Thoughtful Thursday: Audio, anyone?

A few weeks ago we had a discussion about reading in different formats, and mostly we talked about ebooks vs. print, a topic we’ll cover every couple of years as technology progresses and our reading habits change.

Today I wanted to ask specifically about audiobooks. Here at FanLit we’ve got all types of readers: a couple of us read mostly in audio, a couple of us find ourselves unable to focus on audio, a couple of us have never tried one, and a couple of us have only recently tried them.

How about you? Do you read in audio? Tell us:

If not, why not? Have you ever tried audio? Why didn’t you like it?

audiobook Catherynne M. Valente The Girl Who Circumvented Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingIf so, where do you get your audiobooks? On what device do you listen to them? Do you have favorite apps, publishers, services, or narrators? Any particular SFF audiobooks to recommend?

One commenter will win a book from our stacks which contain plenty of audiobooks such as Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making which is read by Ms. Valente (Kat loved it). If you don’t want this book, we’ve got plenty more to choose from, including books in print.

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JUSTIN BLAZIER (on FanLit's staff since September 2009) is a Cyber-Security Analyst/Network Engineer located in Northern Kentucky. Like many fantasy enthusiasts, Justin cut his teeth on authors like Tolkien, Anthony, and Lewis. Due to lack of space, his small public library would often give him their donated SFF books. When he is not reading books he is likely playing board games or Tabletop RPGs. Justin lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, their daughter, and Norman the dog.

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  1. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, as Kat knows. :) I find that I can always be doing something I want to be doing whether I’m in the car or waiting in line at the grocery store. Zero wasted time.

    I don’t really have any preferred narrators, although the Wheel of Time readers are amazing – Kate Reading and Michael Kramer.

    Audiobooks I’d highly recommend: Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover (has lightsaber sounds, music, and great novelization) and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (especially if you had a difficult time getting into the paper version)

  2. I’m the unable-to-concentrate person! :) I find that my mind wanders a lot more when I read in audio, so it takes me a while to read an audiobook and I also prefer to have a print or electronic copy on hand as a “backup.” (so that if I find myself confused, I can reread the section in print and see if I failed to absorb something.)

    It fits pretty well with my overall tendencies, actually. I’m a very visual learner and auditory input is a lot more likely to go in one ear and out the other.

    But some of the audiobook readers are so fantastic that it really adds something to the story! From the small sampling I’ve tried, I’m fond of Xe Sands, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Luke Daniels.

  3. Stefan Yates /

    I’m not a big fan of Audio Books for my own purposes. To me, one of the joys of reading is actually having the book in hand and setting down to enjoy it. To me, listening to a book is not actually reading it. Listening is more like watching a television program where all of the nuances and emotion is interpreted for me instead of leaving it for me to decide how a character is speaking or feeling in my own mind.

    Also, audio seems to me to be a medium for those for whom reading is not something that they want to set aside time to actually do (except in cases where physical limitations make the actual reading of a book nearly impossible.) If I ever get to the point where reading is such a chore that I’d rather listen to a book than read it, I might as well find another hobby.

  4. I live in a big city, and take the subway a lot. Audio books are the perfect way to commute–when I transfer or head to the station, I can still listen to my story. I also like audio books for when I am cooking–I can chop, fry, and boil whilst listening.

    As far as a recommendation, the narrator of Perdido Street Station is pretty amazing.

  5. Rebekah /

    In general I prefer reading a real (or e-) book. In certain circumstances, however,I love audiobooks: road trips, when I can’t sleep at night (my husband usually falls asleep much more quickly than I do), while riding in planes, trains, and automobiles (I get motion sick so can’t read), and while doing mindless chores. So I always have an audiobook going in addition to my other reading material.

    As far as favorites: I usually prefer childrens/young adult books in this format for some reason. Maybe because the stories tend to be a bit easier to follow. I’m sure I’ll branch out at some point. Harry Potter (both the Jim Dale and Stephen Fry versions) will always be a favorite of mine. Narnia is also good (a variety of excellent narrators). Recently, I’ve enjoyed Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom (narrated by Allan Corduner).

  6. I love reading in all forms and would rather read than just about anything else but (this is for you, Stefan! ;) ) I literally do not have the time to sit down with books. I’d love to — I just can’t. Currently I am teaching 7 sections of college courses, I have 5 kids at 3 different schools who have their different sports and other activities, I teach a weekly class about science at my church, and I try to manage this website, exercise a bit, and not have my nose in a book all the time in the evenings when I’m with my family. I also spend so much time preparing lectures and grading papers that my eyes ache at the end of the day.

    I don’t have any time left for reading, but I can fit in a lot of reading by listening to audio while I’m in the car (about an hour per day), folding laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and exercising. I can’t read a print book while doing those activities, and I’m not willing to give up reading, so audio makes sense for me.

