Monday, January 27, 2014

In Praise of the Audio Book

For as long as I can remember, I have had a love affair with words, specifically written words. For me, there is little more as satisfying as reading a well-written book. Just this week I read a quote attributed to Colin Firth, which eloquently sums up the reading experience for me.
When I'm really into a novel, I'm seeing the world differently during that time - not just for the hour or so in the day when I get to read. I'm actually walking around in a bit of a haze, spellbound by the book and looking at everything through a different prism.
Someone who does not have a passion for reading may think Firth is a bit silly, but I completely understand what he's saying because I feel that way myself. There is something eminently pleasing about getting lost in a good story, of putting yourself in the story line, of investing in the characters. I find that if a book is exceptionally well-written, everything around me goes quiet and I am transported into the author's make-believe world.

Which is why I scoffed at audio books. How could I be enraptured with a story while driving? Then a friend offered to lend me Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. My library didn't have it, and though I didn't want to buy it, I desperately wanted to read it; I had no choice. Halfway through the first CD, I was hooked. I discovered that listening to a book is a different experience altogether, but no less delightful.

After Bonhoeffer, I listened to Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (as an aside, Edward Herrmann is my favorite non-fiction reader, hands down). Then I forayed into fiction. I believe Gilead was the first and it was wonderful, like a good conversation over a cup of hot tea with John Ames.

In the past three years, I've listened to many audio books, including books I've already read. I've found that the right reader can move me to tears, laughter, and incredulity in the same ways written words can. And although in most cases, I prefer the written word, I have discovered that audio books offer their own enchantment.  Here are a few of my other favorites:

I, Coriander reader by Juliet Stevenson, who is simply superb. Her interpretation of this magical tale drew me in.
Persuasion, also read by Stevenson. Even though I'd read the book, I gained a new appreciation for this lesser known of Jane Austen's works. In fact, it became a favorite after hearing Stevenson's rendition.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, read by Kate Burton. I'd never read this book, but I fell in love with Francie Nolan after listening to Burton tell her tale.
Speaking from Among the Bones: A Flavia de Luce Novel, read by Jayne Entwistle. Entwistle brought one of my favorite fiction characters to surprising, hilarious life.
March, read by Richard Easton. An amazing work.
John Adams, read by Edward Herrmann. I could listen to Herrmann read the phone book, but a fascinating story also made this a favorite.
Cranford, read by Nadia May. I felt as though I were right there with Miss Mattie and the rest of the Cranford ladies.
Wives and Daughters, another outstanding job by Nadia May.

Lord willing, I will always read books; however, the audio book has a certain place in my heart. What about you, reader? Have you listened to any audio books? If so, do you have any favorites to recommend?


  1. Audio books is something I want to partake more of. This post gives me lots of good ideas!

  2. I just finished "A Painted House" by Grisham. I turned it on while painting my kitchen, it was wonderful and now I'm hooked. I love reading books, but during housework or while crocheting an audiobook is a welcome companion. Great post

  3. This is so funny. I was going to write about audio books for my Wednesday post. Obvious, God has something else in mind. :)

    I love audio books. I often read too fast (thanks to being taught how to speed read in elementary school), and it's so easy to miss a beautiful turn of phrase. You can savor the story at the pace of an audio book and enjoy a book while you are doing chores, exercising, cooking, etc.

    LibvriVox (which is free) can be a mixed bag, but there are some surprisingly good readers. You can listen to bits on online before deciding which versions to download.

    1. "Obviously" [reading and typing too fast]

  4. Love this! I've backed away from audio for myself for a long time, although I used them heavily when homeschooling. My daughter encouraged me to get an iPOD (I know, I'm so behind in these techno gadgets!). I did and started using my library audio versions. This has transformed my daily life!

    The first one I listened to was purely a "test" to see how it all worked, and it was "The Hoarder in You." :) I was decluttering at the time and listening helped pass the time with some good info.

    Then, I chose Pat Conroy's "My Reading Life" and think I fell in love with that book! I've used the audio ESV for years and still benefit from listening while following in my Bible.

    Thanks for your post and good ideas!


  5. I love this concept. Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost (you must read them in that order, and they are free for Kindle - so many of the classics are), the Anne stories, Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie, and Sherlock Holmes (not kid stories, but comfort books, even so) are wonderful. Reading those stories that have been made into movies (by Disney, usually) is essential. They are always richer and have usually been twisted a bit.

  6. I first started listening to audiobooks when my mother-in-law was moved to an assisted living place 20 minutes away. I drove to see her every week day, and chafed at the thought of sitting in the car that long, when her previous place had been only five minutes away. Audiobooks transformed that time in the car to a tremendously enjoyable experience and now I have an audiobook on hand all the time and listen to it while getting dressed and doing my hair in the morning as well as when I am driving.

    An added benefit is that I get through so many more books now than I could just by reading.

    I agree, a good narrator can really make a difference.

    I've enjoyed some of the ones you mentioned - the Gaskell books, Bonhoeffer, and Unbroken. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren, is MARVELOUS. The Hobbit read by Rob Inglis was really good - he even sang the songs instead of reading them. Loved rereading (or hearing...) the Mitford book by Jan Karon read by John McDonough. Roots by Alex Haley read by Avery Brooks was riveting.

    Their are a couple of disadvantages to audiobooks: I can't slow down to reread or stop and ponder, or speed up through the less interesting sections, and I can't mark a quote or passage. Sometimes I've gotten the paper book from the library to put sticky tabs in the places I want to mark in the book after hearing the passage read. But overall I love them.