On Audiobooks


A few months ago I entered a competition run by Granta on twitter to win an annual subscription to Audible, the distributor of audiobooks, and won!

I’m so pleased as I had been looking at audiobooks on Audible and the Apple Store recently as I walk to and from work and would quite like to listen to audiobooks to make the journey more entertaining. I went through a phase of listening to podcasts (The New Yorker podcast and Guardian books podcasts are particularly good) and it’s funny how I still associate certain places with the short stories and excerpts I listened to. There is one part of Glasgow that every time I walk past it I have Colm Tóibín’s soft voice in my head, reading a passage from his wonderful novel, Brooklyn and I love how much his voice and the story stick in my head. This has gotten me to thinking about voice, and how the person reading a book influences how we experience it. I remember a foray into the free audiobooks available on the Apple Store a few years ago and being over the moon at finding Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities on there. Unfortunately, this was read by an American woman which was just completely jarring, especially the dialectal speech which just could not be carried off by her at all. Needless to say, I abandoned that before I reached the end of the first chapter.


I have already started listening to books on the daily commute, beginning with The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It is a bit odd getting used to someone talking right into your ears and I find it harder to keep my place than with a physical book but it certainly makes the walk pass more quickly. It does take a while to get through though – I think I started listening to The Remains of the Day several weeks ago now. The book is read by Dominic West, and his voice is just perfect for it, the tale of a rather too serious butler between the wars, discussing what qualifies someone as a ‘great’ butler. I found the audiobook a little dense I must say for my walk first thing in the morning and I actually think I would have enjoyed this particular book more in print. On a side note – does one ‘read’ or ‘listen to’ an audiobook? Not quite sure which verb to use here…

point horror

I remember when I was younger and I would get audiobooks (on cassette!) from the library and listen to them while playing or colouring in. I seem to remember enjoying several Point Horror books and Little Women too this way. I’m sure I will be plugged in to my headphones around the house more often now too – I’m happy I can fit in even more reading time into my life!

There are lots of books that I want to read, but the tactilian in me wants these to have and to hold and the audiobooks (or audio digital downloads) are by their very nature intangible. I think there will be several factors influencing what I pick to listen to.

just kids

My first pick from my shiny new Audible Gold subscription is Just Kids by Patti Smith. I have been wanting to read this for some time and as Patti Smith reads it herself I am even more keen – I read a review somewhere (but sadly cannot for the life of me find where it was) that details the emotion in her voice in certain passages and how much this adds to the experience of reading the book. I am already halfway through and loving it, Patti’s voice and tales transporting me to Brooklyn in the late ’60s.

I have also discovered that my library has an audiobook service – I will be raiding their catalogues too I’m sure.

What are your thoughts on audiobooks? Are there any where the narrator has completely brought the book to life? Or even put you off?


Filed under Audiobooks, Literary musings

5 responses to “On Audiobooks

  1. I have come to really enjoy audiobooks and like how they pass my time while walking through the city – there is something very indulgent about having someone read to you. I am very careful with my narrators because they make or break and audiobook for me,

  2. Ooh, I might have to get myself a copy of Just Kids. It’s one of my favourite books that I’ve read recently and I would love to hear Patti Smith reading it!

    I love audio books but often find it’s the books that I’ve already read that I like to listen to again. I’ve got Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter and Joanna Lumley reading Jane Austen and they are great! I like to slip into them when I’m bored or can’t sleep.

    I’ve tried to listen to Dracula and Gone with the Wind because I loved those books and wanted to enjoy them again without having to read them. Unfortunately the accents of the narrators were so jarring that I had to stop!

    • There is nothing worse than the wrong narrator. I’m listening to Stephen Fry reading Moab is My Washpot jut now, although unfortunately the Harry Potter series isn’t available through audible! If it was I’d have an iPod full of wizardry…

  3. Pingback: 13 Best Books of 2013 | Ragdoll Books Blog

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