I admit, I used to think audiobooks were weird. Listening to someone read a book to me just didn’t have the same feel as curling up with an old-fashioned paperback and reading. Then I changed jobs, and the twenty-minute bus ride during which I would read a book or newspaper turned into a thirty-minute drive each way to work. And I became an audiophile.
Audiobooks are perfect for multi-taskers like me. I can “read” a book while I drive to work, cook dinner, clean the apartment, or run on the elliptical. This means that even when I’m busy with other things, like writing, catching the latest Northwestern game, or attempting to actually have a social life, I can still find time to fit some reading into my day — even if it’s just on the drive to the grocery store or said social event. And if you’re serious about writing, I think reading every day is just as important as writing every day.
I’ll even go a step further. I think that listening to audiobooks has improved my writing more than just reading print and eBooks has. Maybe it’s because I’m an auditory learner, or because hearing something out loud engages a different part of the brain than reading it on a page, but I’ve picked up more tricks from the books and authors I’ve listened to than the ones I’ve read. I’ll make note of an interesting description or a character’s unique speech patterns more readily when I hear them than when I see them. And, as I write or edit my own work, I sometimes find myself hearing it as if someone were reading it to me. (Often in Neil Gaiman’s voice, which is an added bonus; as a colleague once put it, “I could listen to that man read the phone book.”)
Even if you’re not a writer or a multi-tasker (and I applaud anyone who can survive today’s fast-paced world without at least a little multi-tasking), audiobooks are great entertainment. Hearing characters’ voices can make them come alive in ways that simply reading their words can’t. And beyond entertainment, they can help children and ESL learners improve their reading comprehension. Struggling readers can “listen up” to books that may be too difficult for them in print, and thus benefit from their content without the frustration of tricky material.
So, have I sold you on audiobooks yet? The only caveat is that, if you end up with a bad narrator, even the best book can seem tedious. (Remember that teacher with the monotone voice whose students sat with glazed eyes and vacant expressions for the entire class? It didn’t matter what she was talking about; all you were interested in was getting out of there as soon as possible.) If you’re looking for a good place to start, try an Audie or Odyssey award winner. I have an entire Goodreads shelf of audiobooks that I’d recommend. And if you want more suggestions, ask a librarian! We love connecting people with new material, and are thrilled when people ask about different formats. I always welcome opportunities to talk up our access to digital audiobooks.