Am I an audio-book-person?

I must thank Ola, at Re-enchantment Of The World, for the hint that even though libraries are closed to foot traffic, we can still borrow audio downloads, onto our phones. The carrot she tempted me with was her review of The Hazel Wood, a fantasy novel by Melissa Albert. It was on our library site, too. So, that was where I started.

It’s a young-adult novel, and I’ve enjoyed a few of those, even though it’s a while since I fitted that age-group. This one had good characterisations, and some interesting twists and turns.

As I like BBC Radios 4 and 4-Extra, I assumed that I would find audio books an easy listen. I hadn’t factored in that most books featured on the radio are abridged, or that I’m a fast silent reader. How stupid am I, not to have expected that having a book read to me, by someone who takes care with the words, is a much slower process?

So my main feeling, as I reached the end of The Hazel Wood, was that it was very long. Was it? I checked Amazon. At 365 pages it isn’t out of the way huge. My summer read-along commitment, The Mysteries of Udolpho, is 632 pages of small font.

I decided that one book did not constitute a trial, so, when insomnia had me trawling my bookshelves for something soporific, I went back to Borrow Box and browsed the catalogue. I don’t remember what search terms I used, but I found Georgette Heyer, in the Crime section.

Her regency romances had whiled away many babysitting evenings, during my teenage years, and recent revisits to a few of the familiar titles hadn’t disappointed. They’re not great literature, but they had engaging characters and some neatly turned plots with safe outcomes. In my experience, this is a good formula for a written lullaby.

Another attraction was that Heyer books are short. Popular novels written in the middle part of the twentieth century are often around 230 pages.

Ulli Birve, the reader, had a pleasant voice. But oh, dear, what was she saying?

It was apparent to Miss Fawcett within one minute of her arrival at the Grange that her host was not in the best of tempers. He met her in the hall, not, she believed, of design, and favoured her with a nod. “It’s you, is it?” he said ungraciously. “Somewhat unexpected, this visit, I must say. Hope you had a good journey.”

The Unfinished Clue did not have the lively, economical, and witty, voice of the regency romances. It was more like a masterclass in clunky writing.

Miss Fawcett was a young lady not easily discouraged. Moreover, she had been General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith’s sister-in-law for five years, and cherished no illusions about him. She shook him briskly by the hand, and replied with perfect equanimity: “You know quite well it’s impossible to have a good journey on this rotten line, Arthur…”

Was it because I was listening that this clumsy piece of exposition hit me so hard? Worse, was I going to let it keep me awake?

It was 3 a.m., and I wanted to sleep. Who was I to be critical?

I made some mental adjustments. Ulli Birve’s voice was so comfortable that I could allow the content to drift past me. I dozed off with the headphones on, around about the end of Chapter Two.

I don’t want to write negative reviews of writing. The next day, I listened to the rest of the novel. I missed the sense of joy I’d found in the regency romances. This one included cliche characters and situations, a thin plot, some obvious pairings, and casual racism.

I’ve not given up on the audio books. I’m enjoying Bridget Jones’s Baby: The Diaries, by Helen Fielding, read by Samantha Bond, though it is, perhaps, too humorous to be an antidote for insomnia.

Meanwhile, my Cosy Crime novel experience has left me with some questions:

  1. Is it acceptable that The Unfinished Clue is still available for loan?
    1. Don’t novels like this belong in the archives, as part of our historical record, rather than offered for circulation?
  2. The Borrow Box catalogue is quite small, and several of the alternative Cosy Fictions were already out on loan. Doesn’t this mean that borrowers are being put in situations where they will borrow books they might not otherwise choose?
    1. Isn’t it even more important that the decisions about what is included are vetted for content, and levels of potential offense?

58 thoughts on “Am I an audio-book-person?

  1. I am a long devotee of audio books. As a child my mother used to play the Sleeping Beauty story record to me from the landing while I was in the bath, how luxurious! Until a few years ago I still had a car radio with a cassette deck. And a huge crate of audio books on cassette that sat on my back seat. Audio books kept me company on the way to work. I remember crying on my steering wheel in the work car park, because Jane Eyre was heartbroken, and so was I.

    Now I too have the Borrowbox app via the library. I have found it frustrating at times when I can’t get what I want. But because it is an Australian company, I have discovered some Australian authors I would never have picked up otherwise. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison is excellent. If you haven’t read it yet, reserve it now on borrowbox. I never would have picked it up in a bookshop (It looks like Chick Lit and I’m a snob) so I was late to the party. A very enjoyable romantic comedy.

