How to make audio books work for you

Stuart Torr asks:

I get an audio book free with my Kindle. Do you have any tips about what type of book works as an audio book? Fiction or non-fiction? Short stories or something like War and Peace?

I would be curious to hear your answers., and also if you have an underlying model of the audiobook experience…

Comments

Nothing too heavy -- ie, nothing that requires too much concentration.

Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad" is the audiobook I've enjoyed most from Librivox. A good narrator certainly makes a lot of difference.

I don't know, but I really need to develop the habit of using text-to-speech in my Kindle when my hands and/or eyes are busy - Kindle will flip pages automatically so I can listen to something when cooking etc.

Not exactly what you asked but audio-books are great if you can't fall asleep. Or to drill your ears while learning a new language.

I find audio books to be very useful in learning a language.

I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I run. I run in a park, so there is little to distract me from listening which in my opinion is the biggest issue with audiobooks. I simply cannot listen to audiobooks while commuting because I always lose the train of thought. Running + listening to audiobooks has been a great combination for me and it seems like a very efficient way to use the time.

I have listened to fiction (the last one was "The old man and the sea") and it works, however, I find non-fiction more pleasurable. Somehow, hearing an argument makes me much more likely to critically examine it than reading an argument, so listening to non-fiction audiobooks has been great.

I agree. Especially if you are doing a lot of LSD (long slow distance) running when training for a marathon or something. That's when you run way below your normal pace, therefore music which would normally motivate is way less useful. Audiobooks for more intense training would of course be not as good. Listened to 'the memory of running' when training for a marathon (the book isn't about running) and remember enjoying it very vividly. Much more so than other great things I've read just sitting in a chair. Reserving good writing and narrating for those runs is a great way to really enjoy the art of a good story. Especially if those runs are out in nature.

Agreed. I love listening to books while running, much to the consternation of running buddies.

I enjoy non-fiction as the only time when I can force myself to read/listen to them is while I am out running.

Popular science books.

I find I 'zone out' to audio books a bit* so I prefer books I have already read but enjoy and want to listen to as a background, but where it won't matter if I stop listening to 5 mins here or there.

*this may well just be me and is not intended as a comment on audio books as a whole

Richard Dawkins has made very good audiobooks of his books. They are a joy to listen. I prefer non-fiction because dialog can be rather annoying, and too often the reader tries to make some sort of impression or change of voice for different characters.

Strange, I specifically remember the first few minutes of 'the god delusion' to sound so annoying to me that I stopped listening and never picked it up again and decided that Richard Dawkins is best absorbed through reading. Maybe I judged it too quickly.

I found the book to be the same. Maybe I should try the audio version. Or maybe it's just Dawkins....

Selfish Gene and Ancestor's Tale worked for me. Dawkins is a lot better narrator than Malcolm Gladwell. And the collaboration with Lalla Ward is a good choice. I haven't listened The God Delusion. I'm not that interested in Dawkins's view's on religion.

I don't listen to many audiobooks, but I do listen to many audio plays. Some would call them radio plays. I listen primarily to sci-fi (Dr. Who) ones and find them better than the TV. They are not bound by effects budgets and the mind is quite a bit better than a computer for creating new worlds.

For audiobooks, I tend towards nonfiction. I find novel length fiction audiobooks confusing for some reason. I can't imagine keeping track of all of the charters in a Russian Novel in an audiobook.

I'm a recent convert to audiobooks, as well as academic content from iTunes University.

Listening to audiobooks: (1) Audiobooks work best for me while I am commuting. In particular, I often ride standing room only subways in the DC area. It's much easier to listen to a book than to try and hold a book and flip the pages while holding on for dear life with my other hand. (2) Audiobooks are a great option while doing other menial tasks that require both hands, like cleaning the house, yard work, car repair, etc. (3) I am somewhat impatient, and many audio book narrators talk very slow for my tastes. Don't be afraid to listen to the book at double or even triple speed. You'll find that your brain adapts to the speed pretty well, I think.

