion sickness if I try reading in a moving vehicle but alas I believe you may have saved me from an otherwise boring trip 😉
    Bless you heart.. Much thanks..

  10. Levin says:

    Recently having needed to have a one hour drive each way to work, I’ve started listening to podcasts – and they’ve opened up a world of wonder for me. Entertaining, educational … and they’re free! Easily downloadable from iTunes or from their own sites. My picks:

    A great, fun, easy start:
    – A History of the World in 100 Objects (http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/).

    Then graduate onto:
    – The History of English – I cannot emphasise enough how much fun and informative this podcast is, on the development of the English language from Proto-Indo-European about 5000 years ago. Did you know that “host”, “guest” and “hostile” all come from the same proto-Indo-European root word? (http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/)

    – The History of Byzantium (my favourite “lost” civilisation) (http://thehistoryofbyzantium.com/)

    – History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps (exactly what it says on the tin) (http://www.historyofphilosophy.net/)

    (Sorry, not trying to deprive you of Audible income, Gustav!)

    1. Ha ha, that is quite all right. I can live without those $0 that I’ve made from those sign-ups.

      I’ll make sure to check out those podcasts for sure. I am planning to write a podcast post at some point, just haven’t gotten to it yet. I listen to those too and love it.

  11. Levin says:

    Great 🙂

    I forgot to mention that the History of English podcast also touches on the origins of the Scandinavian languages as well (insofar as they touched and influenced English, in the first Millennium), so that may have yet another point of interest for you.

Which are your favourite audiobooks?

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