    Another joy is Librivox. This is a project where books out of copyright are read and recorded by volunteers. Result: free digital audio books. The reading quality varies, but there are some excellent readers on there. Anything read by Karen Savage is a joy. And I’ve discovered some incredible books that are out of print. Anna Katharine Green’s novels for instance. The Leavenworth Case – Detective story written pre-Sherlock Holmes set in New York. That Affair Next Door – A murder mystery featuring a prim character called Miss Amelia Butterworth suspiciously like Miss Marple but written in 1897. Yes please! I could go on and on. I think you’ve inspired me to write my own post about this.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for the useful thoughts, Caroline. I did read the Rosie Project, some years ago, and like you, unexpectedly found it to be wonderful.
      I’ll have to take a look at Librivox, and bear your recommendation in mind. I do like the idea of tracking down some out of print books. I look forward to catching up with your post. I loved the Knitting Patterns one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was actually editing as I read the Georgette Heyer excerpt! I used to listen to books in the car when I had a job that required a lot of driving. I recall arriving at my destination just at a very good part in the story so I drove around the block a couple of times in order to hear that bit! I haven´t tried it lately. I have enough books on my shelves and on my kindle to cover a three-year lockdown, I´m sure.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Now that’s what I call multi-tasking, Darlene. Hope it’s going well.
      I do have three long shelves of TBRs, and I’m not sure I’ll stick with the audio books. I think I prefer radio, but there doesn’t seem to be so much of a programme choice in the early hours…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just read what I wrote and realized it didn’t come across quite right. What I meant to say was that I couldn’t help but edit Georgette Heyer’s excerpt. I found it very clumsy. But, after doing a lot of editing, which I have been doing to get my next book ready for publication, I tend to edit everything I read!! I used to love hearing stories read on the radio.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m relatively happy to listen to stories if I’m doing something relatively mindless (like driving distances, or eating, or decorating) but not if there are distractions — such as books, social media or something that needs my total mental commitment.

    So alas, audiobooks are not for me: it’d be a pain to have to rewind to savour a passage or correct a mistaken impression if, should it be a physical book, I merely had to turn back a page or two.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I’m not sure audio books are for me, long term, either. For the moment, if chosen carefully, they seem to provide an antidote to some intermittent insomnia.
      I don’t think I’m a convert from turning paper pages. I like real books for the same reasons as you, Chris, they seem so much more manageable.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the shout-out, Cath! 😀
    I must confess, audiobooks are a very contextual thing for me – I need to listen to them while doing something else, prefereably driving. I can drive and listen to audiobooks all day, and it has the added benefit of not being stressed out by road/traffic conditions. But if you sat me down and made me listed, I’d be getting out of my head in no time! 😉 And I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep either 😉
    Hope you’ll find an audiobook that suits your needs – a good narrator and an engaging story, in the right conditions!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for nudging me to try audio books, Ola.
      I’m afraid I cheated on the falling asleep, as I opted for books that seemed predictable, and didn’t deeply involve me, so I didn’t mind missing huge sections of story. The real test is going to be trying a book that I’m drawn to, and as you say, possibly when driving, or cleaning house.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I enjoy a good audio book! I was interested in your questions: (1) In Australia libraries and online reading platforms do not practice censorship. If asked, a book can be removed or archived. (2) The small number of books on offer equates to budget, royalties, etc. (3) Personally I think trying other books is a good thing and there’s always return/delete. However, I confess that I never liked Georgette Heyer.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the clarification, Gretchen. I hadn’t thought of myself as censoring, but I see that would be the correct term for my suggestion that it should be archived, and available only on request. Hmm. Food for thought, there.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Cath, I’ve never listened to an audible book. Not one. I don’t know why I’m dead set against doing so! However, after reading your thought-provoking post here, I may reconsider and give one a go this summer! Bright Solstice Blessings, Deborah.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I can only agree with previous comments. Somehow my concentration seems to wander when listening to an audio book. There are two notable exceptions. Listening a tape of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ after I’d had my tonsils out (around 25 years ago) and more recently, painting the kitchen to one of the Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry.
    Maybe we’re all readers rather than listeners when it comes to books?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for the reminder, Chris. I had forgotten Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter. It was broadcast on the radio one Christmas, some years back, and I remember being very impressed by it.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have a hard time with audiobooks. I don’t know why, Cath. Probably because I associate them with long road trips, otherwise it’s so much faster to just read. I have a few audiobooks in my phone for retirement travel! I might have to give one a try before then. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    • I know how you feel, Diana, I’ve decided I need to call this way of absorbing stories something other than book, which is associated for me with the pleasure of turning pages. Chris has just reminded me of Stephen Fry, reading Harry Potter, and that was a positive, so it must just be a case of finding the right time, the right story, and the right reader – not too big an ask, surely…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think it must be quite a tricky balance, Pam, and maybe best achieved when listening to an author I’ve not already ‘heard’ through reading their other writings. I’ll persevere, but I can’t foresee my becoming a convert.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Since Covid I seem to have less time to read since I did almost all my reading on the elliptical at the gym and the gym is closed so I now listen to books when I walk the dog and it’s been great, Cath.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank the Lord you left that blog comment on my blog, cos then I remembered I’d bookmarked this to come back to and read at length cos I have often wondered re audio books and knowing what a reader you are what your take would be. Personally i just love curling up with a physical copy, then i can devour bits over and over, stop go back, so I guess that yep… I wouldn’t get along too well with an audio. But your post raises other questions. I guess Heyer knew her Regencies but yep that writing is clunking on that crime book. Of its time and day and type, I guess. But you are right re archiving. i mean I cannot imagine anyone picking it up and going, ‘WOW, must read all of these by this author.’