Choosing audiobooks: (1) For me, non-fiction audiobooks work best. (a) Historical non-fiction is particularly amenable to audiobook format. (b) Audiobooks do not work nearly as well with economic subject matter, because those books often include tables and charts that are necessary to really understand the author's argument. Audible.com will provide you access to digital versions of the tables and charts if you want to go look at them, but if you have to go to an extra-audiobook resource to understand the content, you might as well just read the book. (2) Although I enjoy fiction, I have been underwhelmed by my experiences listening to fiction. Most of the time the narrators just make me roll my eyes. I prefer to either let my mind go to the trouble of creating voices, tones, colors, etc. of a story for me; or to let a very capable director do this work and enjoy the story in film format (or theatrical presentations). As a medium, audio fiction sort of sits uncomfortably between these two, and I don't like it. I have listened to a great deal of old radio programs as well, and they don't do it for me either.

We generally agree. My husband prefers unabridged fiction in audiobooks for long drives, and I join him in this for long drives. As for nonfiction, I prefer abridged, less complex topics for audio, or short, chapter-type segments. Audio is also great for me when my eyes are tired or when working in the garage.

The reader of the audio book definitely makes a big difference. We try to choose fiction audiobooks read by professional actors or by readers that we have liked before, avoiding any known monotones.

I totally agree that print works better for more complex history or economics that involves flipping through charts, footnotes, index topics, the TOC, etc., to review the thread of the author's argument. It's much easier in print.

My monthly book club, which centers on international geopolitics and economics, discusses format [audio, Kindle, or print] at almost every meeting now. Everyone's preferences are evolving and segmenting. This group of retirees [PhD's and professional degrees] are mostly early adopters of technologies, but the complex topics we discuss seem to work best for everyone in the traditional print versions.

I've been listening to audio books and podcasts for years - I concur with the idea that they are wonderful for when you are engaged in some mind-numbing task like commuting or washing the dishes. I have found that light non-fiction and fiction work best for me. If it is a hard read, and I would normally expect to find my mind wandering and need to go back and re-read segments, an audio book is a bad format. But there is so much fun, light non-fiction and fiction to read out there, it's wonderful. I rarely read fiction in print anymore because I don't have the time. Audio books let me keep up.

But this guy is getting a Kindle, which is also much easier to read one-handed while holding on for dear life with the other hand (I speak from ample experience).

Obvious choices are the Iliad and Odyssey, which were intended to be read out loud. The Fagles translations are available narrated by Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, so you are in good hands.

Agreed.

If it exists in audio form, I would add Ulysses to that list.

Ulysses is indeed an amazing audible experience. The Recorded Books version where Donal Donelly is the main narrator is wonderful.

Agree that Joyce vastly better on audio. The 4 volume Lonesome Dove series great for western aficionados. Great Texas accent from the narrator. Gilda Radner's " It's always something" read and recorded by the author a few weeks before her death is very wise and moving.

A friend and I listened to mckellan's recording of the Fagles translation while on a west coat road trip. We actually looked forward to driving because of how fantastic this recording is. Definitely the way the Odyssey was meant to be experienced.

I enjoyed Herodotus on audio, but Thucydides was much tougher and I got more out of reading it.

Poetry often works very well in audio compared to prose fiction.

I haven't heard your particular translation / reader recommendations (though I imagine they are brilliant!) but I couldn't agree more that The Iliad makes a fantastic audiobook.

I've been meaning to try listening to Beowulf sometime, too....

In addition to thinks mentioned above, I like to listen to audiobooks of older works and books with awkward phrasing because I can hear the narrator's intonation rather than trying to piece together an archaic phrasing myself.

Depends on how you will be listening to them. If you are listening while working out, doing chores, or during other activities that will divide your attention then I would recommend non-fiction densely packed with interesting facts (like Will in the World or a Short History of Nearly Everything). For a long car ride something with with an engaging story, and preferably an engaging narrator can be quite a pleasure (for a short trip I recommend Ambush at Fort Bragg narrated by Ed Norton)

I'd suggest something with short chapters, so it's easier to stop without having to then start over from too far back.
Re-reading might be better than reading, especially if you intend to listen to the audiobook while doing something that might distract you.

And a writer renowned for style gives you a better experience than you might imagine. Philip Roth comes alive in audiobook, and Tolkien's songs can be great when actually *sung* in the story. I also suggest first-person narratives -- Jeremy Irons reading Lolita means you hear H.H. saying aloud all those callous, horrific, beautiful words of his.

I listen to audiobooks when doing chores around the house... almost always non-fiction so I am engaging my mind while performing mindless tasks (dishes, folding laundry, etc.) If I don't pick up every concept, at least I knew more than I did before.

