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
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.
“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
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!
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 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!
- A wide range of books. They have over 100,000 titles, and it is rare that I can’t find what I’m looking for.
- Superb narrators and quality. I have fallen in love with some narrators, and I browse for books based on their involvement!
- Listen before buying. You’ll be spending a long time with the narrator’s voice, so being able to hear it before buying the book is a great feature.
- You can pair four desktops, three phones and three media players with one Audible account. Although not promoted as such by Audible, you can in this way share an account with a few family members or trusted friends.
- The books are yours to keep, forever. Fine, they are locked to your account, but they never expire.
- The Audible software integrates very well with iTunes, Android , iPhone and iPod. (It should work for most devices, but be sure to check that before committing.)
- If you don’t like a book, you may return it and get your credit back! You can do this twice a year! Would your ordinary bookshop let you do that?
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.
Top 6 audiobooks
- Bad Science (UK): The author peels away layers of subterfuge and reveals the spiritualists and nutritionists for the snake oil salesmen they really are. The narrator’s sarcastic tone is pitched perfect for this task! Enlightening and incredibly funny.
- The Child Thief (UK/US): A dark (dark!) version of Peter Pan, bringing this classic story into the modern day. Not for the faint of heart and absolutely not for kids.
- Rivers of London (UK/US): A gem of a book, featuring a quirky setting, great plot, lovable characters, fast pace and amazingly narration. First of two books, the second being just as good as the first.
- Anansi Boys (UK/US): Like Rivers of London, this book is also packed with great characters, fast pace, and the narrator does a stellar job to bring the Caribbean feel to the characters!
- Ender’s Game (UK/US): The beginning of an amazing series of books. Old school sci-fi at its best! The span of the books are incredible, taking you far into the future thanks to relativistic time effects on close to light speed travel, and this is used superbly in the books.
- The Ruby in the Smoke (UK/US): I made the mistake of watching the film first. It was terrible. The book, however, is a delight, made even more so by the crisp and extraordinary voice of Anton Lesser. First of four books, three of which exist as audiobooks. I hold out hope for the fourth, but rest assured that the third book ends in a way that it could easily have been a trilogy.