Wolfspeak: Why I love audiobooks

by wolf on April 18, 2013

More years ago than I care to remember I visited a local bookstore (in those days a riot of bookstores bloomed within a mile or two of my house) and noticed something new–a rack by the cash register advertising a list of books that had been recorded on cassette tape.

I took home a catalogue—there were a thousand or so books in it—finding many classics I’d always intended to read but never had time for. As my commute to work was long and I had a cassette deck in the car, I decided to give it a whirl and ordered A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. You didn’t buy the tapes, you rented them.

A few days later a package arrived containing a box of neatly arranged cassettes. The next day I drove to work in the company of Mark Twain. My reading life hasn’t been the same since.

Nowadays I purchase my books electronically on Audible.com (catalogue: “108,000 books and counting”) and listen with my iPod. But the experience hasn’t changed from the Books on Tape days, and is to me irresistible.

If I sound like an advertisement for audiobooks, that’s because I probably am, although nobody is paying me. I figure I’ve read 500 or so books this way over the years, books I surely wouldn’t have read otherwise. Have you perchance read the entire Story of Civilization series by Will and Ariel Durant? I have. Listened in the car, rather.

When I hear about a new book and decide to read it, this is my order of preference for acquiring it: A) Audiobook from public library (free) B) Audiobook from Audible (paid) C) eBook from public library (free) D) eBook from Amazon (paid) E) Physical book from library (free) F) Physical book purchase (paid).

Did you love to be read to as a child? Do you still love to be read to? I say go for it. You do need to surrender to a book, which means you can’t be thinking of something else while listening. But you can be doing anything mindless, such as the dishes or walking the dog.

A few pointers:

1. Audible.com is the way to go, even though they were recently bought by Amazon. Download into iTunes and from there sync to your preferred device.

2. If you buy books in bulk the price goes way down. I pay less than $8.00 per Audible title, less than half what it used to cost me to rent from Books on Tape, also less than most print books. And the book is mine forever.

3. You can find public domain audiobooks for free, recorded by good citizens who donate their time. Generally these recordings are inferior to the commercial ones. Most of the readers aren’t professional and I find it makes a difference.

4. Some professional (Audible) readers are better than others. You can listen to a sample before purchasing. Avoid anyone who grates on you. The best readers strike a balance between dramatizing and straight narration. You get the occasional melodramatic, “chewing the scenery” narrator you want to kill. On the other hand, you also get gifted artists like Roy Dotrice (Game of Thrones.)

5. If you miss something, you can listen to that section again by moving back the little scrubber on the screen. But it’s definitely not as easy as going over again with a print book. You can’t highlight either, obviously.

6. Some folks are more visual than aural, but even if you’re primarily visual, you should try listening to a book. You’ll have to decide whether the tradeoff in pleasure is worth it. You might find light reading matter easier.

7. If you’re an experienced driver, it’s NOT dangerous to listen while you drive. The part of your brain that hears a book is separate from the part of your brain that scans traffic. You cannot, however, PARK and listen to a book. Because parking requires thinking, which interferes with following a story.

You could argue that even the best narration imposes a filter between the listener and the words and limits your experience of a book. I wouldn’t disagree, but this is the same as saying that the truest way to experience a play or poem is on the page. I say you pays your money you takes your choice. For me the tradeoff is worth it. Not only because the spoken word has its own, hypnotic power, but also on account of the hundreds of books I will never have the time to read that I did have time to hear while doing something else.

I love listening to an author reading her own work because I like hearing the book as she hears it in her head. For this reason I’m planning to do an audio version of Breathing for Two with myself as narrator. I think I’ll do that for every book I write, as long as I have any breath.

Coming soon. Look for it.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Viv April 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I could not agree more. I spend hours on the road and really look forward to feeling like that time is productive since I’m “reading”. I also second your thoughts about turning off the book when parking, etc. I find myself automatically turning it off if I’m on a beltway with heavy fast moving traffic that requires some extra attention. Thanks for the post!


wolf April 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm


Thanks for the feedback. You can also chew gum while driving and listening. Apparently it requires no thought to move the muscles of your mouth. I suspected as much.


The Exception April 19, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I am thrilled with the number of titles that are out there now. it is such a wonderful change. My daughter and I share stories – the experience is priceless and one that I encourage other parents to enjoy. There is something delightful about settling in and sharing a story telling with your child.
The Exception recently posted..Relax Your Heart Open


wolf April 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm

My son and I have listened together, too, to our delight.
And the number of titles grows rapidly, now including many midlist authors.


Leonora May 2, 2013 at 4:45 am

I am an avid audiobook reader. I haven’t read an actual book for years. I love audiobooks. I find it impossible to relate with the characters when I read. I tried my hands at ebooks a while ago, but it didn’t work. When I hear the story being told to me, that’s when I can really feel the story. I could never feel for a character that much when i’m reading. When I read in audio, it’s like I know the characters. The narrator gives life and voice to the persons in the books.
Am I weird for not being able to read actual books?


wolf May 2, 2013 at 2:01 pm

No! Not weird! Just primarily aural. I swing both ways but for pure pleasure nothing beats spoken word in my book, as it were. You go!


Ellise June 18, 2013 at 8:40 am

How does one go about doing this? Sounds wonderful! I’m a new author with my first book out. I’d love to record the audio myself. How do I do this?

Thanks for your input.



wolf June 18, 2013 at 9:53 am

If you live in the US and have a social security number, you’ll deal with ACX, an arm of Audible that facilitates audiobook production. Here’s their website: Turn Your Book into an Audiobook

If you’re not in the US, there are other ways to go. Joanna Penn, for example, signed with a small press (Gryphonwood), and they went to Audible.


Ellise June 18, 2013 at 10:27 am

I’m in the US. Thanks, Wolf. Much appreciated.

Now, on the same note…what if I don’t have the dedicated funds yet to become a paying Audible.com customer. How can I approach this audio idea without the money and yet with only my computer and me? Am I asking too much?


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