Listening to Audiobooks: What Works

Audiobooks always seem like a great idea.

I spend many bored hours in the car every week, and I’m always looking for extra reading time. Audio should be a perfect fit. In practice, though, it’s really difficult to make the format work for me.


Challenges with Audiobooks:
  •  Pacing. I read much faster than the audiobook. How much faster? Think auctioneer, or the legalese at the end of a car commercial, or a hyperactive mouse. In comparison, audiobooks’ pacing seems slow to me. If a book has a natural slow spot – one that I could skim through when reading a book – that’s where I’m going to completely lose interest in the audio version.


    My current audiobook

  •  The first chapter. I am a canary for slow first chapters. I’ve been known to re-read the first few pages of a book several times before feeling pulled in. Before I get to that point, I often miss some really basic cues like setting or a major character. This problem is amplified for me in audio, and it’s much harder to re-scan a few paragraphs to catch up.
  •  Patience and Memory. I like instant gratification. When I really enjoy a book, I gobble it up in a couple of days, and in that time, the characters live with me even when I’m not reading. Listening to an 8 hour audiobook during stolen hours in the car means I’m taking 2-3 weeks to finish the whole thing. During that time, I’m probably also reading other books; I may lose interest, or get confused about some of the plot elements. Coming back to the middle of an audiobook after a long weekend can feel a lot like picking up a new release in a favorite series: you know you like it but you can’t remember exactly why.
What works for me:
  • Pick my genre carefully. Some translate better to audio than others. My favorite genres for audio are children’s books and YA. These books face similar issues to audiobooks: children need a fast moving plot. Plus, kidlit is just plain fun. What just does not work for me: big historical epics and literary fiction.
  •  Be mindful when I start a new audiobook. My least successful audiobook starts somehow also coincide with setting out for a 5 AM road trip on a busy interstate. Wait until you’re through that first cup of coffee, out of the city, and settling into a driving rhythm. Or, start your audiobook at home, maybe while cleaning or cooking – whatever is meditative for you.
  •  Set reasonable expectations. Someone out there must be listening to the 18 hour audiobooks, or they wouldn’t be published, but I limit mine to 8 hours. Another way to deal with length: start out listening, and finish reading. I’m not sure my local librarian likes it when I check out the audio AND print version of a book at the same time, but she hasn’t stopped me yet. (I’d love to hear some of my librarian readers weigh in on this issue…)
  •  And finally, have fun with it. I’ve used audiobooks as a way to screen books that I want to read in more depth. I can download 10 e-audio books at a time from my library. So if I have a 5 hour drive, I can listen to thirty minutes of each book and get a feel for which ones are worthy of my reading hours. It’s like entering my TBR pile in a reality show, where I get to read the winner.


Next time: My recommendations in audiobooks.

This post was inspired by a review from A Work In Progress.


Readers… How do you make audiobooks work for you? Do you have a favorite format?


3 thoughts on “Listening to Audiobooks: What Works

  1. I hear you about the slower reading pace. That’s what drives me crazy whenever I listen to an audiobook. I also have trouble with my mind wandering to other things when I’m listening to an audiobook. I have found that listening to books I’ve already read helps for some reason. Nothing beats it for folding a huge pile of laundry. 🙂

    • everydayhas says:

      Me too! I check out and then 20 mins later am wondering what happened. It’s really hard to go back to the right place, too. You know, I’ve never tried listening to a book I’ve already read!! I’ll give that a shot sometime — thanks!!

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