Why Listen to Audiobooks?

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Like most avid readers, I like the tactile experience of a book in my hand and turning pages while taking in the story, though I’ve gotten used to e-readers since so many free and discounted books can be found for it, and there are features of it I like. But my first preference is still an actual book made of paper and ink. Why, then, would I listen to an audiobook? Listening, after all, is a different experience than reading.

I first sought out audiobooks when we moved here. As I have mentioned before, where we used to live, the places we needed to go most often were only five minutes away. Going “across town” only took maybe 15 minutes. When we moved to our present location outside a larger city, it took longer to get most places. I’m not a person who likes to spend time in the car: “going for a drive” is not on my list of fun things to do, and I chafed at the “wasted” time driving, even with a Christian radio station and an abundance of music to listen to. I decided to try a trial subscription to Audible.com: if I remember correctly, the introductory offer at that time was one free book, with the option of canceling the monthly fee at any time. I was hooked immediately. Driving became an enjoyable experience rather than just a chore. Then I also began to listen while getting ready in the morning, doing housework, and exercising. Of course, I listen when I am alone or when other members of the family are occupied in others rooms: since my children are older and are usually otherwise occupied, that affords me more listening time than I would have had when they were younger and usually with me.

Though I have listened to a variety of genres of audiobook, for me they work best for classics that I might not otherwise read. I’m currently halfway through War and Peace, a book I probably never would have tackled in print just because I wouldn’t want the sheer length of it to monopolize my reading time for so long. Plus the meandering narrative or excessive descriptions of classics are easier to take if I am doing something else while listening than if I am trying to slog my way through it by reading. They also work best for fiction or biography for me. With non-fiction, even for the print version I have to reread or review sections to get the most out of them, which doesn’t work as well for audiobooks, plus my attention wavers much more listening to non-fiction than fiction.

Some of the advantages of audiobooks:

  • They allow you to do something useful with your mind while your hands are busy.
  • I don’t usually think in the accent of the country the book is set in, and hearing it read with an accent increases the enjoyment of the setting.
  • Hearing the inflections of the author draws out meanings or points I might have glossed over.
  • I can get through more books than I can just by reading physical ones.

There are some disadvantages as well:

  • You can’t skim through a boring part.
  • If your attention wavers or you need to go back and refresh your memory about a person or incident, it’s harder to flip back through to the part you need. The app I use does have a button to go back 30 seconds or go back to the beginning of the chapter, but I can’t always get to it if I am driving or cooking.
  • I miss the tactile sensation of holding a book and knowing about where physically a favorite part is.
  • Audiobooks often do not include the acknowledgments page or author’s afterword.

Personally I feel the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Many Audible books work in sync with Kindle version of the book, and often if you buy one, you can get the other for a discounted price. With classics you can often get a free or very inexpensive Kindle version, and if you leave off at a place in the audiobook, you can pick up at the same place in the Kindle version and vice verse. If I don’t have a Kindle version, sometimes I’ll get the print version from the library just so I can mark places (though the Audible app does have a way to bookmark certain spots) or go back through a passage I feel I need to go over again to understand better.

I don’t think I could get much from a nonfiction audiobook that is not a story or biography: with those books I underline, mark places, and place sticky tabs all through and still feel  sometimes like I haven’t quite grasped the whole thing.

I’ve mentioned Audible.com because that is primarily what I use (I am not affiliated with them and will not receive compensation from them for mentioning them). The monthly charge is $14.95 a month for one credit, which usually equals one book. That might sound high, but a longer classic runs 20-30 hours, and there is not much else I could do for $14.95 that will give me that many hours of use and pleasure (especially comparing it to the price of going to see a 2-hour film with someone). But in addition to the monthly credit, they have sales for members throughout the year where I have gotten books for $1.95 to $6.95. They also release a free book around Christmastime (past free books have included A Christmas Carol, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Snow Queen, and The Wizard of Oz). They have an app that makes it very easy to buy, download, and listen to a book. I also like that you can play decent sized samples of the book before buying: sometimes they’ll have several editions of a book with different narrators, and I’ll listen to several before choosing which one I like best. Narrators can really make or break the listening experience, especially since you’ll be spending so much time listening to one and they shape the way you experience the book. In over four years of listening to audiobooks, I’ve found only a small handful of truly bad or just flat narrators, but it is worth the time to decide between the okay or good narrators and the best.

