Audiobooks for the Uninitiated – Audiobook Week Discussion

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Okay, so here’s my thing with transitioning to audiobooks. Just because you are an awesome reader does not automatically mean you are going to be an awesome listener, at least not immediately. But this is actually good news. It means if you try an audiobook once and aren’t really into it, you aren’t somehow a person who is just incapable of audiobooks.

Audiobook literacy is a skill, just as printed word literacy is a skill and, while they are complementary, they do not overlap completely. If you are already a good reader, you have a huge leg up on developing your audiobook literacy, but you won’t just be magically there. It does take a little time to train your brain to process the spoken word in the same way it processes the written word; most of us haven’t sat and listened to someone read aloud to us for decades before starting to listen to audiobooks. I jumped right into audiobooks, but I found I would often have little to no idea what happened at the beginning of the book for my first 5-10 audios, because it wasn’t until the story sucked me in that my brain would realize it should be paying attention. Now, if you are trying to listen to a complicated audiobook, this can be an incredibly frustrating problem, because some books cannot be caught back up with easily. Obviously everyone will progress at different rates, but here are some things you can do to help acclimate your brain to audiobooks without frustration:

  • Listen to books you have already read – Listening to old favorites is a great way to break into audiobooks. For one thing, if you lose concentration on the audio, it doesn’t particularly matter, because you already have a good idea as to the plot. It is a great way to let your brain work on the process of paying attention to the spoken word.
  • Listen to audiobooks with less complex storylines – I still regret the fact that I attempted Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese on audio relatively early in my listening career. The narrator, Sunhil Malhotra, was fabulous, but the frequent jumps in the timeline of the story just lost and frustrated me. Straightforward plotlines are easier to follow along with, which is a huge help when your brain is still figuring this whole audiobook thing out.
  • Listen to engaging narrators – If your first audiobook experience is with a mediocre narrator, you’re going to have a tough time paying attention, even to a really interesting book. Ask your listening friends who their favorite narrators are, and pick something up by them.
  • Listen to an audiobook with quick pacing – Quick pacing catches your attention right away, and helps keep your interest for longer periods of time, without getting any listening fatigue. Mysteries tend to be particularly good for this, as long as they aren’t overly convoluted.

Do you have any tips to add? What are your top recommended titles or narrators for new listeners?

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21 comments to Audiobooks for the Uninitiated – Audiobook Week Discussion

  • That is actually a really good point. It took me a couple of audiobooks before I really got into it. So the lesson here is, stick with it as you can get so much enjoyment from audiobooks if you give them a try

  • I’m still fairly new to audiobooks. I’m actually still working my way throught my first one, but I love it! This week has inspired me to sign up with audible and listen to more audiobooks. Now I just have to pick what to listen to next!

  • Great advice! The number one complaint I get from people is that they tried a book but didn’t like the narrator and thought they didn’t like audiobooks in general. I usually try to encourage first time listeners to get a couple of audiobooks–if they don’t like the narrator of the first, try the second for comparison. I always have a spare in my car for those moments when I start a new book and I am having problems with the narrator.

  • Those are great tips, especially the one about fast pacing. The first book I listened to was The Hunger Games, and that really made me fall in love with audiobooks!

  • Beth F

    I forgot to link my audiobook reviews!!!

  • I think you’ve covered all the important tips actually! In my list, I put children’s books at the top and worked my way down to more challenging listening experiences because I do think that well-narratate books for the young are the perfect entry into audio.
    And I agree with Melissa: If you’re just starting out, what’s the harm in heading to the library to grab an armload of audios and then sampling a variety of narrators? You’re bound to discover for yourself that getting hooked on audio books depends – in part -on being enchanted by a particular narrator…

  • I absolutely agree with listening to books you’ve already read. Very few of the audiobooks I’ve listened to have been new to me books. Most are me “re-reading” a book or series. I listened to Graceling which is one of my all time fav. books and the audio experience was really different because it’s a full cast audio.

    I’ve also been re reading Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series via audio as well as J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. I find that I pick up stuff that I missed when reading the book because I often speed through books. Audio forces me to listen and I can’t speed through it. Well, I guess I COULD but…I DON’T!!

    Great advice for newbies!

  • Love Audiobook Week! I’ll be adding a post a day all this month on my Audiobooker blog. Stop on by!

  • I fell in love with them from the start and still feel the same. And they extend past a listen/read for me as they make being in the car which is normally a chore pure heaven.

  • If you are new to audiobooks, you are guaranteed to be hooked if you try any title narrated by the amazing Katherine Kellgren, just named the 2011 Booklist magazine’s Voice of Choice – find out more at the link below. And be sure to check out previous Voice of Choice narrators Simon Prebble, Barbara Rosenblat, and Simon Vance – each an audiobook master.

  • Thanks Jen, very interesting, can’t wait to have a n to read what other tips bloggers are sharing. And oh you are stretching me Jen, this is probably the longest post I have ever written! Thanks, what a great week! So glad I’m not stuck right now under thousands of words to translate [I do English-French translations apart from other things], so that I can really follow this actively.
    Emma @ Words And Peace

  • hmm, that’s pain when people don’t put here the link to the exact post that answers your question…

  • Wonderful tips. I do have a hard time listening to audiobooks and do it so rarely. So haven’t given myself the chance to get used to it. Will have to try some already read and see how it goes. That is such a good idea.

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this post, Jen! It didn’t occur to me that it might take some time to adjust to audiobooks. I tried one and had difficulty with it…wandering mind etc.,,,and thought it was just not for me. But you’ve given me so hope and I’m going to try again. I have a mystery audiobook so I think tht might be a good one to try!

  • I especially like your “listen to books you’ve already read” tip, and would second Laurie’s ‘start with children’s books’ (maybe because they tend to be shorter, which may help build up our listening skills)

    Interesting topic!

  • I like the idea of listening to old favorites as a way to build audiobook literacy. I will have to try that for listening to books around the house, since so far I’ve not been able to do that.

  • Great advice. I still feel too new to give any.

  • Really good post! I would have loved to participate today but had too much going on. This weekend is nuts but Iplan on hanging in there as I have reviews for each day and a fun narrator interview too…. just hoping I have internet through the weekend…. *fingers crossed* I am on a bike ride this weekend for MS for 150 miles

  • I just barely snuck this one in tonight :). You gave some great advice! I ended up doing an all-time favorites post :).

  • i’m a little late to the party, but i’m here!

    excellent list of suggestions. i had never thought before to listen to a book i’ve already read, but that’s a great idea. it’s something that i will definitely have to give a try soon (perhaps Harry Potter since i’ve heard good things about the narrator).

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