Fiction vs. non-fiction isn't nearly so important as is the work having a clear narrative structure. Dostoevsky yes, James Joyce or even William Faulkner no. Michael Lewis, sure, Pascal no. (I actually tried the Pensees on audiobook once. Couldn't do it.) Most popular histories -- think McCullough, Chernow, Tuchman -- work very well on audiobook. Anything that makes extensive use of lists or technical data is difficult to translate into the format.

Librivox has a pretty decent Macaulay. The problem with librivox is that you can get quite a few narrators on one book and it is distracting (especially going from a good one to a bad one).

I don't typically listen to fiction in audio, but I definitely agree on needing a clear narrative structure.

It makes it easier to keep track of what's going on, especially if you're listening to an audiobook and doing something else at the same time -- I'm usually sewing and listening at the same time.

The voice actor is almost as important as the book. Think of it the same way you would think of purchasing a recording of music. Clearly, which composer and which piece is important, but the competence of the orchestra performing matters a lot too.

Agreed. I highly recommend anything narrated by Frank Muller or Jim Dale.

Children's books are the best because they often do voices and have fun characters. Check out the Golden Compass series. I don't think I would have enjoyed reading it as a book book, but as an audiobook it was excellent. I bet Harry Potter would be good too (but I read all of those already).

I prefer lighter fare for audiobooks, sometimes it is hard to pay attention and rewinding isn't as easy as looking over a paragraph. I don't think I can go much deeper than good but not complicated books like The Big Short, and good but not complicated fiction such as Lonesome Dove.

I have been looking to audio books from Audible.com for 2 years and I love them. I find that only non-fiction works. With fiction stories, I tend to get invested and day dream, which is not a good idea while driving. If you have an Android or an iPod touch, I would recommend the Audible App. You can insert bookmarks when you are reading, and actually annotate notes to specific time stamps. Very helpful for reviewing your notes.

i accidentally ordered "Create Your Own Economy" on audiobook instead of bookbook. I got through 4 chapters when i realized i was no longer listening. the content was exciting, but the sentences were delivered too slow, and i'm not sure the award-winning voice artist cared much about the material. so i created my own substitute good and looked at funny videos of cats.

The key is the reader. I am an avid fan of audio books (I use Amazon's Audible.com service). I usually search the reader before I pick a book. I lean toward fiction or biographies with audiobooks (b/c I like to take notes in business or other non-fiction books, so prefer the hardcopy). Check out the Audible Reader Awards for some of the best readers.

I'd say it is a very pleasant experience for fiction -- though less so for longer works, especially Russian novels(!) because one doesn't get visual memory to recall names of protagonists. For non-fiction, I often listen to books at 2x speed, which gets me through a 250pp book in about 4-5hours. I then go to the Kindle or paperback version to review the important passages and take notes.
It is mostly to use up the commuting and housework time, but it turns out to be a good way to read more. It is easy to not properly absorb the material, however, as it is in lectures when not taking notes. Hence the need to review afterwards.

My experience has been that fiction typically works better than non-fiction as an audiobook, since audiobooks really struggle with maps and tables. Anything that you might want to go back and reference becomes quite difficult with an audiobook. However, the length of the book doesn't matter much, in my opinion.

Two other random thoughts: First, I've found that for foreign-sounding names, it's very helpful for me to see them written a few times. For whatever reason, that helps me remember who the character is better.

Second, the quality of the reader matters a lot. Many good books are ruined and mediocre books made better by the reader. For books with many characters, the ability to create different voices for each character helps it seem like less effort to listen to, as I recognize the voice easily and associate that quickly with a character. But more important is the ability to add the right amount of inflection, pause in the right places, etc. Also, I often enjoy it when the book is read by the author, even if the author doesn't have a great voice. This makes me think that is might be much easier to read aloud your own work than someone else's, since you can anticipate sentence structure, etc.

Harry Potter...Jim Dale is awsome, or anything else by him.

Tim Curry in the Dune series is also awesome.

I'm a big fan of listening to audiobooks while commuting. I've found that light reads work best for me while commuting as I can tune in then tune out if my commute happens to be a fast one. Being able to pick up an audiobook mid-chapter on a topic that's new to me or complex defeats the purpose of why I wanted to listen. I just finished Tina Fey's audiobook Bossypants. It was a big shift from my traditional podcast/audiobook routine and enjoyed it (it's a bonus when the author reads the audiobook as they inject inflection and read the book as they meant it to be communicated, especially when it's intended to be comedic like Bossypants).

