Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Makes a Good AudioBook Experience? Discussion Post

The other day I downloaded a new audiobook from my library for my ride home. I hit "play" and some music started.  Then the voice came on to tell me the title, author, narrator, etc.  With the music still playing.  "Okay," I thought, "I guess they want to get the listener into a specific mood first."

The narrator started the story.

The music kept playing.

I still held out hopes that it would fade away, but although it did get quieter, two minutes into the story, there was still background music.

I returned the audiobook to my library and drove home alternating between NPR and alternative rock on the radio.  Now I'm set up to start listening to Secondhand Time, a nonfiction oral history about the end of the Soviet era.  I suspect there will be no cutesy background music.

I've had some great success with audiobooks since I started listening to them during my commute two years ago.  At first I piggybacked onto my husband's mostly unused Audible account, but at this point, our library has such a great set-up going through Overdrive that we don't need to pay to listen to books anymore.  Audio was a new format for me, but I've been at it long enough now to have some undeniable truths strong opinions figured out.

Obviously, do not play music in the background while you read me the story.  I'm in the car, dammit, I don't need any MORE distractions from the book.  It's just annoying and unhelpful and--No. Don't.  Stop.

While they hire voice actors to read, I occasionally get a reader who sounds an awful lot like a computer instead.  I noticed it a lot in a book I tried to listen to recently, in which the author seemed to avoid all contractions.  I wouldn't have noticed if I were reading it myself (probably), but with this stiff voice, all the "She did not" and "They are late" constructions started sounding weirder and weirder.  Get expressive readers, please.  Trevor Noah narrating his own book is the gold standard, but there are tons of other good readers out there.

I find 1.25 speed to be ideal.  Regular speed makes me want to claw my eyeballs out, because it takes    so     long     to get anywhere with the story.  However, any faster and it sounds like the Chipmunks are narrating, which is just as bad.  

Oddly, I find that audiobooks works best for fairly dense nonfiction and for super light fiction.  I think the nonfiction audio gives me more time to think and absorb information than my usual reading rate does, but a few times when I've tried listening to fiction, I've gotten lost and frustrated by not being able to flip back quickly to check a detail that would clarify things.  On the other hand, I recently listened to a YA rom/com and it was smooth sailing all the way.  

When I read a book, I like to read it all in one go, or as close to that as possible,  I like closure on my stories, and I want the cohesive narrative that comes from not pausing so long that I forget what happened.  (This is also why I prefer to start series after all the books are out.) But with an audiobook, I can handle longer breaks as well as a more drawn-out reading process. 

Listening while you drive creates a phenomenon in which I now associate certain points in my commute with certain events in my books.  This field is where I was when the shooting actually started in ColumbineThat exit is where I was when the asshole noble finally got his comeuppance in Pillars of the Earth.  

Unlike many others, I don't listen to audiobooks while doing chores.  My family is too likely to interrupt me, which is super frustrating because I have to get my phone on and hit "pause" so I can listen to them without losing the storyline, at which point they've gotten the hint and end up saying, "Oh, sorry, never mind."  There may be households in which this is not an issue.  Mine is not one of them.

I am not this adorably delighted to be interrupted when listening to my Sony Walkman.

However, as I mentioned, I listen while commuting, and that is a dream.  Mornings I never mind my drive, but by evening I'm tired, traffic is worse, and I just want to get home.  Radio in the afternoon makes me headachy and cranky.  But listening to a book is a treat, and works almost as well as teleportation to get me home without stress.

What about you?  Do you listen to audiobooks?  What are your preferences around them?  Tell us!


  1. So it's funny that you mention light rom-com fiction being best, because that is the ONLY audiobook I have been able to finish! (It was First & Then by Emma Mills- she narrated.) I have tried others, but I get SO distracted. I finished the one I DID finish on a 10 hour car ride, but on my way back I couldn't concentrate on The Scorpio Races at all. I think for the most part, they're not for me, BUT I would try another fluffy book on a road trip! Great post!

  2. I do love audiobooks!! But I think the narrator can make or break it, unfortunately. I've read some where the narrator is SO irritating that it literally made me want to throw the book at the wall.😭 But like right now I'm listening to Nevernight via audio (a reread!) and ADORING the narrator and it's just making the experience perfect. I also love audiobooks for how we can multitask doing other boring stuff plus actually getting more on top of that TBR pile haha.

  3. I have come to love audiobooks over the last couple of years. For me, I do find light fiction and memoirs the easiest. I am currently listening to a thriller which is going well also. The narrator really does make or break it for me as well. Trevor Noah was amazing (I am actually drawn to any narrator with an accent....Jim Dale reading Harry Potter is amazing as well).

  4. I’ve only listened to one audiobook. There were different actors for each of the characters. The actors all did a good job, but I had a really hard time paying attention to the book. I kept getting distracted and missing things.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  5. I love audiobooks so much! I agree that they are amazing tools for de-stressing, especially after a long day. Personally I prefer fast narrators or, just like you, 1.25 speed. I get super frustrated if they are narrated by robotic voices, and I'm always a tiny bit nervous when the audio starts off and there's music. It's also happened to me that an audiobook had always some music on the bathroom. It's not cool at all and very distracting.
    I LOVE listening to audiobooks before going to sleep, inside my bed, or before taking a nap. It's just like going back in time when our parents read us bedtime stories. I do have to confess that more than once I have fallen asleep, but that's why I always take a screenshot of my progress just in case I doze off.
    I really CANNOT bring myself to listen to a book with complex world building and content that takes a while to wrap our minds around, I get lost and end up having no idea what just happened. But with romance and contemporary books, it's so easy and everything WORKS!
    Although I can listen to fantasy books if it's a re-read! Also, after listening to an audio, I end up always picturing the main character with the voice of the narrator. There's no way to change that image afterwards!

    FABULOUS post! I enjoyed chatting with you!

    1. **instead of bathroom, it should say background. I don't know if that was a mistype, google correcting me, or that my subconscious wrote it because I'm currently standing in the bathroom about to take a shower. Weird.

  6. I've been listening to SO many audiobooks lately because my library has a fantastic selection. I can listen to just about anything. In fact, I find that books that are a bit slow for me when I read them are much better when I listen!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  7. Oh I HATE when the producer plays music over voices. It's absolutely not industry standard anywhere. I learn in Radio 101 that you never, ever do that. And frankly, I hate when they play music at all. Why do I need music for six seconds before the story starts? Introduce and then start the narrative- that's it.

    OK, so I tend to gravitate toward a few audiobook producers because of that. And I definitely have favorite narrators, who I think do a beautiful job of emoting and voices. I lovedy love Michael Page, who narrates the Gentleman Bastard series. I refuse to read the books- will only listen on audiobook- because he does the voices so well I forget it's only one person narrating the story.

    I also have a bias against audiobook narrators who mispronounce things. If you don't know, ask. Then pronounce it.

    But, like you, I primarily listen on my commute to (and from) work. It really keeps me even-keel and happy as a driver. I have been known to sit in the garage after arriving home, not willing to turn it off yet. :) I find that nonfiction audiobooks are fine, but I tend to zone out to them after a time. I much prefer fiction (although I also get frustrated, not being able to flip back and reference something).


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