I’ve always thought audiobooks weren’t for me. As a visual learner, I often preferred reading a book on a subject than receiving a lecture on it, with the exception of the hands-on experiences, of course. Books always had my full and undivided attention, to the point where somebody could probably snatch my belonging while I was sitting and reading in the park.
At the same time, I recognized the value of audiobooks: being able to “read” while you commute to work or do your chores. I just couldn’t imagine myself remaining focused on the story. I was certain that my mind would drift away soon enough, just like it happened when I gave podcasts a try, and the price for audiobooks discouraged experimentations with this form of consuming fiction.
So, what changed?
Back in autumn, I made another important step of settling in the US: I got a library card. Our library is in the local network, and it also offers digital books lending via Overdrive, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to confront one Joanna with a couple of audiobooks.
The first try
To make sure the book itself wouldn’t affect whether I would enjoy this form of “reading”, for my first test I picked a sequel to the book I’ve already read and enjoyed, and one that leans more on the entertainment side as I thought it might be easier to focus on.
It turned out to be a good choice, and in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only I managed to listen through the audiobook, but I also found it somewhat enjoyable. It evoked the childhood feeling of being read to and allowed me to do other productive things like chores or art while I still indulged in a form of reading.
There were things to adjust to, though. First, a female narrator did a splendid job creating different voices and accents for the entire cast, but her voice hardly fitted a confident macho, so it took me a while to get used to it. I also didn’t like that when something else distracted me, I didn’t have an easy way of quickly finding my way back: I don’t find rewinding all that useful.
The last thing that annoyed me was the time it took to “read” the audiobook. As a second language speaker, I’m much more comfortable with written words than spoken ones, so I couldn’t speed up the playback without the discomfort of missing too much of what was being said. At the same time, the normal pace, though appropriate for an audio narration, felt slow to me.
Encouraged by the moderate success of the first audiobook, over the next few months I checked out a few more. Some, I enjoyed, some made me discover more problems I had with this form of reading.
What was most important, I wasn’t able to skim past the boring parts easily. In a book or ebook, you just eyeball the text until something catches your eye and pulls you back into the story. You might also go back quickly if you realize you skipped too far. With audiobooks, it’s not that easy. You can skip ahead and go back, but nothing will tell whether this spot is where you wanted to stop. Of course, some might say that experiencing the story how the author intended is the way to go, and all parts should be read, but if reading is for enjoyment, anything dragging affects the experience severely rather than enhance it. If you ever had to sit through your relative or acquaintance telling a boring story with too many details, you can probably imagine how it could become a source of frustration. And a lengthy poem or a song that are easy to skim past in a book while still adding a flavor, can be a drag in an audiobook.
In the end, I found myself less willing to continue listening because of that, and ended up not finishing books that might have been otherwise a pleasant read.
More audiobooks or never again?
I’m glad I tried audiobooks. In some ways, this way of consuming books pleasantly surprised me, and I learned that with the right story, I can focus enough to listen to the entire book. I’ll definitely listen more in the future, and I’m eager to try how non-fiction works in this format, but print books and ebooks will still be my favorite way of reading.
How about you? Have you tried audiobooks? Do you enjoy consuming books this way?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.