I am a late adopter of all things technological. I am not saying I am opposed to it; it’s more like I’m not exposed to it. So when Dr. Marianne Cooper, Professor Emeritus of Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, insisted that listening to audiobooks is considered “reading”, I insisted otherwise. I refused to believe that listening to a book was more than a shortcut taken by those either unable or unwilling to read an ACTUAL book. Despite this, an online search revealed that while some believe listening to a book is cheating, the brain processes audiobooks and text similarly. Good to know! So, for the purpose of this blog posting, I decided it is time for my brain to give audiobooks a chance, and to recount my experience with them to you.
The audiobook “craze” started over ten years ago, and although I’m late to the party, it’s better late than never. The positive side of being tardy is that technology has advanced to now allow audiobooks to be delivered directly to me electronically, in the form of e-audiobooks. They are sold by several vendors (for example, Audible, Downpour, Simply Audiobooks, Playster, Kobo, and Audiobooks.com, to name a few), and are available from some sources for free (Project Gutenberg, Free Clasic Audio Books.com, Loyal Books, LibriVox, Lit 2Go). I decided to avail myself of the free offerings provided by the New York Public Library. This would allow me access to current popular books, read by current popular people. No public domain rubbish for me! To use NYPL’s audiobooks I first needed to download the Overdrive app (very easy), and then I began to hunt for selections.
When I say hunt, I mean hunt. Audiobooks are popular, more popular than I had imagined. Clicking on a title reveals the number of copies owned (too few), and the number of people waiting to use it (too many). Consequently, it seemed as if all the books in which I was interested were unavailable for immediate listening. To get my feet wet, I decided I would listen to whatever I could access without placing a hold. I opted to listen to a non-fiction title.
I settled on a self-improvement book, How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb. I thought it would be a fun listen, but I was wrong. Although read by the author with her fine English accent, the book’s subject matter, neuroscience, did not lend itself to easy listening. This type of book demands to be read slowly, possibly while contemporaneously taking notes. Even though Overdrive allows for regulation of the audio’s speed, and bookmarking pertinent parts for later review, this was not feasible for me. Audiobooks are typically used by multitaskers, and I was listening to this book while cooking. How could I take notes using a touch screen while elbow deep in a chicken carcass? It would be completely unhygienic. Since I could not retain any of the information I was being read, I stopped listening to this book.
I enjoy memoirs, so I next tried Eve O. Schaub’s Year of No Clutter. This author is an amusing writer, who previously wrote a book entitled Year of No Sugar. (I notice a theme here. Eve is a quitter.) Eve is also a good reader, and I was able to listen to her easily, up to a point. Eventually she described an upstairs catch- all room dubbed the “hell room”, which harbored the flotsam and jetsam of family life. I anticipated this; after all, the book is about clutter. I think it quite orderly, almost downright tidy, that she confines her clutter to just ONE designated space. I see nothing wrong with Eve keeping her child’s art projects, (isn’t it a maternal mandate?), but I draw the line at her keeping a shoe box containing a dead mouse. This particular mouse figured prominently in a short story she published, but I wouldn’t care if it were Mickey Mouse himself, a mummified rodent is a creepy keepsake. I was done listening to this book.
I finally got through the entirety of The One Cent Magenta by James Barron, a book that traced the provenance of the world’s rarest stamp. This book was not read by the author, and instead narrated by Jonathan Yen. As a voice actor, this reader performed the book like a stage play from the Golden Age of Radio. The narration included dialects, sound effects, and musical introductions. I was impressed by the production value of this audio book, and overall, I thought the listening experience approached pleasant. Nevertheless, something was still missing. I was not wowed by the book; perhaps it could only be appreciated by a philatelist. (That’s a stamp lover. Get your mind out of the gutter!) Not being one of them, I didn’t feel the magic.
“What’s the deal with audiobooks?” I complained to my sister. “I don’t get the appeal.”
“What are you listening to?” she asked.
“A book about a postage stamp.”
“Well, that explains it,” she said. “Why don’t you listen to a book YOU would ACTUALLY read?”
What a novel concept! And with that great suggestion, I thought I should listen to a novel. (Gee, why hadn’t I thought of that?)
You may ask, “So what does a librarian read, anyway?” I can’t speak for others, and in fact, I’d prefer not even to speak for myself. I’ve always been reluctant to disclose my reading preferences; feeling like the book police would arrive to arrest me for my unfortunate choices. But since we’re friends, I will tell you. I know you won’t judge me (and you are sworn to secrecy!) I am a fan of tacky celebrity tell-alls, and trashy thrillers. I next sought out one of my favorite authors, Nelson DeMille, who crafts suspenseful tales about hunky protagonists. One of his recurrent characters, New York City policeman John Corey, appears in a number of his novels. Corey is featured in The Panther, where he encounters and ultimately dispatches” a terrorist from the Middle East. I listened to that, followed by Radiant Angel, where Corey encounters and eradicates a terrorist from Russia. These books were great ear candy. They were both read by Scott Brick, who has as good a time reading them as I had listening. It was not at all difficult to devote ten plus hours to the listening of one of these books.
This positive experience inspired a listening frenzy. I finished the excellent Furiously Happy : A Funny Book About Horrible Things. In it, blogger Jenny Lawson read her memoir about coping with depression and anxiety. Along the same lines, I listened to author and narrator Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic, and The Princess Diarist. They were each excellent and amusing, and in light of her death, her bittersweet legacy to us all.
I completed the Swedish thriller, The Ice Beneath Her, by Camilla Grebe. Featuring three main characters, it was read by three different narrators, which I thought was a nice touch. This was a particularly good choice for me because I never would have been able to pronounce the Swedish location names, so hearing them was a great assist. I listened to the crime novel Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina just to hear the Scottish brogue. While it was easy on the ears, I followed it with Ian Rankin’s Scottish crime novel Even Dogs in the Wild, for which I could have benefited from subtitles. (I had to stop because I could not understand the reader’s accent. Imagine what the baby of Craig Ferguson and Sean Connery would sound like.)
Even though my audiobook experience was inconsistent (as some books I liked, and some I did not) such would apply to print books as well. I can appreciate the value of audiobooks, particularly when I want to listen to something less repetitive than news radio, and more academic than a podcast. So what’s my ultimate verdict on audiobooks? Recently I placed a hold on the bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. When it became available, I realized I had requested a print eBook in error. I thought, “Are you kidding me? How can I possibly read with MY EYES?” I tossed it back.
Contributed by Carol Schapiro, Librarian @ Midtown Campus