As an avid listener of audio books, I recommend fiction or instructional audio books. The key to listening to them is long stretches of time of at least half an hour. Getting to the climax of a book while you only have 5 minutes to listen will just suck you in so you miss what you wanted to do or bum you out that you can't be listening to the exciting part of the book.

I use fiction for longer car rides or on a plane when I travel. Instructional audio works well too, but you may need to revisit or replay some tracks to get the gist of everything that is said. Experienced instructors know this, so they repeat things a few times, so with them it's not really a problem.

My iPhone (and many other devices) allow me to speed up the recording while listening to 1.5x or 2x speed without changing the sound of the voices to seem like chipmunks. You get used to the sped-up voices very quickly and will find normal speed too slow for most books after that. On 2x speed, I can get through a full length book in only a few days with an hour long commute or on a single plane ride.

Many (most?) popular books come in audiobook format and the best and cheapest way to get them is on CD from the local library. I check out 3-5 at a time, copy them to my iPhone and return the CDs so that I can get the portability and speech speed-ups that I want and I can return the books quickly. I'd estimate I've listened to more than 700 books this way and I wouldn't be able to do that any other way.

Fiction works really well, where you don't have to concentrate too hard to follow the meaning while you're driving but you can still enjoy the fantastic prose while skipping the odd sentence. For example, I had the funnest time listening to The Hobbit . On the other hand, while listening to a good audio book on the Peloponnesian War, I couldn't keep track of all the principals involved and felt quite lost quite soon, that might have worked better on an airplane as opposed to when I was driving. Also, the voice of the narrator is key. I think Morgan Freeman should be persuaded to record many many audio books as a service to mankind.

I think I'm in the minority here, but I strongly prefer non-fiction over fiction on audiobook. WIth a fiction book, if you miss or forget a key detail or a character's name, it can be hard to rewind to the right spot to find the information you need.

With non-fiction, if you find yourself confused you can just google the fact you're missing and there it is. If you listen on a smartphone the facts are right there in front of you. You can also consult any maps or visuals that would help your comprehension, and recent audiobooks will even include them on the CDs.

I'll put in a vote for Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. I listened to all of them during some very long commutes a few years ago, and found them wonderfully entertaining.

I would second this. The way they are written very much lends itself to auidobooks.

Make sure to get the ones read by Patrick Tuhl. He does some exceptionally good voice work. There is another guy who did some earlier versions and I would recommend staying away from those as is he just doesn't fit the material.

I read much faster than I listen, so audiobooks make sense to me only if I'm doing something like driving....actually DID try the Odyssey that way once, but it did not work out at all - inability to "rewind" without using your hands while driving to repeat parts where you zoned out or were distracted, plus an excess of background noise led me to give up early.

If I were to try again, I'd probably go for a series of short, easy to understand items, maybe jokes or something of that nature. I will probably stick to radio or Stitcher (internet radio) though.

Shakespeare!!

read by actors

I've noticed that for the audiobooks I've listened to (both novels and nonfiction), after awhile I forget that I listened to it instead of reading it. It only dawns on me that I didn't read it when I go back to get a quote or take a second look at something, and I realize the approximate position in the book and on the page that I typically recall from reading books is not in my memory. Then I go, huh, I must've listened to this book. That's when Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" comes in really handy.

I listened to Steve Martin's autobiography read by Steve Martin. Excellent.

The model would be: 1. light content so you don't need to worry about losing the train of thought 2. added value from the audio. If it had been read by anyone else, I wouldn't have gotten it.

Yes. It's fanastic, and I'm not a fan of his comedy.

I have found that the only time an audiobook is worth it for me is when I'm doing a relatively mindless activity while listening. Like driving, yard work, house cleaning etc. With driving, I can't listen while driving in cities, only on the highway where I don't have to read signs.
There's very few times when I would rather focus fully on an audiobook when I could be reading instead. This is because I have to listen to an audiobook linearly at a constant speed and I don't think that way. Well, some people will listen at 1.5x speed but I'm referring to slowing down for the good sentences and re-reading what you missed.
Since I will miss more content with audiobooks, stories with different voices are better because you can miss a sentence or two and not miss a beat. I've enjoyed many nonfiction audio books but the tone needs to be pretty conversational with simple language. More concise works, like an economics booklet or poetry, would be more difficult because the cost of missing individual words and sentences is higher. Needing to focus that hard on something delivered at a constant speed in a linear arrangement is borderline torture to my brain.
I've been noticing a lot more sources of video on the internet like for product reviews or short news stories. I would almost always rather read that sort of thing than watch it so I'm annoyed when I see that enticing title linked to a video instead of text. People who like the video option more will have more of a universal use for audiobooks than me.

