Thursday, March 28, 2019

Some Thoughts on Audiobooks

I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately. Like. A LOT of audiobooks. Over half of what I finished in the month of January was in audiobook form, and I think they're a fantastic way to experience books.

I'm not going to have the discussion about whether or not audiobooks qualify as reading... as far as I'm concerned any way of experiencing a book should qualify. I know audiobooks aren't for everyone, but for people who struggle with reading words on a page, they can be a real boon. It's a fantastic way to improve the accessibility of stories. And for me personally, I just really like listening to them while doing groceries, or taking the bus. Basically if I'm on the go, unless I am speaking to another human being or in class, I am listening to an audiobook. I really, really like being read to, I suppose?

My ever-increasing audiobook listening has me thinking about what makes a good audiobook. Audiobooks to me have always kind of been not only just a book being read out loud, but also a way to add something to the experience of the book. Done well, audiobooks can be really immersive things. 

I think it's a symptom of me being me, but I like to dissect. If something isn't working for me, I want to know why it isn't working. I think it's a bit clearer why things DON'T work than why they do. It's like salt- you really notice it when it's not there, I guess?

A lot of this was brought to the surface by me trying to figure out what about the audiobook of The Gilded Wolves wasn't a particularly enjoyable reading experience for me. And I think a lot of it was the narration of the audiobook, rather than the story itself not being compelling.

I've found that a pet peeve for me with audiobooks is when audiobooks with 3+ point of view characters has only two narrators, one per gender. It's... weird for me. For immersion, I've found what works best (for me at least) is to either have:
  1. one narrator for the whole book, or 
  2. one narrator per point of view (I get that having a significant number of voice actors come in to narrate challenging and expensive, and a lot of the time there might not be a budget for it... and I honestly think in those cases, I'd rather just have a single narrate carry the whole story, it feels more cohesive in general that kind of... arbitrarily divvying up the characters by gender and for me makes differentiation more difficult.)
Having one narrator per character is really nice in cases of first person point of view especially (and these are definitely some of my favourite audiobooks). It really does a fantastic job of putting the reader into the character's head! A good narrator can really give a fantastic inner voice to a character.

A single narrator, on the other hand, is more about the feel of the book than the feel of a given character. On one hand I think it's easier to make it cohesive with a single narrator (either because there's just one POV, or it's third person), but other the other hand it can take away from the experience if the narrator isn't able to differentiate the individual voices.

Some favourite first person POV audiobooks:
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Fiona Hardingham as Puck and Steve West as Sean: this audiobook the treasure of my heart, honestly. The narrators' voices are, in fact, so tightly tied up in the characters for me that it took a significant amount of mental effort for me to listen to another audiobook read by Steve West without hearing Sean. Both narrators are really good and excellent at giving a sense of place to the story, as well as having intonations that really add something to the characters. My favourite way to experience The Scorpio Races is actually the audiobook (although I love reading it too... the audiobook is really something). Also Maggie Stiefvater did the music for the intro and it is, dare I say, a jam
  • Sinner by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Emma Galvin as Isabel, Dan Bittner as Cole, and Pete Larkin as Martin from F♮ Live: there are going to be a lot of Maggie Stiefvater novels on this list because the audiobooks of Maggie Stiefvater's novels are kind of everything an audiobook should be. I especially like the narrators for this one. They're both good at caustic and conveying "experiencing an emotion that is blotting out the rest of everything" which is... really good. 
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda: this is just. Such a good book and so,so well narrated. I listened to it while I was doing a summer job cleaning a factory and it was super nice to have it.
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, read by Euan Morton: Euan Morton is so good at carrying multiple points of view (nine first-person points of view, I think?) and making them distinct, to the point where I never found myself forgetting whose point of view I was in at a given time, despite the whole story having one narrator. (This is partly down to Rainbow Rowell's ability to make point of view clear though characterisation, and partly due to Euan Morton's fantastic flexibility as a narrator, I think?) Simon and Baz are the principle points of view and they're both distinct, despite being narrated by the same person they sound VERY different.
Some favourite third person POV audiobooks: 
  • The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton: I told you there'd be a lot of Maggie Stiefvater on this list, but it merits this treatment. I just feel that Maggie Stiefvater's books are really well suited to the audiobook treatment, and these are especially well done.
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, read by Christine Lakin: I've listened to this about three times in the past fortnight, which is slightly excessive behaviour, even by my standards
  • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale: I couldn't not mention this one! My parents discovered when we were children that these were a good way to keep myself and my sister quiet in the car for long drives, so this one has some nostalgic value, but they're also just really good audiobooks! 
So, that's some rambling on audiobooks, because audiobooks are the theme of the week.(I swear I didn't plan that! Have you met me? I'm not fantastic at planning things. But I digress.)

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have a favourite listening program? Are you totally dependent on libraries because audiobooks cost even more money than books in other formats? Do you have any recommendations that stand out as absolutely fantastic? Let me know what you think!


  1. omg I love audios so much! They are actual TREASURES. And definitely count as reading (like we wouldn't say a braille book wasn't 'reading' right?! So I think audios count for that too 😂) And I agree that Maggie Stiefvater's books just lend themselves perfectly to reading. I adore TRC on audio and have never even read my physical copy of The Raven King...but I've listened to it twice haha. I also think the narration really affects the story though. Like I was listening to a contemporary, and it was a sequel, but new narrators...and I hated them. I think I needed the original narrators because swapping mid-series is jarring. I nearly HATED the book and had to switch to ebook and then I liked it. So that's the only downside of audios I think hahah.

    1. I think the thing with an audiobook is that it does turn the story into a collaboration (even more so than getting a book from an author's brain to publication is). It's a big collaboration between the book itself (and everyone behind that) and the reader (or team of readers). It's fantastic when it goes well but throw a wrench into any part of the proceedings and... frustration abounds. I'm the same with switching readers between books... it isn't generally my favourte thing.