True Confessions: I Refuse to Listen to Audiobooks

July 23, 2015

Nope. Not happening.

My name is Shaina, and I have a confession to make: I've never listened to an audiobook, and a part of me never wants to.

All right, so I'm fudging a bit here. I've definitely heard an audiobook before, but this was back in the day when my grandma used to rent cassettes and CDs from the library to play in the car, and who really pays attention to those old lady books, anyway?*

Despite knowing what they were and how to get them, I never sought out an audiobook for myself as a kid, and I still haven't as a supposed adult. Accessibility isn't the issue; getting my hands on them is easier than ever among Audible, Amazon, Scribd, the library and probably dozens of other perfectly good outlets. Nope. This is audiobook discrimination, plain and simple.

I'm not sure where this staunch opposition comes from. I adore podcasts (that is, when I make the time to listen to them), and my favorite part of my stint as a journalism student was putting together audio packages for a multimedia storytelling class. I also love the idea that I could do some other low-key activity—cooking, crocheting, coloring, cat-petting—while I got my pages in for the day. Bonus: my bag would be so much lighter if I could store my reads of the week on my phone. This even goes for e-books; my phone is a full 50 grams lighter than my Kindle. The benefits are endless, people!

The only legitimate roadblock I can think of is that I tend to space out while listening to things. Things include podcasts, music and people talking to me. It's bad, and I'm working on it. I might be afraid that, if I shifted part of my reading over to the audible variety, I would miss out on a lot of the nuance—and, heck, some of the larger plot points—of whatever book I was listening to. I know this is the type of problem that I could surmount over time, but no amount of rationalizing has lit a fire under me yet.

There's never been a better time for me to face my biases; my Books on the Nightstand summer bingo card includes a conveniently-located square for an audiobook. I keep telling people that I'm excited to try one out, but I'm having the growing realization that that's a teensy bit (or perhaps a substantial bit) of a lie.

And so I arrive at a plea: can anyone persuade me to get over myself and give an audiobook a shot? I know many of you love them and I've seen oodles of recommendations for good stories and readers, but alas. It just seems too great a (first-world-problem) mountain to climb, and there are so many wonderful paperbacks here at the bottom.

*Old lady books rock.

Any suggestions for how to get a reluctant reader to try out an audiobook? Recommendations for best services or apps? Want to admit your own shameful audio-related secret?

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  1. Though I've listened to audiobooks, I'll jump at the chance to admit I'm not a huge fan. There have been one or two that I enjoyed, but I would never choose them over paper reading. I think the majority of it has to do with spacing out, but I also just hate that it takes longer AND I miss seems like a lose/lose situation. Since you're a "spacer", too, I'd go for nonfiction when you get to your square. It's a little more like listening to a podcast and you won't feel forever lost if you miss something important.

  2. Bryan G. RobinsonJuly 24, 2015 at 4:32 AM

    I don't think it's shameful to admit that we (Shannon, you, I, and others) don't like to listen to audiobooks. That said, I have listened to a couple within recent years: Tina Fey and Jim Gaffigan. Otherwise, I have zero interest in listening to an audiobook. I respect those who can listen to them, especially when they have long commutes or can listen to them while at work. My commute is five minutes and even though I work at a library, I can't listen to them while there so when I'm home, if I'm going to read, which admittedly lately has been almost non-existent, I'll pick up a book or my Kindle. It's not just spacing out for me, but also that I know I can read faster than the person reading the book to me, even if it is or if it's a tome, which I don't read very often anyway. Sometimes I'm just like "Get on with it already." However, like Shannon, I think your best bet if you're going to foray into audiobooks is nonfiction since you're already used to listening to podcasts.

  3. I am the opposite of what you asked for in your plea. Rather than convince you to try one, I'm going to commiserate with you and tell you I feel exactly the same way! I totally space out during audiobooks (but love podcasts)...I've had a bit more success with humor essays and lighter, did you know type nonfiction on audio (but still not great success). Fiction is definitely a no go for me.

  4. I'm another one who can't help you. I have never listened to one either (that wasn't targeted for my children). Same reasons as you - I'd space out and miss things for sure. I can even space out sometimes when I read paper books, and I'll have to go back and re-read a couple of paragraphs. Maybe this problem goes away with practice, but right now I'm not willing to give it the time.
    Non-fiction might be a good bet. Also, I have a friend who only listens to the classics on audio.

