Friday, June 27, 2014

On Audiobooks

My first experience with audiobooks was listening to the Harry Potter series, narrated by the incomparable Jim Dale. A few of my friends in high school owned these and we'd listen to them while we did our Calculus homework or on road trips or simply while sitting around. One friend even brought them to me during a stay in the hospital. The Harry Potter books had always been important to my group of friends, and these were an extension of the series.

Beyond listening to Mr. Dale's  fabulous voicework, I didn't have much interest in audiobooks. They almost seemed like cheating to me, like an easier way to read a book. Once I started working in a library, however, I decided to give audiobooks another shot. I checked out Emma by Jane Austen and listened to it every day on my way to and from work. I'd barely made it through a third of the book by the time it was due back. So I quit, thinking I would NEVER have enough listening time for audiobooks.

Then, in March of this year, I got into a car accident. I rear-ended a gigantic Two Guys and a Truck moving truck. I'd had a few anxiety-ridden months during which playing games and checking things on my phone acted as a form of therapy in keeping my brain distracted. The accident was completely my fault, as I shamefully admit that I was looking at my phone when I hit the truck. My car wasn't quite totalled, but it was VERY banged up and cost a lot of money to fix. I knew I needed to make a change. I needed something to occupy my brain while I was driving, but not something that required looking foolishly away from the road. So I decided to give audiobooks another try.

I was very picky when selecting my first audiobook: I wanted something short enough that I would actually be able to listen to the whole thing, but not a book that had been abridged; I wanted something that was already on my "to read" list, but not something so new that I wouldn't be able to interloan it from the library. I landed on Vampires in the Lemon Grove, a 2013 collection of short stories by Karen Russell. This ended up being an interesting first listening experience because each story had a different narrator. I was incredibly impressed; each narrator fit their respective story perfectly. I was completely taken by the whole experience. It took me a little less than two weeks to finish Vampires in the Lemon Grove and I made sure I had another audiobook lined up as soon as I was done.

Since my accident, I've listened to 8 audiobooks and I definitely no longer think that it's cheating. I spend just as much time listening to an audiobook as I would reading the physical book. I've also taking up a dual-reading method: if I'm really into an audiobook, I'll grab the physical copy too. That way I can listen in the car and read when I'm anywhere else. I also make it a point to rewind a bit if I feel like I didn't completely catch a section of the audiobook (I do the same thing with physical books. I'm constantly rereading if I think I skimmed something). The work is there, the time is there, and the book is there. Sometimes, I even feel like I get a richer experience from the audiobook. When I listened to Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, the story left something to be desired, but the narrator, Bianca Amato, was absolutely amazing. Her accents, her voices, and her tone were all perfect. It made listening to a "meh" book much more rewarding. In several senses, my accident was a wake up call. Not only am I a safer drive, but I now have an amazing new way to "read" books. I look forward to discovering many more fantastic "listens" in the years to come.