Listen, children, to a story …

(Hmm … realizing just how many of my post titles come from songs. I don’t suppose this is surprising, given how central a role music plays in my life, but it’s funny that I haven’t really noticed or called it out before.)

I’m in a book club. I think it’s fair to say that I’m the laziest member of this club. Sometimes I read the books. Sometimes I even read them all the way to the end. I wouldn’t say I do either of these things even fifty percent of the time. I enjoy the group, and I always intend to do better, but … well, the world is always and always getting in the way of me and my reading goals.

The group has been meeting a long time, but it wasn’t until about two years ago that I began listening to some of our book selections instead of reading them. I realized I could download audiobooks from the library onto my phone and listen during my commute or while doing housework, and it was suddenly far more likely that I’d see my way through to the end of book picks I wasn’t passionate about.

That was my secret: listen to the books I didn’t think I’d like so I could do something else at the same time and feel productive. (Yes, this is obnoxious. I know. I know.)

For the most part, this has worked pretty well. There have been some notable exceptions. I managed to suffer through the recording of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens despite an awful, awful reader who drove me nuts through the whole book. And then there was the total fail of The Plot Against America. Something about Ron Silver’s voice and the utter creepiness of the book in relationship to our current political climate made listening impossible, almost nightmare-inducing. I shut that down right away.

The success of audiobooks really lies in the reader’s voice and reading style choices. A bad voice and I can’t concentrate. Wacky decisions about how to pronounce things or changing the voice for different characters, and you’ve lost me. I hate all those made up voices. Just read. Let me fill in the character distinctions. That was the problem with the Good Omens reader. He made really irksome voices for the characters when he should have just told me the story.

It has turned out that I’ve actually loved many of the books I thought I wouldn’t. Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction is depressing and enraging, but amazing and interesting and well-written. I enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath so much it set me to listening to all of his books. And it’s interesting that the Gladwell audiobooks work for me. I don’t like Gladwell’s voice. But he reads his work so perfectly, that he’s the only person I’d want to hear reading, and he makes the books that much more interesting.

The book we’ll be discussing next weekend is Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat. I really can’t articulate how much I loved this book … except to say that I’m about the start my third listen. Seriously. I loved it that much. In part because the book is great, but also because I love Edward Herrmann as the reader. I wish he had recorded all books I might ever want to listen to. He was a fine, fine reader.

But also, Brown has written a wonderful book. He does some things as a writer that I find comical and eventually annoying, but mostly, the book is gold. The story is compelling, the people are likable, he got me interested in a subject — crew racing — that I have given just about no thought to. I’m sure reading this book is also enjoyable, but I’d actually recommend listening because of Herrmann’s excellent recording.

I know I’m not only a lazy book-clubber but also super late to the table when it comes to audiobooks. I should have known that I would like listening to books. I love to be read to. Love, love, love it. So naturally, a good audiobook would please me.

And thank goodness I’ve made this happy discovery. My new commute is always very crowded. The train doors open, and there’s barely enough room to squeeze myself into the throng, definitely no room for pulling out a book. Being able to disappear through my headphones makes that sardine-can ride so much easier to manage.

Do you listen to audiobooks? What do you like or not like about them? Do you have particular kinds of books you prefer to listen to rather than read, or particular readers you’ve come to love?

It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

18 thoughts on “Listen, children, to a story …

  1. Thanks for a nudge and vote for me to return to audiobooks. I tried to listen to more books years ago, but my mind likes to wander. Maybe if I pick an audiobook with a riveting tale, it will help me stay tuned in!


  2. I’m using audiobooks to inspire my to pick up my exercise (particularly when on the treadmill). I find they encourage me to spend more time walking, especially if the book (and the reader) is engaging.


  3. BOnnie K

    Wow Stacie you make a very compelling case for experimenting with audiobooks. I am the laziest member my of book club of three as well. But we are very casual about talking books, so I am usually not found out.
    I do love reading had hearing your voice.


  4. I never really liked audiobooks, until I had a long commute to work. I have listened to a few audiobooks, but I am more of a podcast person these days. A must that I have for audiobooks is the voice…the narrator needs to have an engaging voice!


  5. I have not really ever tried the audiobook, but you have me intrigued. I feel like I’m late to the party with podcasts but have found several I like. I guess since I don’t have a far commute, I haven’t had the time to listen. But now I will find the time. Thanks for the tip!


  6. Akilah

    Edward Herrmann also reads Unbroken (a book I couldn’t get through in print), and it is magical. He was such a great narrator with a melodious voice.

    Jim Dale’s Hermione and Luna for Harry Potter irritate me to no end, so while I enjoy his overall narration, what he does to those two characters is criminal and always makes me asterisk that recommendation. Sigh.


  7. I LOVE audiobooks! I don’t think it’s obnoxious at all that you like to listen to them AND still get something else done! That’s how I started…I got bored in the shower (how weird is that?). I think I now love listening to them rather than actually reading them. Do you have a preference for a male or female voice? I’ve noticed that I prefer female readers as compared to males, though I’m not exactly sure why. And readers with accents make it difficult for me to understand and subsequently, finish a book. I’ve given up immediately in the past because of this. I’ve also noticed that I get more emotional when listening to a book. I think it’s something about the way you can hear the emotion in a reader’s voice. Anyway, thanks for this slice! I love that there is someone else out there who thinks the same as I do about audiobooks! Thank you for sharing!


  8. Funny, your title immediately brought to mind the opening line of “Paul Revere”. Remember that gem?

    Don’t know why, but audio books and I can’t seem to gel. Too passive I guess. I love the idea of them and try it again from to to time with different books, but it’s such a slog for me.
    I agree with using different voices. Using different inflections to show emotions yes, but changing the voice itself irks me.


  9. I am just recently an audiobook convert. I haven’t read enough to pay attention to what I love and hate, but I do agree that the voice is everything. I’ve been using Overdrive to download audiobooks to read on my (very short) commute to work. I haven’t tried any serious/heavy stories, only biographies or fun little romantic comedies. I’m afraid I’ll just sob in public like I do when I read physical books in the comfort of my home!!


    1. I use Overdrive, too. So easy to take out from both public library systems I belong to and have the books all in one place. You make a good point about emotional responses in public. I have that problem with books a lot (a LOT). I’ve gotten better at knowing that I have to close the book before the tears start. In the past, I would just be riding along, sobbing and sobbing. Not a good look! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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