  5. Amanda @ The Zen LeafJuly 24, 2015 at 6:12 AM

    I used to be the exact same way. I never could pay attention, and there's that whole difficult-to-rewind, difficult-to-look-back, etc kind of deal. Plus, audiobooks were so SLOW! Before August 2010, I'd listened to very few audiobooks. I'd listened to a couple because that was the ONLY way I could get my hands on an old, obscure classic. I listened to two because I needed to read the book and couple stomach the print copy (the audio was the only thing that got me through). And then I listened to Hugo, because it's a book-in-pictures, and the book-in-sound-effects fascinated me. That was BEFORE.

    Then I heard that Alan Rickman narrated a Thomas Hardy book, and MAN I'll listen to ANYTHING Alan Rickman narrates! That was a turning point for me. I think I was READY to listen to audiobooks, and to be sure, I've developed very narrow tastes for what I listen to. First, I have to listen on 1.5-2x speed, so it sounds like normal speaking speed. I can only stomach some narrators. I can only listen to some kinds of books. Most classics will not be okay on audio for me. Most mysteries again will not work, because I can't flip back. However, nonfiction is SO much easier for me on audio. Books out of my comfort zone are SO much easier. And there are some books/series/authors that I just prefer on audio. I'll only do Tana French's novels on audio, for instance. Sometimes, if I'm having a hard time clicking with an author's writing style and cannot hear the voice, listening helps me to understand and absorb.

    I've found that books that are PERFORMED instead of just READ were the perfect way to get me into audio. Lolita read by Jeremy Irons. I'd read the book, but the audio was fantastic. The Bell Jar performed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. The Old Man and the Sea performed by Donald Sutherland. Sometimes people like listening to books that are rereads.

    Anyway, i could talk all day about the merits of audio. :D I'm a definite convert - but for only SOME kinds of books.

  6. I am a ridiculously huge advocate of audiobooks, and LOVE that I can squeeze in up to three more books in a month. I no longer mind driving to places across town, or the two hours to get my hairs did (I'm highly loyal to my stylist, even though it's crazy). I actually think driving + listening is an easy way to focus, but have found that listening while doing other things i.e. walking my dog, folding laundry, cleaning the house... a bit more challenging, and find myself zoning out a bit more.

    I don't think it's a big deal that you don't like audiobooks, unless *you* think it's a big deal. It might be worth giving one a try if you really haven't, and I recommend getting one via the library on Overdrive, so if it doesn't go well, you're not out any money. Or the two month free trial of Scrib would work too, you just have to remember to cancel it.

    I think the three best places to start are: 1) nonfiction - it's almost like listening to one long podcast. Missoula blew my socks off a few months ago, and I've heard all of Mary Roach's books are great on audio, but haven't had a chance to listen yet. 2) memoirs, especially celebrity memoirs read by the author a la Yes Please by Amy Poehler, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling, and ones I'm dying to read Nick Offerman's Gumption and Paddle Your Own Canoe. Who wouldn't want to listen to Ron Swanson for several hours? And lastly, 3) rereads - You already know the story, so revisiting an old favorite via audio is a highly enjoyable endeavor.

    Okay, wow, long rambling comment. Hope this helps!

  7. I don't like audiobooks either. I've tried, and I'll listen occasionally, especially when I have a lot of driving to do. But I'll always prefer a printed version. I agree with everyone else here: definitely go for nonfiction.

  8. Ok forget finding a job, my new mission in life is to turn you into an audiobook fan. (Kidding, it's perfectly ok if you don't like or adopt them. But I will share my advice/recommendations since you've asked!)

    First of all - when you are starting out with audiobooks it's most important to address the exact issue you state above - the Space Out problem. It's a real thing, and I struggled with it too when I started out. Here are the two best solutions: 1. Re-read a favorite (and well remembered) book via audiobook. Revisiting the Harry Potter books on audiobook helped train me to focus and listen better, and since i already knew the plot so well, it didn't matter if I spaced out, because I wouldn't get lost. 2. Listen to memoirs. Memoirs are some of the easiest things to listen to when you're starting out, I think the first person "Conversation" style makes it much easier to stay focused on. Some of my favs: Bossypants by Tina Fey, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kailing, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson.

