I am officially an audiobook junkie. For so many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that I'm getting old and it's hard for me to devour regular books the way I used to, back in my childhood days when I would hide under the covers at night and read books by flashlight long after my bedtime. Which is probably why I've had significant eyesight problems ever since and now cannot lose myself in reading a traditional book the way I used to. I'm just too conscious of having to focus and refocus as I read. But with audiobooks? I can lose myself in the world they paint, just like I did as a child, and that's a joy to me.
But there are other, more practical reasons why I love audiobooks — and why I'm trying to convince you that you, too, should be an audiobook junkie. After all, surely the world would be a better place if people read more books, regardless of which platform they're using to read them?
One of the main reasons why I love audiobooks so much is that I am a notorious multi-tasker. I have a restless brain (now, isn’t that nicer than saying I have ADHD?) and am happiest when I am occupying all 8-tracks of my mind. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that I am double dipping when it comes to using my time. Especially when I am able to listen to a book while I perform a routine task like driving, cleaning, cooking, or working in my garden. Thanks to the glory of multitasking, I can read three to four books a week, ranging from nonfiction like The History of the Vikings to my beloved true crime books to great fiction by (most recently) Colson Whitehead, Jane Harper, Louise Penny, and Jane Austen. Finally, for pure blissful relaxation, I love listening to a book while putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
Speaking as a writer, you can also learn a lot from audiobooks. Nothing drives home the need for rapid pacing these days better than listening to a book bogged down in non-essential details. And hearing a book read out loud really underscores the habits of individual writers — habits you probably want to avoid in your own writing. For example, if you repeat a word too much, that word starts to stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. A case in point: Dan Brown has a lot of characters who “find themselves" on stairwells, in different rooms, and entirely different cities. Or take Kathryn Casey — an absolutely fabulous true crime writer who nonetheless uses the word “chuckle” so often that listening to one of her books could easily become a drinking game. (And let me just interject with a question here: does anyone in real life ever actually “chuckle?” I think not.)
The problem with audiobooks is the cost. Years ago, you’d have to plunk down $60 for an unabridged 12-CD version of the latest bestseller by your favorite author. Happily, times have changed. I now can call on four different apps and a favorite website where I can get audiobooks ranging from pricey to free. If you’re interested, check these out:
Audible is indisputably the Cadillac of audiobook services. But it's pricey. A premium plus annual membership will now cost you between $180 to $239 a year. Then, once you’ve burned through the 12-24 book credits you get with your membership and have discovered there's not much left in Audible’s free “library” for you to enjoy, you will have to pay between $9 and $13 for each new book you listen to, despite being an annual member. That's a lot of money for voracious listeners like me. Despite this, Audible steadfastly refuses to sell book credits in bulk for a reduced price. Their biggest bundle will get you three whopping credits—or three books—for around $35. That’s only a week’s worth of listening for me. On the plus side, Audible has the best selection of any other service when it comes to pay-per-title books. Their “free” library, which is included in your annual membership, is definitely still in the building stage (to put it kindly).
Chirp is a fantastic audiobook service. The best known authors in the world use Chirp to sell their new releases at a steep discount in hopes that you will then go out and populate the world with positive reviews of their work. You'll pay anything from 99 cents to $4.99 per book. And once you buy them, they're yours to keep forever. Some of the authors I have in my Chirp library include Ann Rule, Minette Walters, Barbara Tuchman, Erik Larson, and many, many more. Each day, Chirp releases new audiobooks on sale and most titles are available for a month or more at deep discounts. If you haven't checked out Chirp yet and you are an audiobook fan, head over ASAP.
Scribd is a monthly subscription service that gives you unlimited listening to audiobooks (and unlimited access to ebooks and magazines as well) for $11.99 a month. I find the cost well worth it and the selection strong. Some of the books in my Scribner library include Thomas French, Jack Olsen, John Douglas, Kathryn Casey, Ann Rule, Gregg Olsen, and many, many more. Lately Scribd has beefed up its offerings with podcasts, including the original audio-tracks of many major true crime TV series. (Turns out you don’t need to look at grieving survivors or cheesy re-enactments to enjoy a well-told true crime after all.)
Overdrive is a great service that lets you tap into your local library’s online audiobook and ebook collections. But there's often a waiting list for the most popular books and you do have to return them when your lending period is over. On the other hand, it's absolutely free. All you need to sign up for Overdrive is a library card and you can tap into multiple county or university libraries so long as you have a card for each one. There's another, newer app called Libby that allows you to do the same, but I prefer the Overdrive interface. To get started, download the Overdrive or Libby app from the Google Play or Apple stores then follow the sign-up instructions.
LibraVox is a website that has offered free audiobooks since the dawn of the Internet. Originally created as a way to give blind readers access to books in the public domain, it's become a great source of audiobooks for everyone. You'll find classics by such favorites as Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle and Jane Austen there, along with a lot of other sometimes surprising offerings (over 50,000 and still counting). The only catch is that the books are read by volunteers and so the quality of the narration varies. Be sure to listen to a sample before you download a book to make sure you can tolerate the reader’s voice—which brings me to the final section of this already too-long blog post:
Are my books available in audio format?
None of my books are available in audio format at this time and that’s all on me. I am incredibly picky about the narration that comes with audiobooks and so have put off the task of choosing a reader for most of my series (FYI: I’ve found a narrator for the Casey Jones series and that’s being worked on now).
Why am I so picky? The wrong reader can ruin the best book. I don't understand why more narrators don't get this, but: books comprise one of the few mediums left that don't hit you over the head with what you are supposed to feel or think. Thanks to the greater neutrality of the written word, as opposed to visual mediums, the reader is still invited (and, indeed, required) to bring their own experience, beliefs, imaginations, and reactions to the reading of a story. To me, that's one reason why books are so compelling and so satisfying to read. But when you get a narrator who confuses a book with an old timey radio show—i.e., who reads every female character like she's Sweet Poly Purebred strapped to the railroad tracks and every male villain as if he's Simon Legree demanding the rent—it can render a book ridiculous. Some of the best writers in the world have chosen over-the-top narrators to read their books, making them impossible to listen without images of bad community theater productions running through your mind. I actually lost it the other day and accused a narrator attempting an Irish accent of sounding like a depressed leprechaun about to drown himself in a bowl of Lucky Charms in my review. But, really, that narrator deserved it.
On the other hand, a good narrator, i.e., one who doesn't try to imitate accents or greatly differentiate between characters, is a joy. Will Patton — who narrates James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series — and Kevin Pierce, the narration god of true crime and crime fiction, are two examples of fantastic narrators. God bless you both for your restraint.
If you're going to give audiobooks a try for the first time, I recommend sticking with an author whose work you have already read and appreciated, then trying out the narrator before you download the entire book. Every service will allow you to hear a sample before you commit.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to reading. I have six books in progress I need to finish listening to, not to mention a downed tree in my backyard that needs limbing and bucking. So many books, so many chores, so little time...