Audiobooks: Trials and Triumphs of a First-Time Listener
Confession time: Before this month, I had never listened to a single audiobook. The closest I had ever come was watching an episode of How I Met Your Mother in which the characters listen to an audiobook in the car, and even that felt a little excessive for my hard-copy-loving self.Then I discovered that August is ‘Audio Appreciation Month,' and a germ of an idea sparked in my bookworm’s brain: I could use this as a reason to expand my reading into audiobooks, and maybe even write something helpful for other semi-Luddites giving audiobooks the side-eye. The fact that I didn’t realize that there is actually a separate ‘AudioBook Appreciation Month’ (June) until just before sitting down at the keyboard should just add to my audio-newbie credentials (that’s my story and I’m sticking with it!).
Once the decision to listen was made, a surprising number of questions popped up, and most of them were purely practical. First and foremost – how does one go about physically getting an audiobook and listening to it? ‘Books on tape’ still exist (as do the far more practical CD options), but I wanted to be able to listen via a phone or iPad, not just at my laptop. As someone who is fairly tech-savvy, I’m ashamed to admit how long it took me to figure this stage out, so let’s just say that Twitter (and kindly editors) are a Godsend when you are trying something new.
Although I now know that there are a few different app options, at the start of this experiment someone suggested Audible, who have a free trial period, so I signed up. Finding the book I wanted (Last Call At The Nightshade Lounge, a novel of demon-battling bartenders) was surprisingly easy. For some reason, I assumed that few books would get the audio treatment, and I wasn’t sure if the next one on my reading list would be available, but Audible has a vast selection. After only a few stumbles, I managed to get the app on the iPad, the book on the app, and I was ready to listen.
One of the biggest appeals of audiobooks is that they can be listened to while the ‘reader’ is doing other things, so I assumed that finding listening time would be easy. However, I discovered that listening wasn’t quite as easy as I expected it to be.
During this experiment, I had a lot of travelling to do, and I was looking forward to listening on two flights and while driving. That’s when most people listen to audiobooks, according to my limited, sitcom-based experience. However, anti-anxiety medication on the plane was a little too effective, and I fell asleep halfway through the first chapter. Oops. The biggest problem with this was that the book kept playing, so I ended up having to re-start the next time. Lesson: audiobooks and anxiety meds lead to a lot of rewinding. Maybe not.
Driving posed a different set of problems. In my fancy rental car, I was able to plug the iPad into the stereo system to listen while driving. What I was not able to do was pay attention to the book and navigate unfamiliar territory at the same time. Last Call At The Nightshade Lounge would have to wait until I got back to Vancouver.
Sadly, back on home turf I ran into my final transit roadblock (pun very much intended). Although I know the roads, I lacked the high-tech stereo system. In fact, my old truck lacks almost anything not entirely necessary to get from A to B, including working AC – and driving around with the windows down was too noisy to hear my little iPad on the passenger seat. Clearly, listening and travelling was just not meant to be.
By week three of my audiobook attempt, things were looking dire. I was still not past the first chapter, and the audiofile is nearly nine hours long. I couldn’t listen while flying or driving. I don’t take public transit (the joys of working from home), and I kept leaving the house and forgetting to bring the iPad with me. In retrospect, I should have downloaded the app to my phone, but like many people who never delete their photos, space was at a premium.
When I finally found a few moments to sit and actively listen, it was weird. What do people do with their hands? Where do you look? I perched awkwardly on the sofa, feeling a bit like I was being read a bedtime story by a stranger in the middle of the day, and seriously debated giving up. The book itself sounded fantastic – also weird, but the good kind of weird – and choosing this odd audio over a comfy paperback version had become a struggle. I kept reading about readers who made the audio switch and were immediately dancing through rainbows of story-filled productivity, so what was wrong with me?
Almost ready to give up, I was three weeks (and as many chapters) into Last Call At The Nightshade Lounge, and nearly ready to call it a day. Luckily, I had one of those days where I felt flabby and unhealthy (and this will be the only time I am ever grateful for one of those days). I remembered to take my little iPad to the gym, mostly because I usually take it and read e-books while I work out – it was an easy switch to listen, instead. More than that – it was absolutely fantastic. After a long day in front of a computer, not having to look at the screen felt fantastic. More than that, I didn’t have to try and read a screen as I moved around, something that had always limited the cardio equipment that worked while reading. I could run! Working out eliminated all the issues of what to do with hands and where to look, and for the first time, I felt like I understood what this audio thing was all about.
From there, things just got better. I started to remember to pop in the iPad when I left the house, and suddenly grocery shopping, running errands, and walking the dog became almost indulgent as I was immersed in Bailey’s journey to becoming a superhuman drink-slinger. I listened while I ate lunch, instead of watching Netflix. I listened in the kitchen, I listened while cleaning, I listened while folding laundry, and the almost-nine hours that felt so interminable the week before flew by.
It was a rocky road, but after several false starts, I’m happy to say that I’ve ended the month as an audio-convert. I’m even keeping the Audible membership after my free trial month is up. Like many people who avoid audiobooks, my main reasons were more about things that don’t need fixing unless they’re broke, and the (shameful) admission that figuring out something new can be a little bit scary. Happily, however, the switch was relatively easy from a tech perspective, and while less simple on the human side – well worth it.
Audiobooks aren’t perfect, by any means. It takes a while to get used to hearing someone “do” the voices (especially if that involves a cringeworthy take on an accent), and it takes a different kind of focus to avoid zoning out while the book plays on. Books will take longer to listen to than they would to read, and it may also take a while to figure out how to best fit listening time into your life (in my case, nearly three weeks!), or to remember to bring headphones or charge your device, but once it fits, it fits perfectly.
Audiobooks will never replace paperbacks for me, but that was never the intention. Instead, I expanded my comfort zone and found a way to squeeze a few more books into a busy schedule – and make mundane tasks more exiting and workouts more productive at the same time. Challenge yourself to listen to the next novel in your TBR pile – you might just be left wondering (like I am) what took you so long to start listening.
What do you love (and hate) about audiobooks? Comment and let us know!