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Books For Your Ears (and My Love For Them)

October 22, 2010
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I’ve listened to 25 audiobooks so far this year. I just checked. Frankly, I’m a bit blown away by that number.

What prompted me to look at my list was a post by Melanie at Reclusive Bibliophile, who just finished her first audiobook and is looking for suggestions for what to pick up next. As I scanned my LibraryThing collections for recommendations I could pass along, I found myself thinking about the first audiobook I finished and the impact it had on me.

I only started listening to audiobooks in 2009. Before then, I didn’t really “get” them. I’d heard bits and pieces of various productions, all of which I hated. They came across as phony, overdramatic, and sometimes even painful to listen to. I didn’t understand that, just as there are good writers and not-so-good writers, there good audiobook readers and their not-so-good counterparts.

At Book Expo America in 2009, I had the pleasure of meeting Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris, the readers for Muriel Barbery’s bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I picked up a signed copy of the audiobook, figuring I could always give it away if I hated it.

But oh. I did not hate it. I loved it.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog Audiobook with my Shuffle

I listened to The Elegance of the Hedgehog almost nonstop one weekend, driving a total of 6 hours to and from Boston to visit a friend. I was enthralled. I could not wait to get back in my car and start driving again. The way the readers breathed life into their respective characters was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I was hooked.

After finishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog, I began seeking out other well-done audiobooks. Initially I always borrowed them from the library, as my early experiences with audiobooks had taught me to try each one before committing. Now that Audible.com offers free online samples, feeding my semi-addiction has gotten much easier. I always have an audiobook loaded up on my iPod shuffle. When I cook, clean, knit, walk, even drive, I’m always listening to an audiobook. (Though, um, not with headphones while driving.)

Personally, I’ve found I prefer audiobooks told by rather than about the characters. Pair a first-person narrative with an outstanding reader and it’s like having someone telling you her story. I’ve tried fancy productions like the Harry Potter audiobooks, but they’ve never done anything for me. I prefer the intimacy of having one or two characters talk to me. Any memoir or first-person fiction is fair game.

Over the next few Fridays, I’ll be featuring some of my favorite audiobooks by group: fiction, classics, nonfiction, and young adult. These are all productions I’d recommend to anyone, whether you are new to audiobooks or have been listening much longer than I have.

Of course, I’ll be asking for your recommendations on future posts. But for now, I’m curious: Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, are there certain genres or styles you prefer as audiobooks over others? If not, are you interested in trying them?

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12 Comments
  1. October 22, 2010 8:45 am

    I’ve only barely started listening to audiobooks these last few months, and I think every single one I’ve listened to has been third person. The only one I tried to listen to that was in first person had a really annoying narrator (not reader – the narrator herself), which I’d heard from many people reading instead of listening to the book too, so I gave it up. I can’t justify buying audiobooks – they’re just too expensive – so I’m gradually trying to figure out what I’d like to listen to from the library. I feel antsy because for the first time since August, I’ve spent the last two weeks without an audiobook because I just don’t know what to get next!

    I’ll bet The Elegance of the Hedgehog was far better in audio than in the book itself. I did like the book, but it took me forever to read…

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 9:08 am

      Audiobooks are really expensive, especially compared to their paper-and-ink counterparts. I still primarily utilize the library, though now I can sort of screen productions before I even request them, which is nice. I will have some suggestions for you next week! For Halloween, though, I’d have to say The Gates by John Connolly would be really fun. Narrated by an awesome British guy, it’s the story of a young boy who must save the world from an influx of demons. Very funny.

      I never would have made it through The Elegance of the Hedgehog in printed form. I’ve found that, sometimes, a book is drastically easier for me to either read or listen to. In that way, listening to audiobooks has broadened my reading horizons.

  2. October 22, 2010 8:57 am

    I love audiobooks when they are done well. Sometimes the reader just isn’t right. I loved all of the Harry Potter audiobooks (Jim Dale is amazing), Girl in Translation, Identical, Graceling (though at times this one didn’t work – full cast recordings can be hard at times), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Life of Pi (though I didn’t like the narrator’s fake Indian accent), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Ruby Dee!), Peace Locomotion, etc. I also love listening to Agatha Christie mysteries on audiobook – especially while I’m gardening for some reason.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 9:30 am

      Ooh, I have Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close! And Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite classics in print form, so I will absolutely look into the audio version. For some reason I can totally see Agatha Christie and gardening together! Something about the quaint, British-ness of both, I think. I’m loving the mental image! :-)

  3. October 22, 2010 11:50 am

    I love a good audiobook. I recently forced myself to listen to one where I really didn’t like the narrator at all. It was painful. But, I think it gave me an appreciation for narrators who are excellent. (I’m sure he wouldn’t be too bad for a different book, just not that book.) I still think my favorites are Harry Potter and the full cast audio (with singing) of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. But, I’ve not listened to that many, so I’ve plenty more to discover.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 11:40 pm

      Isn’t it amazing how some narrator-book pairs really work and others…well…don’t? I should give Harry Potter another shot. It’s extremely well done, but just not my kind of audiobook!

  4. October 22, 2010 2:09 pm

    I too never really “got” audiobooks. (Probably because the few I tried were not well done or had amateur narrators that switched each chapter.)

    But since I’ve been book blogging, I’ve come across so many devoted audiobook listeners that I felt I had to try again … this time with a “professional” audiobook. Like you said, it makes all the difference, and I’m enjoying the experience much more. I’ve found that I will even go on my walks (gasp!!) in order to listen.

    I look forward to seeing what audiobooks you’ve enjoyed the most as it is now information I will actually do something with.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 11:41 pm

      I tried a few free online productions through sites like LibriVox that just did not work. The reader makes such a difference! I’m happy you’ve been able to rediscover audiobooks. They get me out of the house too!

  5. October 22, 2010 2:12 pm

    I’m so glad you followed up on this because now I have lots more recommendations. I also realized this morning (because sometimes I’m a little slow) that now that I work at a large university, I can interlibrary loan audiobooks and pick them up when I’m at work. Not sure how much I will do this–I prefer downloading to my iPod–but it’s worth looking into!

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 11:42 pm

      I’m happy I came across your post! It really got me thinking. I’m happy you’re discovering audiobooks! I find audiobooks on CD are really good in the car, whereas I’d rather have them on my iPod if I’m at home or out and about.

  6. October 22, 2010 7:07 pm

    I would love to delve into audiobooks. With all the time I spend on the road or puttering around, I’d get so much more reading done! I have difficulty concentrating on them though. I seem to need the visual stimulation of print. I think it’s probably just one of those things you need a little time to adapt to, though. When I worked for Talking Books for the Blind, we had patrons who listened to audiobooks for the first time after losing their sight. It took them a while to get into them, but eventually they fell in love with them.

    • Erin permalink*
      October 22, 2010 11:44 pm

      Sometimes I have that problem too. I have to find an audiobook that really grabs my attention. I do find it gets easier to follow them as you listen to more. Talking Books for the Blind is such a wonderful use for audiobooks!

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