    My library has downloadable audiobooks and I’m a platinum member of Audible. I prefer Audible because it’s so easy and they have everything, plus they have great sales. I use the library, though, just to save some money.

  7. Sarah /

    I don’t do much with audiobooks at the moment. I loved them for long car trips with my daughter when she was younger. And, she used them as bedtime stories after we were done with whatever book we were reading for years. I don’t seem to be able to concentrate on them in other settings besides the car though. Too many distractions.

  8. I’ve been listening to audio books for a long time now, but until recently I used to borrow most of them from the library. SF/F hasn’t really penetrated apart from the occasional Iain M. Banks (lots of old lady romances), so most of what I’ve had from there has been crime/thrillers, with the odd Terry Pratchett thrown in (readers Stephen Briggs or Nigel Planer, both equally good). Most were on CD and tape cassettes (still!).

    The library has changed its purchasing habits to something that doesn’t fit into my lifestyle, so I recently joined audible (downloadable MP4), where the SF/F choice is fairly decent, though not nearly as great as you have in the US. I’ve recently listened to Alloy of Law, a pretty good read by Michael Kramer; another excellent reader was Ed Asner, and James Marsters does a good job on the Butchers (though we only get 4 to your full set :( ) At the moment, the “lively” audio book is Pratchett/Gaiman’s Good Omens, which is shaping up to be a real hoot; I’m waiting to start a new “nodding off to sleep” one.

    I find the reader can make a huge difference, and some manage a staggering range of different character voices. An old favourite of mine in this respect is Stephen Thorne, though he’s done very little you could call fantasy; ditto Timothy West. I’m fairly picky about the voices, so I wouldn’t get a book where I felt the reader was OTT, trying too hard, or had an unsympathetic accent.

    Funnily enough, a book I’ve only listened to doesn’t seem to sink in as well, so I quite often go for audio books I read some time ago, and conversely, I might well buy a reading copy of a book I’ve already listened to. Close to the top of my wish list at the moment is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I enjoyed enormously when it came out (not the general response, I know). I’m looking forward to listening to all 32 hours of it at a very gentle pace!


  9. Tizz, I read the audio of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It was EXCELLENT!

  10. I love audio books, as it is the only real way I can make time for “reading”. I have an office job, I can sit in my cube while working with my headphones in and no one to bother me for hours.

  11. I discovered audio books awhile ago. In a very hectic life they allow me to carve out a little “reading” time. Like Paul, I sit in a cube all day and the noise grates on my nerves. When it gets too bad, I pop on my headphones and get lost in the story.

    I’ve also listened like Kelly does. Read the print when I can and then switch to audio so I can continue the story. I really enjoyed doing that and I flew through the books!

  12. I’m evenly split on books I read vs. listen to although that’s a pretty recent development. If the narrator suits me I’ll go with audio every time. I read quickly and audiobooks serve two purposes for me: they slow down my consumption of a book and let me enjoy it longer and, when that magical alchemy between narrator and text happens, it’s like reading in 3-D. I find I’m not just immersed in the world of the book but I have the sense of the characters coming to more vibrant life around me.

    Cherie Priest’s Cheshire Red series (Bloodshot and Hellbent) read by Natalie Ross is a great example of a perfect voice/text pairing. Ross gave Raylene such a wonderful combination of vulnerability and snark with perfect comedic timing and inflections. I don’t think my inner reader’s voice has that kind of acting skill (and it lasted six times as long as if I’d read it).

  13. Oh yeah, she does Raylene really well!

    Another good one is Anne Flosnik, I listened to her doing Who Fears Death and Kat listened to her renditions of several of the Kushiel books, IIRC. Great voice.

  14. The only time I ever listen to audio is when I drive cross-country on our usual summer trip and I find I don’t much enjoy listening to audio fiction–I just can’t give it the sustained attention I like to. I do, however, enjoy listening to audio non-fiction. For instance, I listened to The Canon on part of one trip. Though typically I just download a ton of podcasts for the trip, I’ll usually include one or two nonfiction books as well.

  15. I’ve tried to do audio books and I can appreciate their charm when just the right person for the book is doing the reading, but I just get distracted so easy when I try to listen to a book. I constantly catch myself missing whole parts of the story because I loose focus and have to rewind. :(

    Oddly enough, I seem to get more out of audio books when I just randomly flip to Sirius XM satellite radio’s Book Radio channel in the car. I guess because I’m not concerned about it.

  16. SandyG265 /

    My boyfriend and I do listen to audiobooks. We get books on CD from our local library. Although he listens to more audiobooks than I do since he doesn’t like to actually read a book.

    The downside of audiobooks for me is that I can read the book faster than I can listen to it. And the reader can make or break an audio book for me.

    The upside is that they are great for long car trips or summer days sitting out on the deck. I hate turning on a light outside at night because it attracts bugs. So we listen to a lot of books during the summer months.

