Prior to these past few weeks, I had listened to a total of two audiobooks in my life, and one of them wasn’t even really an audiobook.
One was a fully-casted version of The Lord of the Rings, which came on multiple cassettes (yes, cassettes–I believe it’s from when the vernacular was still “books on tape”) and the other was the BBC radio production of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a version which actually precedes it becoming a novel anyway…
(Although saying that the radio production is NOT an audiobook is a confusing matter as the “tertiary” “quandary” and “quintessential” phases of the radio show, produced much later than the original phases, are based almost directly on the third, fourth, and fifth books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy. But there’s no need to get into all of that.)
What I’m getting at is, I don’t have much experience “listening” to books.*
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned enough times on here before, I spend a LOT of time in the car these days. One day I started listening to Hitchhiker’s, which my usual fallback for getting me out of my own head in situations like long drives. And suddenly that drive got much, much shorter, or at least it seemed to. Because instead of staring blankly at the car in front of me or flashing road lines, I was laughing. I actually found myself somewhat disappointed when the drive ended because I wanted to keep listening.
When I finished the series, it was with a resounding mental, “DUH!” that I ran into Barnes and Noble and picked up my second actual audiobook: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, narrated by Jim Dale (or as I think of him, the Pushing Daisies Guy).
Listening to Sorcerer’s Stone turned out to be an entirely different experience from listening to Hitchhiker’s. I know everyone experiences reading differently, but for me, it tends to be very engrossing. I mean, I “see” and “hear” things happening and, unless I am drawn out by some super awkward or super awesome wording (it can go either way), I forget that I’m looking at words on a page. Which is fine, because usually when you’re reading you are sitting still somewhere, and it’s okay if your mind temporarily vacates the premises.
It is perhaps slightly less okay for your mind to vacate the premises while you are pushing 80 on the highway.
Ultimately it became a matter of balance. I could feel my mind pulling off to that “reading” state every now and then, and I would just remind myself that it was okay to see Hogwarts as long as I made sure to see the road too. And I’m not sure if it’s just because I was driving, but even with Pushing Daisies Guy’s brilliant narration, I found that my imagination was never used quite as exhaustively as it is when I have a book (/Kindle) in my hands.
After finishing Sorcerer’s Stone, I headed right back to Barnes and Noble in hopes of finding Chamber of Secrets (strangely they didn’t have a copy. What, you mean everyone doesn’t want to listen to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobook??) so I decided to get whatever was cheap and something I like. I ended up purchasing World War Z, a total score at $15.
I’m actually in the middle of this one right now, and it is, again, a whole new experience. World War Z, of anything I’ve listened to so far (which is SO MUCH, I know), is probably best suited for the medium. With a few minor adjustments (i.e. replacing the word “book” with “recording”), the book becomes a series of recorded interviews with survivors of the zombie war. Max Brooks plays himself–the interviewer. And the cast is fantastic. Hearing the stories in all of the different voices brings the whole thing to life in a stunning way. I have not actually read the book, but I think this might be the best way to experience it.
An interesting side effect to listening to World War Z in the car is that I become very tense. The whole point of getting into audiobooks was to sort of distract myself. To calm myself, and to put myself into a good mood. That’s why I started off with Sorcerer’s Stone, which had exactly that effect. While driving today, I literally found myself saying, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!” repeatedly as one of the characters had an incredibly near miss with a hoard of zombies.
At my last B&N run I also picked up The Hobbit, so that’s my next project. (I’ve been honestly debating re-reading it before the movie comes out in 20-whenever. On the one hand, I would like to re-familiarize myself with the story. On the other, I am still–perhaps for no good reason–so skeptical of the film, it might be best if I remember as little as possible of what’s *supposed* to be happening.
But after that, if I’m going to avoid listening to self help books and everything by James Patterson, I need to turn to the internet for a broader selection of audiobooks. Does anyone have any suggestions for what I should do next? Or is there something besides World War Z you think would be particularly effective as an audiobook? Share your thoughts!
*When I was little, Stephanie read me Harry Potter. I’m leaving out further description because I don’t remember much about how I mentally experienced the story. I mostly just remember that we used to pronounce certain words (like “Hermione”) in all kinds of fantastic ways.
**The picture for this post was chosen because this is basically what I expect to see when I listen to WWZ in the car.