My Audiobook Experience

Posted 20 April, 2012 by Amanda / 38 Comments

Reading versus Listening

In grad school, I took a course on reading and listening in a second language. In order to understand how one reads and listens in a foreign language, it was important to learn how one reads and listens in her native language. As you might guess, there are plenty of differences between comprehending a text that you are reading versus one that you are listening to. Here are some general comparisons*:



Printed text No text
The ability to reread Rare to have the chance to rewind
Spelling is uniform How words are pronounced varies
You cannot multi-task You can multi-task (with limitations)
Can skip around Cannot skip around

*These are in no way hard and fast rules; there are obviously exceptions to most of these.

My Thoughts

My journey to audiobooks began with receiving Hexed and Hammered by Kevin Hearne (narrated by Luke Daniels) as a RAK last year. I generally suck at listening (especially when compared to reading), so I was hesitant to try audiobooks. But a RAK is a RAK, and both Missie and Felicia had listened to the series on audiobook and had said that these are good ones to start on. A few months after I received the audiobooks, I decided to give them a try. They were on CD, so I popped them into my computer (the only CD player I have) and started listening… only to find that I am TERRIBLE at focusing on listening when I am on the computer. Or rather, I am really good at blocking out sounds. Any time I try to do ANYTHING that involves reading printed words, I focus on that, and not whatever I am listening to.

This left me with a problem: WHEN and HOW do I listen to audiobooks?

I obviously cannot listen to audiobooks on my computer. Just being around my computer proves to be an extreme distraction from whatever I am doing. Because my only CD player is my computer, that means I have to listen on my mp3 player (and no, my car does not have a CD player, because that would be the perfect solution). I tried going on walks (no reading to distract me there!) but those are short and I never got into the book enough before the walk was over, which meant I wasn’t really motivated to take daily walks to listen to it. For me, listening to an audiobook works best when I have a good chunk of time to devote to listening. At that point, I was stumped about when to listen to audiobooks, so I gave up.

In March, I went with my parents to my grandma’s (about a two hour drive one way) for her birthday, and since I wasn’t driving and can’t read in the car (I get terribly motion sick), I decided to try out an audiobook again. At this point, I had started and stopped listening to the same book about three different times, so it took some time before I finally got into the story, but I surprised myself by really liking the experience. I decided that audiobooks were something I could do.

At the same time, I was teaching and commuting two hours every day. That left me with 10 hours per week in the car (more if you include walking into campus). The obvious solution: listen to audiobooks in the car. See, being in the car that much is incredibly draining, especially after a long day (or week) of work. Teaching took up the vast majority of my time, and I had little time for reading. Getting to listen to a book and being able to DO something with all that time spent in the car was awesome. Not only was I able to feel like I was accomplishing something (rather than wasting time), but I was able to keep up [somewhat] with reading. Normally it takes me an hour or so after I get home to wind down after my day, but listening to a book helped me to wind down and escape before I even got home. Listening to a book keeps me from mulling over the day and getting caught up in all those things (I think too much). Listening to a book also helps me to be patient. If I get stuck behind someone driving slow, it’s more time to spend with the book rather than an impediment to getting home as fast as I can.

For me, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to listening to audiobooks as I will summarize in a table. (tables are fun!)



I can listen AND drive! Or walk. It’s still relatively easy to get distracted
It’s relaxing. No rewind button
Experiencing books in a new (and fun) way Sometimes harder to track story lines
Some scenes are more vivid Can only listen in certain situations

I wanted to include many of these thoughts in my review of Hexed (coming on Monday) but decided they were best in their own post. This way, people can understand how I approach listening to audiobooks before I post any reviews, and this post can easily be referenced for any future audiobook reviews or discussion. There are definitely positives and negatives to audiobooks, but they work really well for me in certain situations. Some disadvantages are canceled out by advantages (I sometimes forget about plot lines for a while, but scenes are more vivid) and I think that audiobooks are an incredibly personal experience.

So what has YOUR experience with audiobooks been like?

Filed under: Bibliobanter,


38 Responses to “My Audiobook Experience”

  1. I can totally relate to this post! I started reading with audiobooks earlier this year, and I agree with your tables. I’m still trying to get used to it, so now I only read nonfiction audiobooks, especially if the author is the narrator as well. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I thought I would. Anyway, great post! :)

    • Thanks, Alexa. :)

      I never thought of listening to non-fiction books. But that sounds like a good idea, too. The Bloggess has a book that came out this week and I bet that would be an AWESOME one to listen to on audiobook. She does narrate it herself.

