Podcasts were my gateway drug into audio books. Some time around 2007, I started listening to more books than I read. Some of my first audio books were Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, beautifully read by George Guiddall. I often listened to those books while wandering around the Maltese countryside, so that place and those stories are inextricably linked in my memory.
I’m a big audio book booster. Like podcasts, they make exercise–walking, running, hiking, cycling–slightly less loathsome for me. I find myself advocating audio books to lots of friends and colleagues, but I seem to generate few converts. Is it the technical hurdle of downloading them to a mobile device? Or is it their ‘books on tape’ reputation, that they’re only suitable for senior citizens with poor eyesight?
I suspect that they’re not as well-understood as they could be. Here, in point form, is an introduction to audio books:
- I’ve also used Audible. I like their subscription model, and in earlier days they definitely had the best selection (I haven’t done a comparison recently). They also sponsor a number of my favourite podcasts, and I want to reward that. My wife and I are the platinum plan at the moment, which means two credits per month for $23. In my experience, nearly all books are one credit per book. The credits roll over up to a certain number. You can, however, put your account ‘on hold’ for a while, which means you stop paying but you retain your credits. I’ve done this a couple of times, and it’s a handy feature.
- You’ll consume books at a slower rate because you have to listen to every word–speed readers need not apply. Books range from five hours (for The Great Gatsby) up to 40 or 50 hours (for a really long Stephen King book or the latest Game of Thrones novel). I’d say most are in the eight to 15 hour range. Because there’s no way to skim, I find florid writers a little intolerable. I have a love-hate relationship with George R. R. Martin because he cannot resist describing every pigeon pie and quilted violet doublet in excruciating detail.
- I prefer fiction for listening, though well-written non-fiction–Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis, for example–works too. I find that the average business book becomes laborious to listen to. They’re often written lazily, and so they demand too much of my focus to maintain a consistent sense of the text.
- Narrators matter more than you’d think. I never really pick a book based on the narrator, but it’s always nice if I recognize them. I sometimes experience a weird cognitive dissonance when I hear a familiar narrator in a new context. I grew familiar with Scott Brick, for example, while listening to him narrate Justin Cronin’s books. I’m currently listening to the excellent Devil in the White City, and he narrates that one as well. I find myself constantly expecting vampires to climb out of the foundations of the Chicago World’ Fair.
If you dig podcasts, then consider trying an audio book. They’re the same as books, except you insert them through your earholes.