In the beginning of last year, I tried something new and started listening to audiobooks during my daily commute to work. What began as an experiment, soon became routine. Over the course of the year I finished fourteen titles of various genres and authors and the list still keeps growing since then. In this post, I would like to share a few takeaways from this experience, including recommendations on authors and titles I particularly enjoyed, reflections on the joy of listening to audiobooks, and finally some thoughts on why and when audiobooks might be worth looking into for you.
Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors.
I had already suspected it from an earlier encounter with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but now I know for sure: Neil Gaiman belongs to my favorite authors. The past year gave me the opportunity to catch up with many of his works that had been on my reading wishlist for a long time. Most of his novels can be described as fantasy, often with a dark touch and set in a real-world scenario. They are fairytales for younger and older readers you can get lost in while following the main characters on their journey. Being a well-known advocate for libraries, books and the power of reading, Neil also infuses his stories with these themes every once in a while which adds to their appeal. Reading the books is already a pleasure in itself, but listening to the audiobooks read by the author makes them even more compelling, since he is a brilliant narrator, too. If you want to get started with Neil’s novels, I suggest The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The narrator’s voice can make a big difference.
You are going to spend several hours listening to the same person, so you have to be comfortable with the voice of the narrator. Luckily, most audiobook productions from major publishers collaborate with experienced narrators. Although I enjoyed all of the titles that I finished, there were a number of narrators that stood out: Neil Gaiman (most of his own work), Jesse Bernstein (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Rupert Degas (The Wind-up Bird Chronicle) and Adjoah Andoh (The Power). The sound of their voices and their narration style got me hooked right from the first minutes. What also fascinates me about them and other professional narrators is with how much ease they can switch between male and female characters and impersonate different dialects. But even if you don’t feel an immediate connection to the narrator’s voice, it might be worth continuing with the audiobook. I had this experience with Khaled Hosseini narrating his novel The Kite Runner: By the time I had finished the audiobook, his voice and the way of pronouncing local names and places made perfect sense, but it took me a while to get used to it in the beginning.
It’s worth revisiting childhood classics.
Childhood classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Winnie-the-Pooh make for a perfect audible delight in between longer titles or if you are short on time. Most of them only last a few hours and, as a prime genre to be performed for an audience, benefit from great narrators (in this case Jim Dale and Peter Dennis). Being only familiar with movie adaptations and other manifestations based on the original works, I greatly enjoyed listening to them for the first time.
It is okay not to finish an audiobook.
What is true for print books, can certainly also be applied to audiobooks: There is no shame in not finishing an audiobook, if you are not enjoying it for whatever reason. The narrator’s voice is not working for you? The book is not living up to your expectations? There are plenty of other titles still waiting for you, so just move on.
If you are frequently consuming podcasts, try getting started with audiobooks.
Before my audiobook experiment, I was frequently listening to podcasts, specifically in long form with up to three hours per episode. I believe this made the transition to audiobooks quite easy, because I was already used to immerse myself into the spoken word over a longer time. If you don’t want to get right into a 10+ hour novel, a good starting point for audiobooks could be popular nonfiction titles. Not only do they tend to be shorter than fiction, their style and content might fall closer to many podcasts that are usually nonfiction. The only title I listened to in that category was a quick, but entertaining 3-hour production of The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking.
If you can’t make time for reading books, audiobooks might be the solution.
Having a one year old toddler at home at the time, another reason for me to turn to audiobooks was that I simply couldn’t make time anymore to read print books. Audiobooks gave me the opportunity to satisfy my reading cravings and, in fact, to explore many more titles than I had been able to read before in the same time. Of course, it is also a matter of priorities: I don’t spend much time anymore listening to podcasts or new album releases when I am in the car. But the enriching experience and joy of listening to the mentioned titles and narrators makes it worth all the while.
Libby is a great (free) tool for accessing audiobooks.
One of the biggest motivators for me to give audiobooks a try was the fact that I have access to hundreds of them for free through my local library and I don’t have to use any fee-based platforms. This gave me the chance to freely explore different authors and to move on with other titles in case I didn’t enjoy a particular one. I have accessed all of the audiobooks mentioned in this post through the Libby app from OverDrive which is used by many public libraries around the world. Setting up the app is very easy and the User Interface encourages you to browse through the available collection. You can change the preferences to exclude ebooks and only display audiobook content. Offline access, bookmarks, adjustable play speed, 15 second fast forward/rewind and a number of other functions all add to the ease-of-use of the app. Therefore, if you would like to get started with audiobooks, first get in touch with your local public library to see if they have access to OverDrive or similar platforms.