Monday, April 4, 2011

Audiobooks for the Audiophile: In which the journey begins

When I first started writing this post, it was after a conversation I had during lunch at a writing conference where we discussed some of our favorite audiobooks and what makes them so special. The woman I was talking to asked me to post some recommendations, so I got to work making a list. Until I realized how woefully little I actually knew about audiobooks. Sure, I'd listen to a few every year and had a few that were stand-outs. But what really made me enjoy them so much? And why were there a few I couldn't bare to listen to even though I loved reading the book?

The first time I consciously remember listening to an audiobook was back in high school. I'm not a huge fan of British classics (the descriptions are far too plentiful for someone with an American journalism background) but I love the stories, so I listened to David Copperfield, The Lord of the Rings, Vanity Fair. Then I moved on to some American classics I could never seem to find time to sit down and read like The Sound and the Fury and The House of Seven Gables. Then I went through my history phase with Ronald Reagan's autobiography, Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation series and several books by David McCullough. Then there were the book club books like Daughter of Fortune and, yes, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Before I started my freshman year in college, I had gone from listening to books I didn't think I could ever get through just by reading them to listening to the books because they were fun and beautiful. Not that I didn't love those classics, and I learned a ton for the histories, but all of a sudden I wasn't limited to classic literature methodically read by British stage actors. I was listening to full-fledged productions that merge literature and acting and music. It was like candy for my ears.

And now that I've spent the past six months actually paying attention to what I've listening to, I can literally hear the difference.

I don't pretend that I have listened to everything out there, but it's safe to say that my audiobook experiences reach into the hundreds. When I'm listening to a good audiobook, I have to leave ten minutes early for everything because I have to finish the chapter. And the story and the audio production have be of high quality both independently and together, which means the writing has to be stellar, the narration has to be engaging, and the have to work together.

Access to audiobooks is only getting easier because they don't only come on tape--or even CD--anymore. Even as a Mac user, I can download audiobooks directly to my computer and listen to it or upload it to my iPod. And with those great little Play-Aways that I can pick up at the library and plug into my car or my headphones or my computer speakers...yeah, I'm a fan. They're perfect for long road trips or tedious chores or rainy days or any time at all. If you don't know much about audiobook providers, reviews some of the most popular and features additional information about audiobooks.

I've made it my mission to listen to more audiobooks, specifically children's/MG/YA books. To pay attention to why they work. To get lost in the stories along the way. And the more audiobooks I listen to, the more I discover my journey as an audiophile has just begun.

This post is the first in a three-part series dedicated to Molly Jaffa, who loves audiobooks only slightly less than I do.


  1. I love audiobooks too, but I'm pretty sure I'm not as choosy as you are. I do tend to get stuck on certain authors, and I like a good narration as much as the next guy. This makes me think of Half Moon Investigations and what a great book that was to listen to on CD. The book itself is good too, of course, but the narration is stellar!

    I just listened to Book of a Thousand Days on CD. I read it about three years ago and couldn't put it down (as I'm sure you remember since you lived with me at the time), but I loved the audiobook production. It was a full cast audio, but I really liked the girl who did Dashti's voice as well as the one who did Tegas. I haven't been able to listen to the ones you recommended yet, but they're on the list! I enjoy Nathaniel Park who does the Artemis Fowl series too, although I'm taking a little break from them right now.

  2. I swear I posted a response to this the same day, but sometimes the internet hates me...

    I'll have to give both BoaTD and the new AF a try. I LOVE both those books but haven't listened to either of them. Thanks for the recommendations!