I don’t think I’ve shared this on my blog before but I’m not really much of an audiobooks type of reader. Which isn’t to say that I haven’t given audiobooks a shot until now, of course. Way, way back in the olden days (back in high school), I actually got my hands on an audiobook of Stephen King’s Carrie. I made it to a couple of chapters before I called it quits. Although the narrator’s voice had a charming Texan drawl (I did some digging and apparently the narrator was Sissy Spacek, Carrie herself!) I just couldn’t really get into the story. So I opted to read the book myself.
Every time I see an ad for Audible – and, as a YouTube junkie, I see them basically every day – I look back on that Carrie audiobook, remember my lukewarm experience, and tell myself that that format of books just isn’t for me. So I’ve been mostly able to ignore the lure of audiobooks despite such rigorous marketing by that
shady mega-company. The stacks of unread books on my shelves and on my Kindle also have something to do with it, but mostly I just didn’t have the time or opportunity to give audiobooks a shot.
But then my country went into lockdown because of COVID-19 and I suddenly had all the time in the world.
The Philippines hastily went into lockdown in the middle of March and everyone struggled to stay afloat, financially and personally, I mean. I was – and am – privileged enough to focus on the latter since the former wasn’t as big as a problem as it was for majority of people. But while I recognized that I was indeed one of the lucky ones, my anxiety didn’t care a whit about that. In fact, being trapped at home with nothing to do but doom scroll 24/7, the anxious thoughts just kept getting worse and worse. I knew that I had to distract myself somehow.
Lucky for me and everyone else who were also a little stuck in their own heads during lockdown, Scribd offered a 30-day free trial for their service. That digital library not only had a wide selection of ebooks, it also boasted an impressive number of audiobooks. I was like a kid in a candy store. With all the free time forced upon me and the incredible opportunity from Scribd, of course I was finally able to give audiobooks another, more serious shot.
Reading audiobooks was pretty comforting, I quickly learned. They were sort of my cheerful companions throughout all the madness. In total, I finished ten audiobooks during Scribd’s free trial. While I can honestly say that this format of books is definitely better than I initially gave it credit all those years ago, I have to admit that I also encountered a few minor issues in certain audiobooks that sort of muddled the reading experience.
In this little post of mine, I’m going to give a quick summary of my personal experience with audiobooks, the pros and cons of enjoying books in that format, and maybe even a couple of audiobook recommendations.
Let’s start with the pros.
This one’s a pretty obvious advantage to audiobooks. I’ve always found it a bit frustrating that reading a physical or digital book restricts you to one activity. That’s why I sometimes find myself in a reading slump because I can’t seem to justify only sitting down to read and not something more productive. It sounds silly, I know, and reeks of that toxic productivity mindset but, especially back during early lockdown where I had nothing but free time, I felt like I needed to do more than just reading, you know?
Audiobooks give you the freedom to at least do some other less mentally taxing task. For instance, I set up my bullet journal pages while listening to Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X (narrated by the author herself). Not only was I able to lose myself in Acevedo’s poignant novel, I also managed to do some bujo pages for practical use.
I also finished the last half of Erin Entrada Kelly’s Lalani of the Distant Sea (narrated by Lulu Lam) by picking up my watercolors and doing a little fanart.
I was just so inspired by how atmospheric Lalani was that my hands itched to do some art once more. Even though my watercolor skills couldn’t do the book any justice, I still had a lot of fun.
Honestly, audiobooks make for great companions if you draw or paint or whatever. I usually listen to podcasts when I do my bujo pages but it was so much better to listen to a book instead. Not only was I working on my journal, I was also enjoying a book. Two birds, one stone and all that.
If you’re worried about not being able to focus on the story when you multi-task, rest assured that the narrators know how to keep your attention. They read calmly and clearly so you won’t get lost in the middle of a paragraph. Honestly, I think I get a clearer picture of a scene in an audiobook because when I read by myself I tend to glaze over descriptive sentences. An audiobook does the work for me which I greatly appreciate.
The best example of what I meant by this is, obviously, any of Elizabeth Acevedo’s books. The Poet X and Clap When You Land are verse novels (poetry rather than prose) so the way Acevedo read them was exactly how she had meant to have them read. The words and how they’re delivered are just *chef’s kiss*. They’re also relatively short audiobooks (3 hours instead of the standard 6) so The Poet X or Clap When You Land are great choices if you’re just starting out with audiobooks. Moreover, Elizabeth Acevedo has this magical way with words that is just best experienced through slam poetry.
