Chronicles of a writer abroad

The audiobook version


How do you feel about audiobooks?

I used to be pretty staunchly against them. If I was going to consume a book, then by golly I was going to read it, not listen to it.

Then a few things happened…I became addicted to talk radio (or at least one talk radio show, This American Life), and I realized that audiobooks would not be a huge leap from my beloved hour-long podcast episodes. I also joined the Zürich library system and found that a surprising number of English books were offered in audiobook format. It wasn’t long before I was carting home stacks of plastic boxes filled with CDs, and feeding them one by one into my computer.

Now that I’m a convert, I still read as many physical books as ever, but I’ve found that audiobooks have several distinct advantages. First, unlike library books that have to be returned, the audiobooks I get to keep — in digital form, anyway — because I import them into iTunes before transferring them to my device. Second, a big stack of them weighs nothing on my MP3 player, making them great for travel (though you could say the same about Kindle books) and third, I can listen to them while walking or running, which I really enjoy. The book Eat Pray Love, for example, was helpful in getting me through long training runs in the cold winter months — I’d forget my dreary surroundings and become engrossed in the author’s descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Italy, India and Indonesia.

There are also pitfalls, however, the main one being that a bad narrator can ruin even a good book. Actors are often used as audiobook narrators, and sometimes they go overboard in their attempts to make the voices for each character very unique, which can distract the listener. I was so irritated by the voice that one male narrator gave to a female main character, for example, that I had to stop listening to the book, even though it was one I’d been looking forward to.

The treasures in audiobook-land are those books read by the authors themselves. What could be better than hearing the book exactly as it sounded in the head of the person who wrote it? They know how the characters’ voices should sound, what should be emphasized, which tone to adopt for each scene.

Of all the audiobooks I’ve listened to so far, my hands-down favourites have been those by David Sedaris. I’d heard the buzz about Sedaris’ books (Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, When You Are Engulfed in Flames) in recent years, but I never got around to reading them. But when I saw an audiobook at the library with that precious “read by the author” label on it, I snatched it up. A few hours later I was out walking and unable to stop myself from bouts of laughter, even in the vicinity of other people. And I don’t laugh out loud often — almost never when reading — but the combination of his funny prose and his style of narration was just too much.

Sedaris, who lived for some years as an expat in Paris, describes in one chapter/audio segment of When You Are Engulfed In Flames how, after he’d given up on French lessons, he took to saying “d’accord” (“okay”) to anything that was said to him…and he underwent a number of frightening, disgusting, and hilarious experiences as a result. His descriptions of the behaviour of many other people — his longtime partner, Hugh, his former landlady, his siblings — are so outrageous that I suspect they are sometimes embellished, but this doesn’t stop them from being very funny. (Note: Sedaris is not recommended if you offend easily!).

Well, that’s the public service announcement I wanted to make before I head out for a run with a new book. Consider the convenience and enjoyment of reading while running, while walking, while commuting! And please do let me know if you have any good audiobook recommendations.


5 thoughts on “The audiobook version

  1. I’ve never been able to get excited enough about audiobooks to try it, but if I were to pick one, I think I’d go with Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Susan Jane Gilman was hilarious in the excerpt I heard her read; I’m sure the rest of the story from her is equally entertaining.

    • I read Susan’s book in physical form (and own it, if you’d like to borrow). I really enjoyed it. But yes, she’d do a great job on audiobook!

  2. I love audiobooks! And you’re right, those read by the authors are very cool. And while some bad narrators can ruin a book, a good one can turn it into an amazing experience! I got started listening to books when I realized I could be “reading” while washing the dishes. It’s a great way to reread a book that you loved in the past and would like to revisit.

  3. Pingback: Book recommendation: The God of Small Things « Milchtoast

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