The Joy of the Audiobook

During the past few months I have discovered the joy that is the audiobook. Being an academic much of my working day is spent either reading, writing or squinting intently at large datasets trying to find the needle in the haystack that is ruining my statistical model. My personal interests are not much more active. Principally I enjoy reading, writing and watching movies/TV for relaxation, which, although enjoyable, is a recipe for tension headaches, eye strain and repetitive strain injury.

When I came across a free trial for  a while ago I decided to use it as a little experiment. I would spend an hour or so each evening foregoing my traditional hobbies and would lie on the couch, headphones on, and allow myself to be told a story.  I wasn’t convinced that I would enjoy it. My prior experience with audiobooks was infuriating. For one thing I would find my attention drifting after a couple of minutes and I would miss key plot points as the gentle speech, not dissimilar to the shipping forecast, would lull me towards sleep.

For another, the different ‘voices’ actors used to distinguish between characters often awoke in me the same reaction as nails scratching down a blackboard. For instance, many male actors when trying to bring a female character to life will adopt a particular type of high pitched, breathy “please pass me the smelling salts” kind of wheeze that approximates the vocal pitch of absolutely no woman that I have ever met.

I’m pleased to report that audiobooks seem to have come a long way since my last foray into their world. I started with the Girl on the Train which was just the sort of twisty turn crime novel that was exciting enough to keep my brain awake and had three female actors that didn’t make me want to tear my ears off. Far from it. I quickly exceeded my ‘hour a night’ plan and found myself listening whilst making dinner, getting ready for work in the mornings, walking into town. In fact, I found myself listening to the book whenever I had dead time.

When I finished the Girl on the Train I signed up to audible and started to ‘read’ some more. I have since listened to the Silkworm, US and The Little Stranger and think that I’ll be keeping my audible account for a while longer.

Of course, it won’t replace reading as such – I’m currently working my way through the Grapes of Wrath and am not entirely convinced an audiobook would do it justice. Some novels you need to take your time with but for many others the audiobook is a pretty good format and, given that the severity of my headaches seems to have diminished somewhat, could also be good for your health.