If you’d asked me about audiobooks about three years ago, I would have said (more or less): I understand that some people enjoy them, but they’re definitely not for me.
Maybe it’s because I was never read to as a child… but I’ve always associated listening to stories with boredom and/or falling asleep. When I used to attend summer camp eons ago in my youth, our counselors would read to us at night after lights-out, and I never did manage to stay awake until the end of the story.
But then, as an adult, I started meeting people who swore by audiobooks, and I could see the appeal. For example, a doctor I know described listening to Lord of the Rings on his daily commutes between the two cities where he practiced. Another friend only allowed himself to listen to A Song of Ice and Fire while on the treadmill — and ended up getting in great shape as a result! Hmmm. Might work for me, perhaps?
Well, I never did follow through on my resolve to work out more with audiobooks as an incentive. But I have started listening to books in the last two years, and I’m hooked!
My first attempt was a big fail. I got a book that I’d been wanting to read and decided to listen to it while walking. Maybe it was the narrator (he was kind of drone-y), but I could not keep my attention on the book no matter how hard I tried. I’d be walking along, listening to the story, and all of a sudden — hey, seagull! Look, crack in the sidewalk! I’d realize that I had missed minutes of the narration because I just couldn’t concentrate. I was pretty amazed to discover, when I picked up the hard copy of the same book, that what felt like a massive amount of story that I’d heard only added up to about ten pages. I ended up loving the book itself, but the audiobook was a complete disaster.
Cue my Outlander obsession a short time later, and I thought I’d give audio another try. This time, I decided to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to listen to books I’d already read, and since the community seems to be wild about Davina Porter’s narration, Outlander seemed like a good place to start.
Success! I was completely sucked into the audiobook, which I listened to during my daily drives back and forth to work and my kid’s school… and soon I found myself looking for excuses to keep driving, or even circling the block one extra time so I could finish the scene or chapter before turning it off for the day.
Since that experience, I’ve been convinced that audiobooks are the way to go, at least while in the car or while on my daily walks, but that they’d only work for me if I’d already read the books once before. That way, I wouldn’t have to worry so much about momentary distractions (like while trying to avoid suddenly swerving drivers or fighting to find a parking spot), and could just enjoy experiencing a story I already loved through a new medium.
I found that most of the time, the audiobooks enhanced the overall story for me — when presented by a talented narrator. I mostly loved Davina Porter’s version of the Outlander books (I’ve now listened to 5 of the 8 books, each one averaging about 40 hours of listening time), and she does a remarkable job (except for her American accent for one character, which is just a bit odd and flat and doesn’t sound like any American accent I know!).
I broke away from Outlander world for a bit and listened to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and loved every minute of it. The narrator’s intonations and speech patterns made me feel like I was really in the main character’s world, and added so much to my enjoyment of the story.
But two books really epitomize the audio experience for me, and here’s why:
First, although I love the Outlander audiobooks, the truly magnificent audiobook versions of Diana Gabaldon’s works are the Lord John books, narrated by Jeff Woodman. Lord John Grey is a supporting character in the Outlander series, who then became the star of a spin-off series of books of his own. I liked him on the page, but was always anxiously awaiting the moment when I could get back to the world of Jamie and Claire. John was an interesting guy, but I didn’t quite love him… yet. In the audiobooks, Lord John simply sparkles. Jeff Woodman’s narration perfectly captures John’s intensity, his understated dry humor, and his constant attention to propriety and social nuances. If you’re an Outlander fan and you’ve been on the fence about reading the Lord John books, go straight to audio. It’s a treat, plain and simple.
My second audio experience that was really eye-opening for me happened just this past week, when I decided to break from my safe routine and give a listen to a book that I hadn’t read already. I picked up Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle when it was an Audible Daily Deal recently, but thought I’d read a hard copy first before listening to it. That never happened, and when I found myself looking for the next audiobook to start, I figured I’d give it a whirl, despite almost psyching myself out by focusing on how hard it can be for me to concentrate while listening.
Guys. Wow. I’m so glad I went ahead it with it.
To put it mildly — this book rocks. Bernadette Dunne is just brilliant as the narrator of the audiobook. She voices the book’s point-of-view character, Mary Catherine Blackwood, with a girlish voice that hides all sorts of shades of craziness and delusion, and the other characters — from the hostile villagers to decrepit Uncle Julian — are distinct, recognizable, and just completely spot-on. When I got a few chapters in, I borrowed a hard copy of the book from a friend so I could compare certain passages — and maybe it’s because I was already hooked on the audio, but I just didn’t get the same rich flavor from the words on the printed page. Bernadette Dunne does an amazing job of conveying the sing-song flavor of some the character’s lines, where key words and phrases get repeated and repeated, giving the whole thing a slightly unreal, otherworldly feel, even while describing terrible events and awful emotions. The story of We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an amazing portrayal of the intersection of madness, fantasy, and decay. If you enjoy your books with a touch of gothic creepiness, then there’s nothing better than hearing:
Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!
If you’d like to hear a sample, check out the book’s Audible page, here.
What have I learned thus far from my audio adventures? One, that I love audiobooks far more than I could have imagined a few years ago. Two, that I’d rather listen to books while driving or exercising than listen to music, and that the time just zips by in the company of a good book. Three, that in the hands (or voice) of a gifted narrator, an audiobook can bring the nuances and depths of a story to life in a whole new way. And four, that I am, in fact, capable of enjoying a story entirely through the spoken word — which is a might big revelation for me!
How about you? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Are there any that really stand out for you? Please share your thoughts!