Audiobooks: How Do You Pick The Right One?

Ahhh, audiobooks. I feel like these pieces of audio entertainment are always up for debate in the reading community. Some people love them–I’ve known people that will only “read” books by listening to them via audiobook, while others are instantly confused by the idea of listening to a book on tape in their free time, because you might as well read the book with your own two eyes.

So, what’s the deal with audiobooks? How do you pick one? Is it worth the time and money to pick an audiobook over a hardcover?

To start, I should preface this by saying that up until yesterday, I had very limited experience with audiobooks. This is probably due to my obsession with owning hard copies of books, but I’ve always opted for the traditional way of reading. It wasn’t until I began my bi-weekly 90-minute commute to my internship that I realized I needed more entertainment in the car than Ed Sheeran on repeat, that I really gave some deep thought to starting an audiobook. So, how does an audiobook newbie pick the right audiobook to start with? For me, it all came down to a few key elements.

1. It needed to immediately grab my attention (and keep it).

Considering majority of my driving time is spent when it’s dark outside (hooray for Minnesota winters), I needed to make sure that whatever book I selected would pique my interest and keep me awake during my drive. With that in mind, I immediately eliminated all the selections on Audible that were classics and non-comedic nonfiction. I also didn’t really want to listen to anything with too much romance, because I didn’t think I would be able to take the story seriously listening to some random person narrating something that could get a little bit steamy.

So, I essentially narrowed down my list of options to comedies and thrillers. Luckily for me, earlier at work that day while perusing through book review journals, I had stumbled upon praise for the audiobook versions of both Into the Water by Paula Hawkins and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. With two highly-praised options in front of me, I decided to choose Eleanor Oliphant as I was more in the mood for a quirky comedy than a thriller.

2. I needed a book that wasn’t going to drag on for too long. 

I think the issue I was most worried about when choosing an audiobook was actually the book’s length when read aloud. When you listen to an audiobook, the story will progress much slower than if you were reading it in your head. Narrators can only speak so fast–and you have to be sure that you’re actually comprehending what they’re saying, since you can’t backtrack quite as easily as when you’re digesting words from a physical book’s page.

It was also important for me to weigh the fact that I would have multiple-day breaks between listening periods. I couldn’t pick a story that was too outrageously long, because I would easily lose track of what had happened the last time I had listened. Eleanor Oliphant clocks in at 336 pages, or roughly 12 hours when read aloud. To me, 12 hours seemed like a decent enough period of time–only about a month’s worth of commuting.

3. The narrator has to have an appealing voice (and I have to be able to understand them!) 

Have you ever taken a class where the content wasn’t boring but the teacher made it boring? A lecture that you couldn’t wait to get out of, and where you’d almost rather teach yourself the content to spare the hours of sitting listening to someone who actually sucks the life out of learning? Yeah, that’s what I wanted to avoid.

One of the cool things about audiobooks is that many offer samples for you to listen to before you commit to buying the book. It’s like watching a movie’s trailer before deciding to rent it. I cannot recommend this feature enough. When selecting an audiobook, I’m so happy that I took advantage of it. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine takes place in Glasgow, Scotland, and the narrator (a spirited Cathleen McCarron) brings the Scottish drawl to life in all of her character portrayals. Having had some experience in Scotland, I personally love listening to her accent bring the story to life, but perhaps not every listener could as easily pick up an understanding of McCarron’s Scottish narration.

Each and every audiobook listener will have different preferences when it comes to narration–perhaps you prefer listening to women narrate instead of men, or you really only want to listen to books where the author themselves narrates–so I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to an audiobook sample before you make a commitment.

So, I purchased an audiobook yesterday–and I’ve already listened to over an hour and a half of it and it was a heck of a lot of fun. I suppose I was slightly confused over the concepts of audiobooks for the longest time, because I love being able to imagine the story and character voices for myself so much of the time. However, it was really nice being able to sit back and drive with someone else doing the storytelling for once.

I probably won’t become an audiobook connoisseur any time soon, but I’m currently pretty satisfied with my book selection and choice of car ride entertainment. I’m sure it will make my weekly commutes that much more enjoyable.

Comment below with any recommendations or experiences that you have with audiobooks (both good and bad!) I’d love to hear about them.

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