I always thought audiobooks weren’t for me. Recently though, I have struggled to read as much as I used to, especially during the week. I am not sure whether it’s my eyes or my brain that are refusing to cooperate, but it’s definitely something to do with spending all day in front of a computer screen.
I still want the immersive experience of reading a book – and not having it feels like a terrible loss – but I feel a visceral dread of chewing through the paragraphs on a page. So I decided to look again at audiobooks and now have a book-a-week habit!
These were the qualms I had and how I (mostly) overcame them.
I used to look at the prices on Amazon and get palpitations.
However, I eventually realised that Amazon price single audiobooks so high because they don’t want you to buy them. They want to tie you into a subscription with Amazon-owned Audible. They start at £7.99 for one credit per month (which you can spend on any book). Once I got the bug, I decided to go for an annual package (24 credits for £109.99). This works out at £4.58 per book. (Update: these prices still apply as at June 2019.) Other retailers are available. I’ve written a separate post on where to get subscription, cheap and free audiobooks.
I also get free audiobooks from my local library which now offers three different audiobook apps, and public domain audiobooks through Librivox, as well as the occasional free or discounted book from Audible.
Choice and availability
Only a few years ago, the range of audiobooks was pretty limited. Even if the book I wanted was available, it was often abridged, expensive and came on CD (or even cassette!).
However, changes in technology mean that books are cheaper to produce and can be sold at lower prices. Even indie authors on a limited budget are able to produce good quality audiobooks.
There is much more choice and my Audible subscription allows me to return any book for any reason at any time. This has made me more inclined to take a chance on new authors and titles. The biggest improvement for me has been the range of audiobooks now offered through my library, to the extent that I am now wondering whether I need the Audible subscription at all.
Three’s a crowd
Reading is a very intimate experience. It’s just you and the book’s inimitable whisper. A narrator can feel like an intruder, breaking the spell if their interpretation is different from yours.
Sometimes I still feel that a narrator doesn’t sound right for a particular book, in which case I return it. But what has surprised me is that I’ve actually fallen in love with certain narrators. (Audible are clearly aware of this phenomenon as they run promotions based on popular narrators.) All I wanted from a narrator was for them not to get in the way, but the best ones actually enhance your enjoyment of the book, bringing out the rhythm of the prose, the tempo of the story, the voice of the characters.
Speed and sleep
I’m a fast reader and one of the things that used to frustrate me about listening to live readings is that they’re so slow. I also find that attentive listening is surprisingly tiring and can make me nod off.
Fortunately most audiobook apps address these two key features. I don’t suppose you can ever listen as fast as you can read, but you can adjust the narrator’s speed – I usually go to 1.25, if they’re very slow I go to 1.5. The sleep function is brilliant – Audible and Librivox have an ‘end of chapter’ option or you can set the playback to stop after a specific amount of time. Most also have a short rewind function (between 15 and 30 seconds) if you’ve misheard or been momentarily distracted.
Seeing the words on the page
There’s something about how prose looks that matters. I like the shape, the patterns on the page and the way it imprints on your brain. My French teacher at school used to teach us words without letting us see them. His intentions were good – he didn’t want people to Anglicise the pronunciation – but for me the word wouldn’t stay in my head until I had seen it.
Obviously you don’t get that with audio. And you can’t skim-read and it’s not searchable like a Kindle book (and with a physical book you can at least flick through the pages, which is quicker than the audio equivalent).
I’ve found that for reading for pleasure, and for reviewing, audio is fine. However, if I were doing serious study of a book, or it was a book of poetry where layout was integral to the enjoyment of it, I think I would buy the book as well.
Listening to a book feels luxurious, like somebody is pouring a novel straight into my brain with no effort required by me. Perhaps I feel a little guilty! But it’s such a relief to me to have got my reading level up again and the respite means I feel willing and able to read a book with my eyes most weekends.