  2. I tried to go the audiobook route once but, like you, I can’t focus on listening when I’m at the computer. So I put the book away and it’s stayed away ever since. The good news is that I also owned it in paperback. The better news is that the audiobook was free so I didn’t waste my money on something that’s sitting here gathering dust. Well, electronic dust since it’s on my computer. =)

    Someday I’ll try again.

  3. I think I would love audiobooks if I had a sizable commute in the car everyday. But, for now, I’m home with my kids and our car trips are short. (Plus, I couldn’t hear over the noise anyway!) When I rejoin the work force, I will definitely give audiobooks a try. :-)

  4. I agree. I’d rather read, but the right book & right situation they can work. I use them for working out, when I’m painting, cleaning or driving. I do find myself not focusing sometime, but I just give myself a pass. Audiobooks are bonus or extra for me. Now a really good one is a treasure. I’m listening to Harrison’s Hollow series right now. I don’t have time to read them, so I’m getting caught up this way. I’m probably going to do the same thing with the Vampire Academy books, but I want to read the 1st one. Get it all mapped out in my head the way I envision it first.

    I’m rambling.

  5. I have yet to try an audiobook! I work from home, and like you Amanda, am easily distracted by the computer, so listening while I’m doing my work isn’t really an option for me. And since I don’t commute at all, I can’t listen in the car. Maybe the next time I go visit my parents (an 8 hour drive) I’ll talk my husband into giving one a try because they do sound like fun!

  6. Just like you, the *only* place I can listen to an audiobook is in the car. I can’t do it at work/at the computer because I block the audio out to focus on what I’m having to read on the screen.

    I have, on occasion, tried to listen at home – but that’s only when the book has gotten to a place where I simply have to know what’s next! I always find it odd sitting on my couch not doing anything but listening to an audiobook, so I can’t do it for long.

    But in the car? That’s where it all happens.

  7. Rain Maiden Jen

    My son enjoys listening to books in the car. My prob is that I get so into the book, it becomes a distraction while I’m driving. No good for squirrels minding their own business. Thump, thump. So I’m sticking to old fashion print.

  8. LOVE audio books. I’m new to them though. I’ve been listening to Harry Potter. I’m on #5 right now.

    I’m listening when I clean the house, walk into town with the baby, and even sometimes while blogging. I’m listening when I normally wouldn’t be reading. That makes me feel like I’m cheating getting some extra reading time in. The HP audio books are ridiculously long though, so it takes me a week to get through these last few. BUT, that’s one book I wouldn’t have read.

    The narrator is everything. EVERYTHING. If s/he isn’t good then it just throws everything off. I love Jim Dale’s narration of HP and I’m not a fan of Stephen Fry’s. He’s dull, but I’ve gotten use to him.

    I really enjoy audio books though! They are relaxing, and help me with the mundane daily tasks that I need to do. They aren’t for everyone though. If I had a commute that would be awesome! I’d totally get through a few audio books per week.

  9. I have the hardest time with audiobooks, even in the car. I also know that I personally just have a hard time with listening comprehension. I rewind the TV all the time. I’m ruthless with DVDs. I get too easily distracted when I’m trying to pay attention to something aurally. In college I rarely looked at the teacher because I was taking detailed notes – it helped me focus on the lecture to be able to write as much as possible of what was being said. If I sit there and listen to a lecture, I retain about 40% of it.

    I suck at ears!

  10. I also just discovered audio books! Like you, I have a long commute and you can only listen to Katy Perry and Rihanna so many times before you go nuts! I’ve found that listening to books that I’ve read before is really great because I catch things I missed while reading and it isn’t as terrible if I get distracted because I know what happens. I also really like listening to non-fiction because there’s no plot to keep track of. (I especially enjoyed listening to Quiet by Susan Cain and really want to listen to Imagine by Jonah Lehrer.)

    • Ha! I agree. Though I guess I’m lucky that I have a relatively decent morning show to listen to, but the repetitiveness of the songs gets old after a while.

      I’m finding that the plot is easier to track if there aren’t as many things going on at once.

  11. I feel I have the same problems that you do with audiobooks. I tend to block out sound because I have to block out noise at my house so listening to something doesn’t work much of the time. I started to realize that since I have to drive 40 minutes one way to see my boyfriend every Sunday I should start listening to books.

    Although I now enjoy listening to portions of a book every week sometimes I feel I miss parts due to the fact that I don’t pay attention to every word like I would if I was reading the story.

    There are certainly ups and downs to audiobooks and I wouldn’t yet say that I personally am an audiobook lover.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Both reading and listening are receptive activities (as opposed to writing and speaking, which are productive), but there’s something about listening that only skims the surface. I don’t mind it, but it’s harder to write reviews for books I’ve listened to. Since I’ve given myself permission to listen to audiobooks for pleasure rather than feeling the pressure to review them, I think I enjoy them more.