    Second of all - I'm sure we've talked about this before and I wrote a post about it too, I love doing "readalongs" where I listen to an audiobook while following along loosely with a print copy in my hands. If you want to give this a whirl to see if you love it to, I'd recommend starting with a short book, or at least one where the narrator reads at a fairly good pace. It's obviously a bit slower pace than just reading, but you don't want someone who reads SO slow that you are bored trying to read along. If you get the right book/narrator combo, it actually might help you read *faster* because you'll get less distracted and not want to put the book down as much. A suggestion that comes to mind as a good first "readalong" book is The Stranger by Albert Camus, narrated by Jonathan Davis. Or The Ocean at the End of the Lane written & read by Neil Gaiman.

    Good luck! Godspeed! If you can bridge the gap into enjoying them, I think you'll LOVE the extra time for reading they provide, and how much more fun it makes chores, driving, walking down the road, getting ready in the morning, etc. And you also might start to love the audiobook experience on it's own - the richer reading experience they can provide or the awesomeness of hearing an author reading their own work.

  9. I'm just here to second Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling and Neil Gaiman as possible options. Also, if you do decide to read along in print, Audible (and Overdrive now, not sure about Scribd?) has a speed-up option that speeds up the narration without distorting it; you can listen at 1.25 or 1.5 speed (some narrators speak reallllllllly sloooooooowlyyyyyyy) to make it more of a natural pace to read along to.

  10. I tend to be alone in this opinion, but I find that mysteries and fantasy work *better* for me on audio than non-fiction. Even after 5+ years as an audio convert, I still find my mind absolutely wanders for non-fiction (exception: humor memoirs, a la Tina Fey). Mysteries suck me right in, though. I can only listen on long stretches of highway or drives I have completely memorized (like my commute to/from work, when I had a commute), otherwise trying to navigate and listen proves impossible. I also listen when I do chores and stuff around the house; folding laundry is SO much more fun when you're trying to figure out whodunit.

    Like Amanda said below, I'm still super picky about what I listen to (and abandon audiobooks on a near-weekly basis), and I also listen at 1.5x speed usually (sometimes more *cough* Outlander series, 44 hours in one book, oh god you got attacked by another bear *cough*), but I love being able to pack in extra books I might otherwise not have had the time for. It did take a few months for my brain to "learn" how to listen, though, if that makes any sense at all.

    Ramble over. ;-)

  11. I am with you on this. I can't recall ever listening to an audiobook in full. I tried listening to The Reader once, and I've heard snippets of Harry Potter over the years. I just don't have the attention span to listen to something and properly retain it, not to mention follow along throughout. It's hours of listening dedication that I just don't have. I also love owning books, so I see no point in buying the book AND the audio version. This is also why I don't have an ereader or do much of that. I want the real book! I need it. The end.

  12. I can't help with this! I am also a non-audiobook-listener! I'm not mad at them, but I don't find any particular time slots in my life where an audiobook would naturally fit in. That said, I'm planning a couple of road trips later in the year, and I want to at least give audiobooks another try at that point. WE'LL SEE.

  13. I'm not much into them either. Without the eye activity I tend to let my mind wander and miss stuff. I found it helps to find not only a fast-paced book (or a favourite), but also one that is read by someone who is good at reading or at least doesn't annoy the snot out of you. My faves have been the Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry and Rob Lowe's autobiography read by him. I also heard a rumour that you could get the first Veronica Mars book read by Kristen Bell and it's supposed to be awesome. Don't know if any of those are your thing, but that's my two cents! Oh also power through. Actuve audio book listening is a skill, so you have to keep going. After a while it will get easier. Kind of like reading Dickens or Austen.

  14. Malcolm Avenue ReviewJuly 24, 2015 at 8:36 PM

    I may be able to persuade you, but only if that's what you really want. I was in your exact shoes, Shaina. I tried audio probably more than two decades ago and couldn't do it. I'm a very internal person, I think about things all the time. This doesn't mean I'm deep - I've balanced my checkbook while watching a boring ballet (sorry, dancers!). It can be anything, but my mind is always spinning. Plus, I ENJOY my mind time. I love thinking while walking and especially while driving. The car is my think tank. I didn't want to give that up. All of those things made it impossible for me to get into audio, I needed my eyes engaged in order to have any hope. I can work while listening to music, whatever, I have that same ability to tune things out. Unfortunately, that doesn't work well with audiobooks.

