I have recently discovered the joy of audiobooks after a somewhat difficult relationship with them. I used to see everyone on Twitter banging on about how wonderful it was to listen to a book on their way to work or whilst cooking and I would think “how can they do two things at once?” I gave it a go a number of times and came to the following conclusions:
- It is impossible for me to read a recipe, set an oven timer or do anything vaguely technical whilst also keeping up with a story
- My life is LOUD and my phone speaker is rubbish – as soon as the kettle started to boil I would be struggling to understand what was going on
- I have the attention span of a goldfish and as soon as anything vaguely distracting happened (i.e. a phone notification) I would immediately try to read it, resulting in my ears stopping working. I receive about 470,000,000 notifications per day so that was never going to work
- My god, people reading aloud are S—-L—-O—-W. I found that immensely frustrating.
I hadn’t always been so anti-audio. I have fond memories of story tapes (yes Gen Z-ers, actual cassette tapes) when I was little – I can still remember listening to “Kate Visits the Doctor” on repeat (which was quite a strange choice as it was about a girl with an ear infection… but hey, kids are weird).
So, I gave up. Audiobooks are officially Not For Me I thought, whilst pouring boiling water over my hand as I tried to read Facebook and make a cup of tea at the same time.
(Thanks, high pain threshold.)
But then, I got very, very behind on my reading challenge, I got into a reading slump, it was lockdown and I just wanted to watch Tiger King. I realised that if I were to have any chance of getting back into reading, I needed to find a way of fitting it round my nightly Netflix binges. I needed to be reading in the day. I needed to be reading while I was doing other stuff.
Now, I’m in no way against the idea of stirring a saucepan with one hand whilst reading a kindle with the other but the whole thing is pretty impractical. My scalded hands are testament to this – see above example.
There was only one thing for it. I got out my ironing board, downloaded Dracula and started listening.
It’s at this part of the story that you’d expect me to start extolling the virtues of the spoken word, right?
I hated it. It was just as slow and difficult to keep up with as I’d previously thought. Plus, it was the hammiest, Hammer Horror style reading I’d ever heard – and not in a fun, camp way. It was over-acted to the point I started putting in my own dum-dum-DUMS and fake gasps of terror. I lasted about half an hour before I turned it off to listen to The Bugle podcast.
Now, if I know one thing about myself it’s that I’m not a natural DNFer. I so envy people who can just toss a dull book aside, regardless of how much they’ve read to pick up something more interesting. I decided to do some research, download a few more audiobooks and persevere.
And, as slowly as someone turning a 200 page novel into 12 hours of audio, I started to enjoy myself – with a fair few caveats.
Here’s what I learned:
- An audiobook on 1x speed is slow and tedious AF but OH MY GOD YOU CAN SPEED THEM UP TO SOMETHING APPROACHING HOW FAST YOU’D READ A BOOK. This for me was a game changer (as I believe all the cool kids say). After a bit of practice I worked my way up to listening at somewhere between 1.75x – 2x speed, depending on accents (I find Americans harder to understand and they seem to talk faster anyway). I didn’t think I was making much progress until my boyfriend started muttering “hihowareyou yeahimgoodthanks ohmygodwhatishappening HAHAHA” and when I asked him what he was doing said “I’m being one of your gibberish audiobooks”.
- The narrator is key. You need someone to really make the characters come to life, not just read out a script. I find comedians and actors are the best for this, or just Neil Gaiman Neil Gaimaning his way through his books. (Ooooh, Neil Gaiman 😍) Ahem. Full cast recordings can be great but it can sometimes be confusing about who is talking if there are a lot of similar sounding characters, so download with caution.
- Headphones are your friends, especially if you’re doing something else like cooking or cleaning. It’s surprising how much background noise there is in the average kitchen and it means you can do things like hoovering whilst still listening.
- Some books work better than others, so choose wisely! You will miss stuff and your attention span is often lower if you’re trying to do something else, so I’ve found that thrillers (because they really grab your attention) and lighthearted rom-com style books (because you can kinda see where the storyline is going) work best.
- Be careful if you’re listening on a speaker somewhere you might be overheard i.e. in your car or in the garden. Sex scenes are bad enough when you read them in public (ever tried to bend your paperback round so the guy sitting next to you can’t see what you’re reading?) but in traffic with the windows down? UURGGGGH.
Personally, some of the books that worked great on audio for me were:
- Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman – I had already read American Gods so was familiar with the jist of the storyline and it featured actors who I was familiar with so I could tell who was talking
- The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary – an easy to follow storyline with only two characters (male and female) so it was easy to differentiate and there was nothing too complicated (world building, time lapses etc.) to try to get your head around
- Rest and be Thankful by Emma Glass – I found the book itself very depressing but hugely impactful. The single voice almost train of thought like narration was very easy to follow
- Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswell – I really like Meera Syal’s voice and appreciated the proper pronunciation of some of the names/words
Books that didn’t work for me include:
- Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi – it might be that the actual book was complicated and didn’t make sense in print but on audiobook it was just words.
- The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – ditto. What just happened?
- Dracula by Bram Stoker – as previously mentioned, the narrator was bizzare, it was overly dramatic, overly plummy and that made the book super slow and dull.
There are still some downsides to audiobooks – they can be hard to follow, it’s incredibly difficult to skip backwards to find where you stopped listening and a bad narrator can ruin an otherwise good story. However, they’re incredibly convenient, I can download a huge selection for free from my library’s BorrowBox app and they’ve really pulled me out of a reading slump. I’m now having a great time steaming through at least one or two per week.
Oh, and if my lockdown Netflix addiction means I don’t hit my Goodreads target this year, you know whose fault that is?
Until next time,
Do you enjoy audiobooks? Have you helped you to read more? Do you find some books or genres work better than others? Let me know in the comments!
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