But there are a few places where one can get free or inexpensive audiobooks. Some public libraries have them. A few other places are LibriVox (free) and ChristianAudio.com (discounted). Audiobooks.com is the same price as Audible.com. ITunes has some as well. LearnOutLoud.com is a subscription service as well with different prices for different types of subscription but they do have some free selections. GoBible.com does not charge a monthly subscription, but the few books I looked at on their front page were quite a bit more expensive. I think they offer one free audiobook download per month – at least they used to. I haven’t gotten their mailings in a while. Sync offers a free young adult or classic audiobook once a week, I believe, from May through the summer. I got my first Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place book through them and got subsequently hooked not only on the stories but also on Katherine Kellgren’s narration. I have used a couple of these but don’t remember which ones other than Sync. Others I have read of but have not tried are AudiobooksForFree and OpenCulture.

You do have to be watchful when buying or downloading an audiobook to make sure you’re getting the unabridged version rather than an abridged or “dramatization” (unless that’s what you want). Dramatizations are usually cut down like movies are, but they have the advantage of different actors for the different characters, so it is a little more like listening to an old-time radio drama. You won’t get all the nuances of the book, but for a longer classic that you might not otherwise delve into because of the older styles of language or writing, an abridged or dramatized version might give you the basic idea of the story.

On a practical note, I am not a big fan of ear buds, but I do use them when listening while walking. In the car I have an adapter that plugs into my iPhone and then into the tape player (yes, my car is old enough that it only plays cassette tapes) so that the sound comes through the speakers; my youngest son’s newer car has a built-in plug-in for phones that does the same thing. Otherwise I listen with the phone on the counter or in my pocket.

What is your experience with audiobooks? Do you enjoy them? What are your sources?

See also:

Why Read? Why Read Fiction? Why Read Christian Fiction?

Why Read Biographies?

Finding Time to Read.

(Sharing with Booking Through Thursday.)

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11 thoughts on “Why Listen to Audiobooks?

  1. My husband and I listen to an Audible selection as we are going to sleep. Yes, we have to go back and pick up where we fell asleep, and yes, you can miss some of the details of a story this way, but it works for us.

    When I was recovering from surgery I had to have my feet up most of the time for a couple of months. I sure got my money’s worth out of listening to The Woman in White and other long stories during that time.

    Barbara, you are right that the narrator can make or break the experience. I also really enjoy Katherine Kellgren’s performances. Some of my other favorite narrators are Hugh Fraser, Nicola Barber, Toby Stephens, and Simon Vance.

    Our family first started to listen to books in audio format years ago when we had to travel thousands of miles on trips. The books helped keep us awake and preserved us from the tedium of these long trips.

    So I guess you can tell I’m a fan of audio books!

  2. I just won a free book download from Audible and and looking forward to listening to it. We like to listen to audio books from the library in the car on long trips.
    I also want to thank you for mentioning the movie The One Hundred Foot Journey. We watched it last weekend and really enjoyed it!

  3. I would simply LOVE to be able to listen to them but I am not an audible learner. My mind just wanders away and I miss huge chunks and sections. The only way I can actually hear and retain a sermon, or a lecture or an audio book is to write things that are being said down so that I can SEE it. Then it loses the purpose.

    I’ve tried and tried to get through an audio book but it just never seems to work for me. And I envy those who make good use of them!!

  4. What an excellent and thorough post, Barbara! My favorite fund of the past year is OneClick Digital Audio, a free audiobook service offered by my library.

  5. Great post! I started listening to audiobooks when my daughter played soccer in college. Even her home games were a 4 hour drive. I got my husband hooked on Agatha Christie on some road trips last summer. I also listen during my daily walks. You covered the pros and cons well. Audiobooks are, as you said, a great way to keep the mind engaged. On Audible, if you find you don’t like a book (any reason) they let you return it and refund your cost or credits. Great site. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Hi, Barbara, Your post makes me want to try an audiobook again. I borrowed one from the library and just couldn’t get into it. My mind wandered while I was listening and I gave up. In the car would be my best option.

  7. I joined Christianaudio.com because they offer a free book once a month or so and you are not obligated to buy anything else. I thought it would be a great way to listen to some non-fiction. But I’ve found so far I get bored and unfocused after just a few minutes. I spend more time rewinding and relistening to parts than if I would just read the book.

  8. I started listening to audio books when I learned to knit. And I do like being able to go between Audible books and Kindle books.

  9. Pingback: My favorite posts of the year | Stray Thoughts

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