  12. At first, when I read this post, I was going to say that I discovered audiobooks while commuting, too. But then I remembered that we used to listen to audiobooks on family car trips. Well, actually, we listened to the radio play of The Lord of the Rings. Still, they’ve been in my life since then. Since I moved, my commute is nonexistent–but I’m with you–they make traffic bearable.

    I’ve noticed, though, that not all books adapt well to the audiobook format. For example, Nalini Singh’s Kiss of Snow is one of my treasured re-reads, but the audio version didn’t do much for me. On the other hand, while I never made any headway reading the Dark Hunter books, I’ve listened to several of the audiobooks.

  13. I’ve only tried audio books in the car and I gotta say it’s not my cup of tea. As soon as I need to merge lanes, make a left or right hand turn or flip someone off I lose total track of what I’m listening to. Maybe I’ll give them another try while I’m doing housework or something.

    • Yes, I think that is the biggest problem for me with audiobooks, too. Like I said, audiobooks seem to be a very personal experience, and you have to find a situation that works for you. Or maybe they just won’t work at all.

  14. Audio books saved me from killing my coworkers. For real. I could have lost my mind and gone ballistic if not for audiobooks. :) I have rather noisy and slightly obnoxious coworkers and I found that if I put earplugs in my phone and used my Audible app that it calmed me down a lot. I used noise to block noise.

    I have only ever listened to books I’ve already read because I’m afraid that I’ll miss something in a new to me book. I have to agree with a previous commenter that Jim Dale is awesomesauce.

    I’m glad that you’ve found a way to make your commute bearable. I’m sure it also helps with your stress levels and it gave you material for a great post! ;)

  15. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with audiobooks. I used to have the same problems you did, but I’ve gradually gotten used to making myself focus on the audiobook while I do other things. I’m actually listening to Hounded right now while I’m making the trek back and forth from the parking lot to class every day! It’s a good time to get in an extra half hour of reading or so a day!

    • Yeah. I think the more I listen to audiobooks, the better it goes. And I really liked listening to Luke Daniels narrate! I didn’t like to Hounded, but I did listen to the next two books in the series.

  16. I started listening to audio books when I was in my old position at work and had tasks that I could zone out during. Now that I can’t do that, I no longer listen at work. But I do still listen to audio books while getting ready for work and the drive there. I’ve also started listening while running (Hunger Games is GREAT motivation while doing a long run lol).

    Great post!!

  17. Felicia

    I love audiobooks—I know you are shocked LOL

    Actually I think you make very good points up there. I am lucky that I can listen while working and that I can multi-task while doing it. I do get distracted sometimes but that is ok. Sometimes I have to switch to paperbooks for some because I just can’t get into the audiobook. Overall though they are great to get me through the workday!

    • I honestly don’t think that getting distracted for short periods of time is necessarily a bad thing with audiobooks. I’ve found that it really doesn’t change my overall impression of the book.

  18. I absolutely love audio-books as much as print or eBooks. I haven’t had the trouble you had with them though. I use my iTunes on my computer to listen to them. Curl up on coach and be swept away with a cup of hot tea. Although the narrator has to be a good one or it will ruin the book even if it a great book. Love!!

  19. In the past months I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks (well, like, 15, but that’s a lot!) and have been finding the ones I like and the ones I don’t like. I find I do really well with YA books and memoirs.

    I did try to listen to Code Name Verity on audio, while driving, and it was a horrible experience. The book sounded like it was going to be good, but I couldn’t concentrate AND the narrator had a thick accent, which made certain name places sound like a foreign language. By CD 4 I resigned the audiobook and popped music in the car. I’m now on the waiting list for the book.

    But then, I listened to Will Grayson, Will Grayson and it was AWESOME — one of the best audiobook experiences I’ve had, as well as Ready Player One (narrated by Wil Wheaton). Both were amazing and really bumped up audiobooks for me.

    You definitely have to have the right situation to listen to an audiobook. For me, that’s usually when doing housework or yardwork. I still have my rituals — if I’m driving, chances are I’ll blast my music, and if I’m baking or cooking, I like to watch my favourite TV shows.

    While I do LOVE audiobooks and subscribe to Audible, I still prefer the printed word. I’ve had my Audible membership for about 5 months now and I’m not sure if I’m going to continue it — all this month I haven’t listened to any audiobooks. We’ll see!

    • I have yet to listen to an audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton, but I totally want to!

      As of yet, I haven’t been able to listen to audiobooks anywhere other than my car. And since I’m not driving 10 hours per week anymore (also, my mp3 player is dead), I don’t have time. Which makes me sad, because there are so many good audiobooks out there, and I want to listen to them all!