  17. Yeah, I have the “I can read this faster in my head” problem too (though it sounds like that’s a plus for some readers, rather than a minus!).

  18. About reading faster in print: I do, too, which is why I almost always increase the narration speed to 1.5 or 2 x normal speed. That makes it about how fast I’d read it in print. If a book is really dull, I can read it at 3x, which feels very much like skimming. I can still process all of it, though, and that has saved me from giving up on a book that I might have abandoned if it’d been in print and I’d been sitting down with it.

    The Audible app makes it easy to increase narration speed to 1.5 or 2 or 3x. If you’re using an ipod, or anything else that uses itunes, after you rip your discs, change the “media kind” to audiobook (find this with “get info”). Then when you play it it will give you narration speed controls. Increasing the speed will not change the voice, just the rate of speech.

  19. Melanie Goldmund /

    I’ve only listened to two audiobooks, and they were both abridged. In fact, I only listened to them because I love the voice of British actor Richard Armitage, who read — I mean, performed them. I wish he’d do something in the sci fi fantasy genre, but he’s a bit busy with The Hobbit at the moment. I think listening to unabridged books would take too long for me — I’m another person who can read faster in print.

    I recently discovered Starship Sofa, however, and in every podcast, there’s a short story by a notable sci fi or fantasy author. I like to listen to those when I’m doing housework or taking my daily walk. And I like radio plays, too, and audio productions of stories or abridged books, many of which I glean from the BBC. But I rarely listen to anything for longer than an hour at a time. That’s about as long as my attention span lasts, unfortunately.

  20. Derek /

    I haven’t tried and not sure I ever will unless it becomes a requirement in a dystopian society. And then I will need to fashion a Logan’s Run in the sake of printed books.

    I’m with others that I’m fairly certain I would be one of those who loses their focus and misses patches of the narration. I still enjoy music a lot and drive-time is jamming-to-tunes time, even if it’s Hotel California on the local classic rock station for the googolplex time.

  21. I typically get my audiobooks from Audible and listen on my ipod. They are a must for anyone with a commute like mine — I am guaranteed to spend at least an hour a day in the car (and that’s on a good day).

    I like listening to long books, particularly dense fantasy tomes I might not have the patience for in print (the last one I finished in this vein was Mistborn, which I really enjoyed). I also listen to a lot of sci-fi and have been collecting recommendations for good urban fantasy entries.

    One book I’ve loved on audio — twice — is To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. It’s a rather lengthy listen, but I didn’t want it to end either time. A rare book that I have listened to twice!

  22. Joel, I’m glad to hear about To Say Nothing of the Dog since I own that at Audible. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ll move it up my list.

    Several people mentioned losing focus when listening to audiobooks. Don’t we all do the same thing when reading print? You either stop reading and stare at the page, or you keep reading and realize you haven’t understood anything you’ve read in the last minute. So we just go back. Same thing with audiobooks. A good player will let you skip back 10 – 30 seconds or so. The Audible app lets you program your default skip back time. I use 10 seconds and use it frequently when my mind wanders, I’m merging into highway traffic, I misunderstood something, etc. Same as in a book. You just press a button instead of moving your eyes.

    Kelly may have a point about visual vs auditory learning, but I bet that listening to novels in audio would be a great way to increase your skill at processing auditory input.

  23. Actually Kat, that happens very rarely for me in my fiction reading. Now, the physics reading I’ve been doing the last few weeks, oh year. Lots of staring blankly, lots of flipping back and rereading, lots of thinking perhaps I shouldn’t have cut so many classes back in the day . . .

    Thinking more about it in terms of stopping, starting, moving backwards, I realize I do like to stop and linger over those really nice lines as I read fiction and poetry and those moments are much more rare in nonfiction. So in audio, with fiction I feel I’m missing too much even if I’m picking up plot perfectly fine.

  24. Kat- I don’t loose focus when I’m reading anywhere near like I do listening.

    If something does pull me away when reading, the story just stops. Yeah it might take me a paragraph or two to get back into that world I just briefly left, but its not the same as an audio book trucking along regardless of if I’m still paying attention or not. Mostly because, when I’m listening to an audio, I’m doing other things, say like at the gym. I could miss a good 5-10 minutes of narration before I even realize it. Then it takes me three times as long to figure out how far back to rewind to.

  25. Somehow I’ve gone a bit late again. My apologies.

    Ahimsa, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact me (Tim) with your choice and a US address.

  26. Pria Graves /

    Guess I’m w-a-y late for this one but I would have to say The Greyfriar audiobook read by James Marsters. The story is pretty facepaced. I suppose you could say it is Steampunk because of the level of technology or urban fantasy but whatever the label its fun. Marsters is a master of this kind of thing. He nails every character.

  27. Pria, I almost picked that up recently at Audible. I’ll make sure I do. Thanks!

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