Thursday, March 15, 2018

Why I Love Audiobooks and You Might Too

I was resistant to the idea of audiobooks for a long time.

I don’t know if it was because I had internalized some silly idea that it wasn’t “real reading” or if I just had never really listened to them growing up.

I remember once my family bought a book on tape (as they used to be called back in the dark ages of the mid ‘00s) but we weren’t committed to it and stopped listening part way through. I still don’t know how Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord ends.

This mentality began to shift sometime in high school. I’m not entirely sure what brought it about, but I think it was a combination of several things.

First of all, bookworm that I am, I wanted to have a way to read while walking that didn’t end with me stepping in a puddle or running into a pole, door or person. All those things had happened or nearly happened to me. I was like those confuddled people in infomercials who look directly into the camera and declare “there’s got to be a better way!”

The second reason, honestly, I started listening to audiobooks was that Google, in all its algorithmic, capitalist wisdom, had been showing me ads for Audible (an audiobook buying website for those of you who don't know) for some time and I finally caved. My walking-infomercial-self had found a problem and the internet had responded with “there’s an app for that.”

Although there are many places online where you can find audiobooks, I really like Audible because as a member I get one "free" book a month (I put "free" in quotations since there is the $15 monthly fee, but since many audiobooks cost most than that I usually come out ahead) as well as access to a member discount for any other book I may want to buy. (And, Audible does give you your first month of membership free so you can see if you like it). If you have never given audiobooks a shot, I highly, highly recommend that you do.

Most of the pleasure reading I’m able to get in during the school year is through audiobooks. I may not have much time to sit down and read a book for fun (because, let’s be real, I hardly even have that time to read books assigned for class) but I do have snippets of time between walking to class, eating and working out at the gym. That time adds up quickly and allows me to get a fair amount of pleasure “reading” in.

Listening to books can also be great for doing homework. For speed readers it may not be worth it, but as someone who is a slow reader, has a reading heavy course load and is prone to eye strain, it really is. Also, depending on the platform you are listening through, you may be able to speed up the narration to two to three times the recorded speed for when you’re in a hurry.

There is also a theatrical element to audiobooks, placing the experience of listening to one somewhere between reading a book and listening to a radio play. The voice actors will often do different voices and accents for the various characters and the inflections of their voices as they narrate will sometimes lead me to interpret a scene differently than if I had been reading the story and imagined the inflections differently.

Also, books that come from big publishers, especially books that have been heavily hyped, will often have a big name attached as the narrator. I imagine some people might find this distracting, but I really enjoy it.

Take the audiobook for one of my favorite books Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, for example.

The narrator of that audiobook, at the time I first listened to it was, from what I understand, well-respected and known among the Broadway community, but not particularly famous. Several years later, when I listened to it again, I was surprised and delighted to realize that the narrator was, in fact, Lin-Manuel Miranda. (This revelation made the scene in the novel where the main character is complaining about have to write a paper on Alexander Hamilton ten times funnier than it would have been otherwise).

In this current age, we have so many ways of sharing and consuming stories, yet the audiobook is often overlooked. Hopefully, if you have never listened to one before, I have piqued your interest enough to at least give this medium a try.

This piece first appeared in the Manitou Messenger, St. Olaf College's student newspaper.

Disclosure: this post contains links to an affiliate program (Amazon), for which I receive some money if you make purchases.

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