My Love Affair with Audiobooks
I’m just going to jump right in here and share my unabashed love for audiobooks. I am an adult, and I get to be read to! I can knit while I’m being read to. I can sew while I’m being read to. I can drive while I’m being read to. I can work out while I’m being read to. It makes me giddy with delight. And I usually have several books going at once-one in the car and several others in different rooms in the house.
I don’t remember being read to much when I was young, although I was an early reader and I always enjoyed a good book. What I do remember though was Miss Castellucio, my sixth grade teacher, reading novels to our class every day after lunch and recess. I would put my head down on the desk and lose myself in the stories. Those stories were often the highlight of my day. Once I got into junior high the reading pretty much stopped, and I didn’t reengage with reading aloud until my own children were born.
I always read to my kids and I can say that I found as much delight in the picture books, chapter books and novels that we read as they did. Anne was an early reader like me and she pretty much read to herself from a young age even as she went to sleep to books being read aloud on the cassette player. My boys were later readers which just meant I had more years to enjoy reading aloud to them. We didn’t fully stop that bedtime routine until we ran out of Harry Potter books.
Audiobooks made an appearance in our family after we maxed out on kid music and broadway show music for the car. “Cheaper by the Dozen”, “The Great Brain” series and “Redwall” are still widely quoted in our family. And I remember vividly sitting in the car and sobbing (my embarrassed children nowhere to be seen) at the end of “Where the Red Fern Grows”.
I first started listening to adult books in the car when I lived in Phoenix, although I can’t remember what made me pick one up in the first place. I know that I missed the variety of talk radio that had been available in New Jersey and I never could get into NPR. Whatever they were talking about, it wasn’t what I was interested in. I remember some early selections- an Anna Quindlen novel, Harlan Coben mysteries, and John Grisham books when I could get my hands on them. But then I listened to this:
And I was hooked. This was pure audiobook magic. A thrilling read combined with a gifted reader. In a class by itself.
Until recently, I got all of my audiobooks from the public library and I was pretty much at the mercy of what was in circulation and actually available. Consequently, I listened to all kinds of things- trade fiction, historical fiction, romance novels, thrillers and plenty of non-fiction (Joan Didion’s two memoirs were beautiful and she read them herself). I discovered that in the hands of a good reader a mediocre book could be elevated to something memorable, and a novel poorly read or edited could detract from an otherwise promising story.
In addition there are many books that I listened to and loved that I simply did not enjoy reading myself. Two examples of these were “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese, and “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabel Allende. These novels in book form felt too dense and historically detailed and I just couldn’t get into them. It’s amazing how the details I would have skimmed over in the novel didn’t bother me in the least when I was listening.
When I recommend a book that I have listened to rather than read I always state that it was a “good listen” rather than a “good read” because audiobooks and regular books are really very different animals, and engaging with one or the other provides a very different experience. Listening for me is a much more leisurely ride, and it took me a while to get used to the readers not reading at my usual break-neck speed. Characters that I hang around with sometimes for weeks remain with me for a long time after the audiobook is over. And that brings me to this special shout-out:
I finished listening to “Shantaram” close to three years ago and I still feel a swell of emotion writing about it. I listened to this book, all 35 CDs in fits and starts over the course of a full year. I was transitioning to a new life post-divorce and driving back and forth between Scottsdale and Tucson. This book was a constant companion. It was read by the author, an Australian ex-convict who escaped from prison and started a new life in India. It was an autobiographical novel that moved me in so many ways. It was gritty and poignant and I will never forget it.
If you haven’t tried audiobooks I recommend you give them a try. If you’re a seasoned listener I’d love for you to share some of your favorites.