What I've Heard About Audiobooks

When a friend told me she didn't like to read, I assured her that she just hadn't found the right book. When she did, it was the Shades of Gray series, and she couldn't read it fast enough (or often enough). She found The Book, so we figured her voracious reading habit would commence.

But that didn't happen.

Instead, her reading faltered. No other book captured her attention. The page was cold and lifeless. Books were stilted and boring. At first, she thought she just read too slow. Rich detail was lost in the words. She read for school and retained the information, but the pages for leisure reading never came alive for her like they did for me.

Last summer, when she and her son were planning a long drive, she asked me for recommendations for books she could borrow on audio. I threw a few titles there, as did her son. In the end, they settled on The Help.

She found herself smitten again, and her son enjoyed the book as well. In fact, they were so wrapped up in the book, she and her son sat in the driveway at her destination so they could finish a chapter.

She has since read nearly every book I have suggested, fiction and non-fiction — and she talked me into reading a book she enjoyed on audio: The Martian. Her description of The Martian was rich and vivid, and I read it right away. She was right: I thought it was a great book.

With books, she found the page didn't speak to her — but the words did when they were spoken. She has since zoomed through a number of books, fiction and non-fiction, some I've read and others are on my reading list. It had been fun talking books with her. (Now I have to hurry and read Game of Thrones, not just because everyone I know has read it already, but because Melanie's description of the story from the audiobook is very entertaining. In fact, that book has given us our new shorthand phrase for "it could be worse.")

Apparently, audiobooks are a thing. Another friend is a voracious consumer of audiobooks, and she has sung their praises for years. Recently, two other people told me they "listened to the greatest book," and it was something I had read. Even David Sedaris praised an audiobook: True Grit as read by Donna Tartt. Was I the only person not on the audio train?
I decided to give it a try: I reserved True Grit on CD from the library. (There was no audiobook version, alas.) I borrowed Sacre Bleu on disc to test the waters; I popped in the first CD for my 10-minute drive home from the library, and was mesmerized by Christopher Moore's saucy words read out loud. I could see how it would look on the pages, the parts I knew he knew I would find funny.

Then, as I tried to read them while I was working out at the gym, I got lost. I wasn't paying attention, and iTunes isn't up for easy-rewind (at least for me). I got frustrated and turned off the book. iTunes also doesn't bookmark the audio, but the library's collection is heavy on CDs, and I download them onto my computer so I can listen to them on my phone. (Relax, I delete them when I return them to the library.)

Before I lose my temper, I'll give Audible a try. Rumor has it the service bookmarks the audio and is easy to replay.

I am not convinced that audiobooks are the right fit for me. I am very visual, probably because of my reading habit; I take copious notes when I listen and remember them better than I can recall the spoken words. However, I like being told a story, so perhaps audiobooks will be more entertaining than meetings at work. (One can only hope.)

What do you think of audiobooks: are you a fan, or can they keep your attention? Are they your first source of books, or just saved for road trips? Have you even tried them? Let me know!