Audiobooks. They exist. And I like them.

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.

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8 thoughts on “Audiobooks. They exist. And I like them.

  1. I’m pretty sure the only audiobooks I ever listened to were the Telestory books I used to get from the library (they came in a plastic bag with a handle and contained a book and a cassette tape) and “Jurassic Park”. So yeah, “The Little Mermaid”, “Jurassic Park” and I also have a vague memory of a book with a bear on it. Paddington Bear perhaps?

    Also, will all of you stop supporting B&N when they crush my soul every day!?! I love you, but buy from Amazon, I hear they treat their employees a lot better. Pwease?

    I’ve heard good things about “His Dark Materials” narrated by Phillip Pullman. Can’t speak from experience though.

    • I’m sorry, it’s just so damn convenient!! But as I’ve said, I’ve basically exhausted their supply of worth-listening-to audiobooks, so I’ll definitely be looking at Amazon (or Audible.com!) from now on.

      Isn’t B&N dead yet? What’s their financial situation? Someone should research and do a post on this… (possibly me…)

      Phillip Pullman narrating!! Def. gonna get that.

      • Well in the past year we’ve been sold once already and last I heard we’re for sale again to some media company. Just from personal experience, all 7 of the stores in our area are in the red and the budget was cut by about $140,000 since April 2010). Every store I go in is always severely understaffed too, not just my store. So I’d say not much hope, although they’re always full of people, just less people than in pre-Amazon days.

        P.S. Jameson says: cuo9000006555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555555√≥£££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££∆˚ t

  2. So glad to hear you’re getting into audiobooks! I’m a big fan of the medium and don’t think I’ve actually read a print book in about two years (but I’ve listened to dozens of audiobooks). A title I recently heard was The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. It’s a kids book, but the story is about an alien and a young girl (11 yrs old?) traveling across the US to find the girl’s mother. The narrator, Bahni Turpin, makes this audio come alive! I got this at my library, so don’t know the best source for purchase. Audible.com has downloadable titles that are less expensive than the hard copiesat B&N or Amazon. Like you, I often asked myself what I should listen to next. Because reviews of audiobooks are scattered all over the web, I created a site to gather reviews called Audiobook Jukebox. So far, there are links to about 3,000 reviews in various genres. You can also leave a link to any reviews you do and I hope you’ll begin reviewing audiobooks, now that you’re a convert!

    • Thanks for the comment! I’ll definitely look into Audible.com–good tip! And your site is awesome! I’ll let you know when I write any proper audiobook reviews, which is sure to be soon at this rate. =)

      It’s very interesting to me that you haven’t “read” a book in that long! Is there a reason you made the switch, or did you just find you liked it better? I don’t know that I could give up traditional reading completely, but I’m happy to be diving in to the new medium!

  3. I listen to about 2-3 audiobooks week, mostly scifi with some fantasy and thrillers as well. First recommendation would be, if you like Urban Fantasy, the Dresden Files read by James Marsters. Also, I recently listened to and reviewed The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman. Both were excellent.

    You shoulds head over to Devourer of Books blog and check out some of the audiobook week posts from June. A lot of audiobook reviewers took part and you can find some good reviews and other info. http://www.devourerofbooks.com/tag/audiobook-week-2011/

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