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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Audiobooks vs Regular-Type Books

Posted by on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 4:54 PM

A few months ago I was on this big kick to try out a bunch of new technology, and during that time, I signed up with Audible. I've always had a huge problem digging into books, and an even bigger problem with finishing them. I figured I could listen to books on headphones while at the gym or running or whatever. Turns out audiobooks aren't really the thing if you want to get energized for a run. Nowadays, that's strictly a job I give to music, and very specific music at that.

When audiobooks does come in handy is during bouts of high stress and related insomnia. But here's the problem with that whole thing: I can't take notes when I listen to books like this, and because I can almost never get into fiction, I listen to a lot of the stuff I'd like to take notes on. The reality is, I finish listening to more books than if I just read them, but I'm so in-and-out of consciousness most of the time when I listen to audiobooks—like too-tired-to-prop-my-head-up-and-read-a-book tired—to make much sense of the thing. In fact, now I’ll often put on an audiobook in order to put myself asleep, and I can remember having done this since elementary school, back when they were still known as books on tape.

Heretofore, the only value I can see in audiobooks is that of a sleep aid/insomnia companion. My brain is usually too ravaged with distraction to listen to them otherwise, and I don’t really have any hobbies like crochet to occupy myself with while listening to a book. All this said, I realize that not only is this problem likely a problem for a small minority of people, a subgroup that I am not at all enthusiastic to be a part of, but also that I may very well just be doing it wrong. As such, I pose a two-part question to the successful audiobook users of Slog: How and when do you listen to them, and what else are you doing while you listen? The thing is, I want audiobooks to work for me, I just haven’t figured out how to make that a reality yet. Meanwhile, my Audible account is on hold while I continue to toss and turn my way through my collection.


Comments (24) RSS

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geoff teardrop 1
they're only good for being on the road. makes the miles go by faster, especially trashy rock biographies.

scar tissue by anthony kiedis anyone?
Posted by geoff teardrop on November 21, 2012 at 5:05 PM · Report this
I listen to audiobooks when I'm cleaning or doing chores. I hate doing dishes, and having a book to listen to keeps my mind occupied while my hands are busy. Sometimes, when I'm listening to a good book, I'll find myself doing more housework than I intended to because I want to listen more. The cleanliness of my house is often directly proportional to how interested I am in whatever book I'm listening to. As for the books themselves, they tend to be things that I think I would like but can't get into reading on paper - especially classic novels that I've tried in the past but got too bogged down to finish. I think my favorite audiobooks so far have been "Rebecca" and "The Man Who Thought His Wife Was a Hat."
Posted by ridia on November 21, 2012 at 5:08 PM · Report this
I listen in the car and at the gym, and I love them. I've gone through over 30 audiobooks this year. I think part of the reason they work so well for me is that I don't care about music the way other people seem to. Sure, there are songs that make me cry or get my blood pumping, but mostly, I just tune them out. I haven't really listened to any music in months.
Posted by jzimbert on November 21, 2012 at 5:12 PM · Report this
I used to listen to them a lot when I was walking to work -- I had about a 25-30 minute walk to the office, so I could listen to a couple of podcasts or a chapter or two every day. Commute changed, though, and I have trouble doing this on the bus. :-/ My gf and I sometimes put on an episode of This American Life while making dinner, and that's nice. Wonder if you could try that with an audiobook?
Posted by jsr1138 on November 21, 2012 at 5:30 PM · Report this
Audiobooks are good on so many levels. I listen to books I would never think of because they're on sale at Audible.

The best audiobook so far is some saucy lady reading an Ann Rule book. Breathless in the right places, dramatic in others. Would have been perfect had she not read ever local reference completely wrong.

The worst audiobook so far is Ann Rule reading her own book. Gahhhh.

Download more than one book. Fall asleep to boring stories, do chores to exciting stories. They're also great for a nap if you don't want to fall completely asleep.
Posted by six shooter on November 21, 2012 at 5:43 PM · Report this
duckgirlie 7
I used to have an incredibly boring job in an office, and I burned through a huge chunk of Pratchett in the months I spent filing things.

At the moment though, I mainly listen to audiobooks when I'm commuting.
Posted by duckgirlie on November 21, 2012 at 6:28 PM · Report this
I usually listen to my audio books on the bus to work, while doing chores at home and while doing the routine tasks like food shopping. If not listening to an audio book I am listening to NPR, the BBC or a podcasts. Where other people might have music, I like the sound of people talking. Sometimes I am not paying full attention but I can always rewind a book or podcast.
Posted by phillygirl on November 21, 2012 at 6:43 PM · Report this
care bear 10
I have this problem with a lot of podcasts. I can't pay enough attention to them if I'm trying to do anything else at the same time. Even doing the dishes.
Posted by care bear on November 21, 2012 at 6:51 PM · Report this
tjc 11
I got into audiobooks while commuting an hour each way. Makes the miles go by much faster, as @1 said.

I also read a review of the Harry Potter books that said listening to them was more like listening to a radio play, and I thought, well, I'll try that. THEY WERE AWESOME! (Unfortunately, you miss some of the jokes & puns that are best appreciated visually, but you also get proper pronunciation of spells and HERMIONE, etc. Except for Voldemort -- they anglicized him from the French "Voldemor" (silent T) to VoldemorT somewhere around the 3rd book IIRC.

So far I've only tried fiction (and mysteries). I don't know if I'd like non-fiction audiobooks as much.

