Listen Up!

So many friends tell me they don’t have time to read any more that I’m surprised more of them haven’t taken up audio books. While it’s true the old-fashioned klunky tapes or CD’s were a bit of a pain—and expensive, too—I’ve listened well over a hundred audio books on an MP3 player and now an iPod. One book a month is my subscription plan, and that’s about what I can “read,” Audibly.

Apparently lots of people read in the car, and that’s OK for longer trips, but short trips around town with a lot of stops wouldn’t work for me. I like at least a half-hour, uninterrupted. Longer, if possible. So I read while mowing the lawn (electric mower), weeding the garden, making dinner, anything that doesn’t require my full concentration. My mind picks what to focus most on–another reason listening and driving might not be the best idea. Listening while cooking goes a long way to explain some of the meals around here.

On the Reading . . . section of this website you can scroll down to mini-reviews of the 10 books I’ve listened to so far this year. Thrillers are good. If you don’t catch every word, it isn’t a tragedy, and the excitement of getting to the next chapter keeps you on task. If you stop mowing and go do something else, like return emails, you might actually have to turn the book off.

I’ve also listened to some classics I knew I’d never read: Crime and Punishment (endless); The Brothers Karamazov (the mind wanders); Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (the first audio book I ever listened to—scary). These experiences suggest a book like Dr. Zhivago with a lot of long foreign names (two to three per character, at that) would not be a good choice.

What’s most impressive is the quality of the narrations. They add immeasurably. Sometimes when I recommend a book, I mention that I listened to it, and can’t be sure whether it would be quite as wonderful an experience if read. The humor comes through better, for one thing. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is a perfect example.

In the marketplace, audiobooks are on the rise. Producers released more than 13,000 titles (some classics, some new) in 2012, compared to only 4,600 three years earlier. Libraries are getting on the bandwagon, too. Patrons of the member libraries of Digital Library NJ and eLibraryNewJersey, for example, can borrow audio books just like regular books. They expire after a set number of days, and the collection is large. And free. Libraries all over the country are doing this.

I buy my audiobooks and own them “forever.” Some I’ve listened to multiple times. Amazon-owned (my supplier) has the greatest market penetration and is adding nearly 1,000 titles a month to its already deep collection. The technology options are expanding, but I’m dubious about some of them. You can read a while on your Kindle (when you have time to sit) and pick up where you left off with the book’s audio version (when you don’t). This sounds confusing to me. I would be hearing one set of voices in my head and suddenly they’re all different. You can have the e-version read to you as you read—which would be super-annoying, since most people who have read this far can read faster than the book would be narrated. It would be like taking a walk with someone who moves at half your pace. And, new audiobook creation tools akin to the self-publishing  tools for print are designed to help authors affordably create their own audiobooks. Let’s hope the tools turn them into stellar actors at the same time! The early days of desktop publishing provide a cautionary example.

No time to read? Listen up!