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for the compliment, Shey. I’m still persevering with the audio, and I did enjoy the Bridget Jones, but I did finish it wishing I’d been able to turn the pages, and read at my own pace.
      My feelings re-Heyer, is that a lot of people will be borrowing her crime fiction on BookBox simply because there’s not much else to choose from. I’ve tried a second one, and it’s no better, either in the clunky writing or the stereotyping of characters.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Now you have me pondering a post of my own on audio books, Cath; I have plenty to say on the subject! Until recently I found myself very particular about audiobooks. Only certain books work and the narrator has to be right. And as you point out, they invariably seem so very long and yet I don’t like abridged versions! At home I can’t just sit and listen, neither can I walk with earphones. Each audiobook took months to get through. Very recently I’ve learned how to connect my kindle to my car speakers which has opened up new possibilities. During my long drives between Kent and Cornwall I can now polish off a whole book which is a very satisfying use of the time wasted behind the wheel. (I might amplify all this on my blog!) As for those moments of sleeplessness, I have more luck with calming music or mindfulness than listening to a book!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I look forward to your post on Audio Books, Sandra, I feel I haven’t made the most of them. Since we’re still self-isolating, I’ve not been doing much driving, and that does seem to be the main recommendation for using them.
      I’ll look into your tip on mindfulness though. Some books are just too interesting to work as sleep-aids.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting post. For me an audiobook works, when the author is a celebrity and he or she also narrates the book. (Like Kevin hart : life lessons). Most other times, I found the voice disconnected wiith my imagination.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I’ve never listened to an audiobook. I do listen to a lot of podcasts when exercising or driving (not that I drive much right now), so I’m sure I *COULD* listen to audiobooks, but then when would I have time to listen to podcasts? Hmm … 🤔

    Liked by 5 people

  13. The beauty of audio books is the every word thing, I’ve spent a lot of time in Barchester this year, nothing improves a tedious task or the Morrisons social distance queue like some time spent with Archdeacon Grantley, or getting involved with and increasingly irritated by the Dale girls. The prose has to be good though, Trollope works, Tolstoy works and so does that wonderful tale of excess and revenge, the Count of Monte Cristo, they tackle the human condition, but oh the clunk of your Heyer thriller, every bit as clumsy as Dickens…
    Downside of my lovely Caterham 7, audio treats don’t happen, just the roar of the engine and the wind. May try singing in the car, a childhood pastime of long journeys.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Nice tip, thanks Fiona, I hadn’t thought of tackling Trollope in this way. Something elegantly written is certainly to be preferred.
      I suppose headphones don’t fit so well with an open-top car. Well, there has to be some downside to life with a Caterham 7, surely?

      Like

  14. great post, Cath! I’m definitely an audiobook lover — as a writer, I feel like the moments I can spare to be sitting, I should be writing. hence, I listen to books via all the odd bits of time when I’m doing something relatively mindless like driving, washing dishes, sweeping, brushing my teeth — even at times listening to a book as I participate in an exercise video! there are so many great book readers too. I also find that listening is easier than reading for some types like those long classics…

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What interesting reflections, Cath. “I’m a fast silent reader.”–I hadn’t thought about that. Me too! So audio books would take longer. I haven’t tried them yet but you have me thinking about them (though not racing to my computer to check one out).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve not given up, Jacqui. I’ve listened to a few now, and they’ve definitely helped with my short spate of insomnia. I would normally read, but that means having a light on, so lying in the dark listening has been good, but the next day I do have to back-track to the point where I fell asleep…

      Like

  16. Hi, I have forced myself to be more open to audiobooks and although I prefer printed books, I do like when I find a good audiobook to listen to when I’m out for a walk. But I think the narrator is very important and when that isn’t working for me, I lose interest.So like you, I’ve had some ups and downs, but I keep trying! I’m glad to have found your blog, too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello, Book Club Mom, it’s so nice to meet you.
      I’ve persevered with the audio books, and have now found a few to enjoy in waking hours, as well as to cure insomnia. I agree, the narrator is a big part of the experience. My next challenge is finding convenient times to listen. I don’t think I’m a listen-while-walking person, so perhaps I’ll need to wait until we can get back to working off-line again. I’m sure they’d help with my commutes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Cath – it’s nice to meet you too! I don’t listen to audiobooks all the time while I’m walking because sometimes it’s just too intense and I would rather think of nothing while I’m outside. I like to color and listen, though I’m no artist. I find that relaxing. If I had a job with a longer commute I could definitely see listening to audiobooks then. Thanks for the visit 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  17. You know, this is honestly one of the reasons why I’ve never gotten into audio books. I know many people love them–my father did, especially–but I do like working through the language at my own pace. Part of me wonders if you would have had the same experience with Georgette Heyer had you read her yourself. I’m betting you would have breezed through those clunky bits; you’d have noted them mentally, but I have a feeling they wouldn’t have been a stickler (though that’s me with my own share of “Why did I enjoy this?” Now I wonder if I could handle reading Nancy Drew again) because you weren’t forced through them at another’s pace. That’s just me, though! xxxxxx

    Liked by 1 person

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