But fangirling for Elizabeth Acevedo aside, other books also capture the author’s voice without the author actually doing the reading. Sharon Biggs Waller’s Girls on the Verge narrated by Sandy Rustin was a particular fave of mine. The book itself I highly recommend – it tackles the extremely heavy topic of abortion though so your mileage may vary – but the audiobook is a whole other experience. The story is about three girls on a road trip and you can genuinely feel like you’re in the car with them. The narrator breathes so much life into these characters that you can’t help but empathize with the girls. Despite its sensitive subject matter, this book is essentially about friendship and fighting for one’s right to choose. It’s very uplifting.
Full Cast Audiobooks
And lastly, I have to talk about full cast audiobooks. They’re on a whole other level. I didn’t know they were a thing, to be honest, so I was surprised when I started Kody Keplinger’s That’s Not What Happened and heard different voices for certain sections of the story. Though I think this is the best book I could have had my first full cast experience with because the story is about a group of school shooting survivors telling their side of what happened that day.
It really is different to hear a specific character’s voice. Not that I’m saying that one narrator couldn’t possibly capture the emotions of a different character’s perspective. It’s just that with a different voice narrating the personal letters section of the book, I could really picture just how deeply that tragedy affected each character.
It’s a really moving story and the audiobook gives it a deeper layer of pathos.
While I had a mostly great time with audiobooks, I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t some drawbacks to the format. Like:
Obvious, Practical Stuff
Because it’s an audio format, skimming through the story is tricky, even with a bookmark option. You can’t flip through the pages to review a specific thing you may have missed. You’ll have to do some guess work and replay the chapters, skipping a few sections until you get to the part you were looking for.
And, trickier still, is figuring out how the names or terms are spelled. I came across a tweet the other day that said something like if they review an audiobook, there’s just not gonna be any characters mentioned because names aren’t exactly straightforward words you can look up.
I supposed it’s not so bad with contemporary novels but fantasy/sci-fi? All those made-up terms and purposely unusual names? RIP in peace.
Non-English Names/Words Pronunciation
Ok, so not all SFF books are entirely imagined. Of course they’re bound to be either loosely based or heavily inspired by certain cultures. That’s great.
However. When it comes to English-speaking narrators pronouncing words or names from a certain real world culture? It gets a bit… distracting.
Take for instance with Lalani of the Distant Sea. It’s a high fantasy story that’s inspired by Filipino folklore. Some Bisaya words are even used in the book (like the magical item “udyo” is from “udyong” or “arrowhead” in Bisaya) which makes sense since, from what I’ve gathered, the author’s mother is from Cebu City. And while the American narrator does a pretty good job in pronouncing the Filipino words for the most part, it does get pretty rough when it comes to the more familiar terms. Like diwata. There’s a character in the book, Fey Diwata, and every time the narrator says her name, I’m taken out of the story. She says “di-wuh-duh” instead of “di-wah-ta”.
It’s just a really minor gripe. The softened syllables didn’t really affect my experience bad enough for me to step away from the book. It was just something I couldn’t help but notice and, just a little bit, be distracted by.
I can’t say the same for Caster though.
Narrator’s Reading Style
Right off the bat I just want to make it clear that I loved Elsie Chapman’s Caster. It was a dark but fun fantasy novel with worldbuilding that I immediately fell in love with. That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have finished this book faster if I read it as a physical book or an e-book.
This is just a personal thing, naturally, and I’m sure that Emily Woo Zeller is a fantastic narrator… but I had a hard time getting into the story because her narrating style bothered me. To a point where I’d get physically uncomfortable. You see, Zeller kind of does this thing where it seems like her voice gets softer as she reads a sentence. She also pronounces certain words in a breathy(?) way. So every time I listen to her at normal speed, I’m always struck with the fear that she’s going to run out of breath before she gets to the end of the sentence. As someone who’s not accustomed to talking at length, I’d often experience that problem myself so I guess I projected my fears on her reading. Of course, Zeller never does lose her breath or flub her line (because, duh, she’s a professional) but I just couldn’t shake off the anxiety that she would. So it would come to a point where I’d literally find myself holding my breath until she reached the end of a sentence or paragraph. And, yes, dear reader, it was a breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
I managed to avoid this issue by listening at 1.15x to 1.5x speed though so I guess it’s really not a big deal. But I suppose what I’m really trying to say here is that sometimes you might encounter an audiobook narrator with a specific reading style that might not click with you. My advice is to have a good long think about what’s really bothering you so you could find a way to deal with it easier.
And that’s that! Even with my minor qualms, I genuinely recommend giving audiobooks a try. If you’re not sure, just listen to any of Elizabeth Acevedo’s works. Even if you’ve already read her books, I guarantee you that it’s a whole other world when you hear the queen read you her book herself.