Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Celebrating Audiobooks

It's Audiobook Week and Jen at Devourer of Books is leading the celebration! A different topic is up for discussion each day, along with prizes and links to lots of reviews.  After a long weekend away, I'm playing catch-up today.


About ten years ago, we undertook a major home renovation project - remodel the kitchen and bathrooms, and add a family room.  Our plan was to move in with my parents for the summer and allow the contractors to storm the place to complete the work by Labor Day.

The sad reality:  Due to major structural issues, we basically ended up building a new house.  I found myself (along with a husband, 3 kids, and the dog) living two towns away with Mom and Dad for 11 months, overseeing the project, doing endless amounts of shopping for everything from doorknobs to roofing materials, and driving the kids to and from school, activities, sports practices and games. I literally spent the year in my car!

My sister, who had recently listened to an audiobook on a long drive, suggested I give them a try. I began with a book on tape from the library - Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg.  It was read by the author, with her inimitable southern accent, and I was hooked! The library was my main source of audiobooks for another year, then I discovered  I've been a member since 2003 and now have 150 audiobooks in my 'library'.  Audible is the best!  As a member,  I purchase credits each year at a discounted price, have access to free programming, and can sample any book before buying. They also have periodic specials and other great features on their website.

Although much less time is spent in the car these days, I still 'read' most of my audiobooks while driving.  Listening has allowed me to fit many more books into my life!  At first, it was work to pay attention, but my listening skills  improved quickly. Now I listen to everything- fiction and nonfiction, from classics to humor.  I love them!  If you haven't given audiobooks a try, what are you waiting for?


Reviewing audiobooks is tricky, there's no doubt about it.  I generally start with a picture of the cover and the title, author, narrator, publisher, and length (in hours and minutes) next to it.  A very brief plot outline follows, then my comments with a few lines specifically geared toward the quality of the audio production.

I love using favorite passages in a book review, but that's not always possible with an audiobook.  Even spelling names of places and characters can present a challenge. Sometimes I get a hard copy from the library, but with popular new books that's not always possible.

There is a small notebook and pen in the car to jot down my thoughts... I try really hard not to write while driving!  My audio reviews are generally shorter than reviews of hard copies.


Audiobook are you currently reading:  The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper - a memoir of her childhood in Liberia

Impressions?: Very good. It's read by the author and took some time to get used to her rather flat delivery, but I love hearing her 'Liberian' English.

How long you’ve been listening to audiobooks: Nearly ten years

First audiobook you ever listened to: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg

Favorite audiobook title: If I have to choose just one, it would be The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

Favorite narrator: There are several, but Cassandra Campbell is the only one the comes to mind right now.

How do you choose what to listen to versus read?  In the past, I usually chose lighter, contemporary fiction. As my listening skills improved,  I began to choose nonfiction, mystery, memoirs, and even classics. When memoirs are read by the author (Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example) another dimension is added. Humor is great in the audio format. If you have any desire to read David Sedaris, take my advice and try the audio (he narrates his owns books). Sometimes a classic that I haven't been able to concentrate on in the past really captures my attention on audio. I loved Great Expectations read by Frank Muller.  Now, I listen to whatever happens to catch my attention.


  1. You are right, listening skills do improve as you listen to more audios. It is like a muscle I guess, and gets better with every disc. (I am horrified that you had to live far away from your home and go through construction for almost a year! Ack!)

  2. That's a crazy way to be introduced to audiobooks...sorry about that madness!! I think The Help would be a good one for audio thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Sorry about your building woes -- but the good news is that it made you an audiobook addict!

  4. Perhaps we've already had this conversation ... have you read Rachel Simon's "The House on Teacher's Lane"? (That's the paperback title; in hardback it's called "Building a House with My Husband.") I'm thinking you might be able to relate to her story, given your renovation craziness. :)

    That said, that's good that such a crazy (and stressful) experience wound up introducing you to audiobooks!

  5. Wow, you get major bonus points for being away for the weekend and then coming back and catching up on ALL of the discussion topics. Thanks so much for participating!

  6. I enjoyed reading this story of how you got started with audiobooks. Thanks for the tips on writing audiobook reviews. For me, the best audiobooks are the ones read by the authors. Or, at least the ones I've listened to so far.

  7. I must be one of the last ones to read/listen to The Help. It has shown up on quite a few favorite lists.

  8. Only read a couple of audio books but enjoyed the process, I can knit/crochet at the same time so It is good.

  9. Sandy - I was surprised at how much effort the first couple of audios required, but after I got used to them it was a breeze.

    Staci - If you haven't read The Help yet, I'd recommend listening over reading.

    Beth F - Besides a new house, the love of audiobooks was one of the best things to come out of that year!

    Melissa - Yes, I put that on my list after you mentioned it. I'm sure I could relate! Didn't realize it belongs on my AUDIO list though. Strange that the paperback has a different title...

    Jen - You've got some great topics set up, just couldn't skip them ;-)

    Margot - That was definitely a challenging year, but it was wonderful for my girls to spend that time with their grandparents. Now that I'm a few years removed from the upheaval, even I can look back on it fondly. I really like it when authors read their own work, too.

    Nise' - You should definitely listen to The Help. I can't recommend it highly enough!

    Zetor - Knitting or crocheting would be perfect with an audiobook!

  10. You are the second meme to mention The Help - I read it in print and wonder if the voices in my head would "match" the narration on audio. She wrot eith such great dialect - I felt she really captured the women's voices. Here's my meme.

  11. Sounds like a renovating nightmare! But I'm glad everyone survived OK. And good for you with the audiobooks, it's great that you were able to put all that commuting time to good use.

    Probably my favorite audiobook in the world is Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. It's narrated by Lenny Henry and it's absolutely brilliant. He elevates a fantastic book to a whole new level with his narration. It's fantasy but most of it is set in our world. It's one of my favorite books of all time.

    I also recommend classics on audio. I think it helps me slow down and appreciate the great writing. I usually have a hard copy as well, otherwise I'd sit in the driveway waiting for the end of a chapter.

  12. Just Mom - It would be worth rereading The Help just to experience the audio version - it was so well done! I'm curious to see what Stockett's next book will be about.

    Karenlibrarian - I've never read Neil Gaiman, but have heard his books are wonderful on audio... will look into Anansi Boys. Classics are my most recent audiobook discovery. I loved Ruby Dee reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and enjoyed Frank Muller's narration of Great Expectations, too.

  13. I'm a total newbie to audiobooks and don't know whether I like them or not. Beth Fish's and your post have convinced me to try them. Since Beth suggested to start with something you know and like, I think I'll start with Emma. That should be do-able. Thanks for the encouragement


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