It's great to get the CD's from your library and you can listen to them in the car.
Posted by tjc on November 21, 2012 at 7:13 PM · Report this
I listen to them at the gym.
Posted by Joe Glibmoron on November 21, 2012 at 7:15 PM · Report this
elissa 14
I listen to tons of audiobooks. Everyone who listen to audiobooks has a different way of working them into life. I couldn't listen to them while driving, but I listen to them while walking, taking the bus, cooking, and doing chores. I'm a writer and have a huge backlog of things to read, and audiobooks have been helping me work through a lot of the memoirs I probably wouldn't get to otherwise. I sometimes listen to fiction, but that's a little tougher for me to follow, for some reason, and I prefer memoir. I also really love audiobooks read by the authors. I get my digital audiobooks from SPL and King County Library--both have great selections.
Posted by elissa on November 21, 2012 at 7:55 PM · Report this
thene 15
I have the same problem, more or less - I like being able to sift through text, zip back and forth, take notes or type up excerpts. I did get into audiobooks a bit last year though, originally at the advice of my dentist - I needed a lot of work done and she thought it would help keep me distracted for a few painful hours, and she was right. After that I took audiobooks with me on overnight & early morning shifts when there was no one around I'd have to talk to, but I quit that job early this year. If I ever get another one like it, audiobooks will probably come back into my life.

I have to say, though; audiobooks are pretty expensive, so I developed a policy of only torrenting dead writers, which was an interesting fiction restriction to be carting around now. No judging, I was earning under $8/hr at the time - I wouldn't do it now I have more money.
Posted by thene on November 21, 2012 at 7:58 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 16
Cleaning, while riding the bus, and while walking.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on November 21, 2012 at 8:49 PM · Report this
Driving is the only way I can do it, and even then I'm very picky. I don't look for subjects as much as good readers, good voices. A guy named Frank Muller was the best audiobook reader I've ever heard.
Posted by Relling on November 21, 2012 at 9:18 PM · Report this
Wicked Virgin 18
Audiobooks (also podcasts) are fantastic, in certain situations. I listen to more stories than I read in print. But yeah, you can't work on other things involving words while also listening to someone narrate a story.
Posted by Wicked Virgin on November 22, 2012 at 1:12 AM · Report this
skjaere 19
I work the night shift at a hotel, and part of my job is to fold massive heaps of towels and pillow cases. Listening to A Dance With Dragons is currently helping me pass the time. Audiobooks are great for getting through mindless tasks.
Posted by skjaere on November 22, 2012 at 1:32 AM · Report this
Choose your audiobooks wisely. @11 is right—Harry Potter read by Jim Dale is peerless. I tried Marilynne Robinson and decided she requires a hardcover book in a quiet room.

No matter what the book is, if you turn on the audiobook when you're sleepy, well, you'll fall asleep.
Posted by chris in dk on November 22, 2012 at 3:55 AM · Report this
I listen to audiobooks while working with my hands. Carpentry, knitting, sewing, cleaning, gardening, etc. I have also listened while riding the bus. I don't like having headphones in while walking or running, I don't think it's safe; music while I'm running early in the morning when there's no traffic is a recent compromise, and audiobooks are much worse for taking my attention away from the world around me.
Posted by Thisbe on November 22, 2012 at 4:26 AM · Report this
Fistique 23
Commuting by bus or train, mindless chores, or anything craft-y. Audiobooks tend to keep me up at night if I'm anxious, I prefer having white noise or music for sleeping.
Posted by Fistique on November 22, 2012 at 6:47 AM · Report this
I listen to audiobooks doing just about everything - driving, walking the dogs, doing housework, and so on.

They don't replace reading for me - I still read voraciously - but one thing I've noticed with favorite books is that I will pick up entirely different things when reading or when listening. More than a few times, I've been listening to a book I love and found myself thinking "was this in the book?" and a few times actually gone and looked it up in the print copy.

I started listening to audio decades ago when I had an hour long car commute. I've found over the years that reality yanks my attention when it needs to, so I don't have the problem of having the book distract me from driving or something else - I just have to rewind.

And yes, James Dale was frighteningly brilliant with the Harry Potter books. Juggling that many voices consistently was a genuine achievement. For another masterwork, the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is incredible, if you have about six months to commit to it.
Posted by Lymis on November 22, 2012 at 7:17 AM · Report this
Grant you are not alone in your snoozing. My partner listens to Luke Burbank specifically to fall asleep. TBTL. Every night. There's a third man in our bed.
Posted by MyDogBen on November 22, 2012 at 7:23 AM · Report this
MissMarnie 26
I looooove my audiobooks, and mostly listen to non-fiction but I don't ever take notes when I'm reading so I guess I can't address your particular concern. I listen primarily when I'm doing projects around the house or when I'm on long road trips. When I had a commute (I work from home now) I used to listen then as well.
Posted by MissMarnie on November 22, 2012 at 7:44 AM · Report this
elissa 28
@15 Take a look at your library's selection. Audiobooks are expensive, but I find that Seattle Public Library has an amazing selection.
I definitely don't listen to books I'd be taking notes on, but I find that being able to listen to books frees up my reading time for being able to focus on the books I want to use for research, while I can listen to books I've been hearing about but don't necessarily want to sit down and read. I just listened to BLOOD, BONES AND BUTTER by Gabrielle Hamilton, also liked THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt, LOVE IS A MIX TAPE by Rob Sheffield, BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey. Got some Mary Karr out of the way and learned I'm not a fan without wasting precious sit-down-and-read time. All SPL downloads.
Posted by elissa on November 22, 2012 at 10:43 AM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 30
Oh dang, people—ya'll have some great insights. Thank you!
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus on November 23, 2012 at 1:28 AM · Report this

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