Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Year of Listening: Audiobooks I Consumed in 2015

I drafted an outline on this topic for a YouTube video, but when I finished writing it, I realized I had too much to say for one video. I decided to write a blog post instead.

Early last year, many YouTubers made videos sponsored by Audible in which they discussed using a free trial and what their experience listening to audiobooks was like. (Amy Poehler's Yes Please had just come out, so many people reviewed that book; I haven't listened to the audiobook, but it's read by Amy and I hear it's great).

This exposure to Audible and some other various factors persuaded me to get an account. And thus, I started my audiobook journey.

I first downloaded Rooms by Lauren Oliver. This is the story about two ghosts who watch as a family cleans out its late father/ex-husband's house. Gretchen at ChicNerdReads had recommended it in book form, but for some reason I decided to listen to it. I think I thought it wasn't the type of book I'd normally read myself, but I'd be willing to have someone read it to me. Whatever my thinking, it doesn't matter: this audiobook is fantastic. The vocalists' performances make the book come alive. Rooms has multiple points of view, and each point of view has its own vocalist. The drama of the story is based on who knows what information and each speaker does a wonderful impression of the other characters--it's not corny at all. I would take long walks home from work just to listen to Rooms, and it really left me with a positive impression of audiobooks.

After Rooms, I tried picking up Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, but I really didn't like the performer's style, nor was I partial to, to be frank, the sound of his voice. I think I'd enjoy the story--a woman, who has never before seen the ocean, decides to go see it and just packs a gun and some chocolate and starts walking--but in text. I took a lengthy hiatus from audiobooks after this mishap.

I had purchased The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling the previous year for when my mother and I cleaned and painted our house in Vermont. We put it on in the background, but we were always in different rooms and could never really commit to the story. I am so glad I gave it another go because it is incredibly heart-breaking and important. The writing is an example of Rowling's range as an author. Just because she's known for a heart-warming fantastical children's series doesn't mean she can't point out and look directly at so many messed up things in the very real world. Tom Hollande is a wonderful vocalist--each character sounds distinct and is recognizable without sounding artificial. Also, this story made me cry to the lyrics of "Umbrella" by Rihanna. The detail and complexity in this book is remarkable. However, it is not for the faint of heart. A listener must be in the right mindset.

Next, I dipped an ear into The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey. It is a fresh look at the zombie apocalypse. I'd heard about this book through Jen Campbell on BookTube and was determined to give it a listen. Sadly, it took me forever to get through it. Partly because I was busy, and partly because I went back and forth between listening to music and listening to the audiobook while I was in transit, which is where I get most of my listening done. I do think, however, that the story itself is somewhat slow. While it is beautiful and sad in an eye-opening way, the tension takes a while to build. There is steady psychological and mental conflict, but the action is sparse. This does not necessarily make it a bad book, but maybe this style of book isn't conducive to a positive audiobook experience. By the time I got to the conclusion, I felt let down. It makes sense, but it didn't touch me in any lasting way. I wonder if I would have felt differently if I had read it, and in a shorter span of time.

I took a couple-month break before diving into The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. This is a sort-of-psychological crime thriller, and I don't want to say too much more because it is best to go in knowing very little. I adored this audiobook. And, I'd go so far as to recommend you listen to it in lieu of reading it. There are three female vocalists and they all do an amazing job. So amazing that they got in my head and made me question my own sanity.

Next, I listened to Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. This book is great fun--Mindy reads it herself, and as a professional comedian, she delivers. Her advice and experiences are intriguing: this book is a solid choice for anyone interested in Mindy's work, the entertainment industry, and how to be a successful person. Mindy's writing has such a distinct voice that if I had read the book, I would have been able to hear her on the page. Her actual reading of it adds a nice touch to the whole experience.

Finally, I have listened to The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer three times now. This audiobook is changing my life. You should listen to it. Everyone should. I talk discuss The Art of Asking in more detail here: Feel free to check it out.

So, what have I learned about audiobooks from my year of listening?

There is not necessarily a particular genre of book that is more or less compatible with the audiobook format; however, slower-paced books, such as The Girl With All The Gifts, might be more enjoyable in book form.

A vocalist's performance can make or break an audiobook. Rooms by Lauren Oliver isn't a book I would have normally picked up, but the vocalists kept me interested in the story they were telling.

I want to listen to more psychological thrillers, because, during The Girl On The Train, I enjoyed feeling connected to the characters--like I was gaining access to the inside of their minds--through an audible voice.

Listening to an author read her own non-fiction piece can have its perks--Mindy Kaling makes one or two side-notes that aren't in the book-version of Why Not Me?, plus some of her friends read parts of the book where appropriate, including B.J. Novak. In The Art of Asking audiobook, some of Amanda's songs are played in-between sections. And yet another bonus? You get to hear her Neil Gaiman impression.

It's difficult to say which books should be listened to instead of read. Of course, as a reader-listener, you have your own taste--you have to experiment to see which things work for you. Some people really like listening to memoir or other non-fiction books, but I'm not sure I'd be able to pay attention for that long. Some wonderful books have terrible vocalists; often you can sample a piece of the audiobook before purchasing it. I'd recommend listening to these clips--it's pretty easy to tell how you like someone's voice right off the bat.

I'm going to continue listening to audiobooks to see where they take me. If you're an avid audiobook listener, what sorts of things do you prefer to listen to? Do you have any recommendations? Let me know. Either way, happy listening!

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