    What changed? Nothing but my desire to give it another try. About 2.5 years ago, I had to drive to work for the first time in over two decades. I have friends who swear by audio and were encouraging, so I tried to give it another try. The key for me? I, like you, have way too many books to read. Some of those books are total unknowns, experiments if you will. Series I haven't had time to dig into, one-offs that are by a new author, books I really would never get around to if I was forced to be honest. Those books were the perfect books to try on audio. Books I wouldn't be crushed if I missed some of the plot.

    It's still hard. I still find my mind wandering, especially if something isn't totally capturing my interest. Same as tree/ebooks. But I've also discovered some GREAT things. There are a couple of series I now read exclusively on audio because (1) I started them that way and (2) the narrators are awesome. You'll begin to understand your friends' ravings about certain narrators. It's a great gap-filler. So if you at least START that way, not trying books you know are going to be important to you, you won't feel so bad if and when you lose track of what's going on.

    I've taken up enough of your space here, but if you want to chat about it more, I'm more than happy to do so. I'm really glad I started. I'm now going through more audiobooks than ebooks.

    Oh, one more thing. I get antsy. Same way I can't read a huge tome, my sweetspot for audio is 9-12 hours or so. I also listen at 1.25 speed, sometimes 1.5. I often start at regular speed to get the narrator's patterns and voice down, but then I increase. I find the narration too slow for me. So that's another thing to experiment with.

    Now I've REALLY taken up more than my fair share. Give it a go! The worst that can happen is you decide once and for all that it's not for you.

  15. I’m with you - I’ve never really got into them. I never sought them out as child, preferring actual reading, and that’s carried over into being an adult.
    And I’m a complete space cadet. I can deal with about 3-5 minutes of a person talking AT me before my mind wanders and I start thinking about other stuff. I need to be engaged in the conversation, and be able to give input. Which is why reading works for me.
    I can look at a page and see the words, and think about what I’m seeing; I can go back and reread; and I can stick post-it flags in for things I need to look at or think more about later. Reading is much more interactive and keeps my brain focussed.

    Having said all of that, I did buy an audiobook the other day. But I’ll be listening to it while I read. Sort of defeats the purpose of getting an audiobook, but it’s a Shakespeare play that I’m reading, and I can’t read plays just by reading them with my own eyes and mind (that makes no sense, but maybe it does??); I tried once before with another Shakespeare play and I couldn’t get into it, so I downloaded a BBC Radio audiobook that was a cast recording, and read along while I listened. It was the best - I can listen to the play and not drift off as I’m engaged with the print text.

    So in that sense audiobooks work for me, but I wouldn’t be able to just listen like you’re meant to.

  16. I felt the exact same way before I discovered They're like podcasts, but each one is a chapter of a book, so you only have to maintain your attention for 20 minutes or so. Also, they're FREE, so you don't have to feel like you've wasted money on an experiment/adventure into audiobooks. I highly recommend Shadowmagic by John Lenahan and The Merchant Adventurer by Patrick E. McLean. There are others I've loved, but those are by far my favorites.

  17. I think if you would try one, you might be surprised. When I first started them, I was worried I would tune out the story too. Instead, what I've found is that I pay much closer attention to audiobooks than print books and uncover MORE nuances and details than I do while reading. The thing is to find the type of book that works best for you, the narrators you enjoy listening to most, and the situations which allows you to best focus. For me, this is suspense/thriller/horror novels with the occasional nonfiction thrown in for good measure. I can only listen while I am walking or working on formatting a spreadsheet. I can listen while commuting but it has to be in small doses and not when I'm tired. I haven't really tried to listen while doing anything else. I like music when I clean and silence when I cook. It is totally personal, just like everything else in life. It did take me several tries before I figured out what worked best, and I subjected myself to some miserable audiobooks in the process. But now, I know when an audiobook is going to work for me and when it won't. I would say give one a try, maybe two. Play around with narrators and pick the genre you love the best. You might be surprised at just how much you enjoy it.

    Good luck!

  18. In the past, I've been really reluctant to listen to audiobooks because I'm really bad about spacing out too. But, lately I've been wanting to check one out mostly for my rides to and from work. Despite living in the capital city of my state, it's a void for radio stations so I'm constantly scanning stations for a song I can bob my head along to. For the first time last week, I scoped out my library's audiobook selection. Unfortunately, the selection piqued my interest, so I'm seeking out audiobook alternatives...

  19. Oh boy. I am going to be no use to you on this one. I am like you...I am an audiobook virgin. And I really don't have any serious plans to change that. I guess some part of me has always viewed audiobooks as some form of reading cheating. I'm totally discriminatory in that department...