I listen to non-fiction, mainly. My two recommendations are:

die Werke of Simon Winchester...I've listened to everything, I think. He read his own, and that's what I think is key. There's NEVER a misemphasis or a bobbled sentence.

anything Scott Brick reads.

for fiction, British light literature read by Nadia May.

samuel beckett's prose works do very well

When commuting by car, sometimes I find that interviews are more palatable than audiobooks. Sometimes its simply too difficult to concentrate on an audiobook while driving, as there is too much information coming at me at once. The pace of a speaker in an interviewer is of course nearly almost always slower than the pace of a reader. So the pace of an interview makes it ideal for situations where you may (and probably should) tend to other things, such as when driving in a dense urban area.

I don´t think you can find a better academic interview program than Econtalk. That show has almost single-handedly allowed me to live farther from where I work in an environment where I want to live. Too many of the other interview programs are too breezy or spend too much time with actors and musicians who are generally much less interesting than academics.

My favorite interview programs/podcasts are: (1) Econtalk

I enjoy Audiobooks best while cleaning the house. It makes mundane chores almost fun. As for preference, there are so many great novels out there, both fiction and non, just let your mood dictate.
Now, I would suggest staying away from author-read books. Though they may know the book best, many have no talent for 'reading'. Not all mind you, Neil Gaiman could've made a second career with his voice. But I'd advise you to look for books by professional readers or that are read by actual actors. A lot of B-stars and Broadway-type actors make a good living reading audios.
As mentioned above in another reply, Jim Dale always delivers. A personal favorite of mine is Dick Hill, you'll find him on the backs of a lot of Thriller/Suspense novels. And just as they are in paper form, if you want a cheap quick read James Patterson's novels allow for a lot of natural stopping points with his short chapters. Sandra Brown's audiobooks, often narrated by Victor Slezak, are goood- highly recommend hers if you're just starting and wish to really wet your appetite for more audibles :)

I would end up repeating many things already said, but one thing I noticed is that knowing what you'll be doing while listening is a factor. While on an airplane, you could conceivably listen to something that you'd really like to take notes during or to be able to listen carefully for something like foreign names or equations. While running or driving, something where you can listen intently, but not need a visual stimulus, is perfect. As to fiction vs. non-fiction, it seems that the listener will have those preferences already. I've listened to fiction, lectures, non-fiction, and enjoyed all of it that had a good narrator. I love the idea of using it to maintain and grow in foreign language acquisition. I will be trying that next. Thanks!

A couple key suggestions have already been made:

(1) Books whose authors intended that they be read aloud are usually good, e.g., the Iliad. Some modern authors keep this in mind too. Per the man himself, Orson Scott Card's books are meant to be read aloud.

(2) The readers matter. Scott Brick's already been mentioned. He, and his fellow cast members, Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle DeCuir, really make Orson Scott Card books shine in this format.

1 + 2 = almost feeling like a little kid again, losing yourself in a magical world built by narrators who provide a robust scaffolding, as your imagination fills in the details.

(3) Complicated books are difficult.

Scott Brick is the William Shatner of audiobooks. Only recommended if you love innapropriate EMPHASIS on completely random WORDS.

I don't usually like audio books because they feel too slow - I read a lot faster than the narrator speaks.

That said, I listen to a favorite most nights while I'm falling asleep. Having something to focus on lets me stop thinking and relax. I love the Terry Pratchett books read by Nigel Planer. I also like histories - This Sceptered Isle from the BBC is pretty good.

Audiobooks take a bit of practice, but once adapated to you will never go back.

I deal for cycling, walking, driving.

Avoid Librivox.

*ideal

That is poor advice. Don't avoid Librivox. Instead, look for books read by a single narrator; those tend to be the highest quality. Sample many books and see which ones sound interesting. Once you find a narrator you like, see what other books he or she has recorded. That's also a good way to discover books you wouldn't otherwise find.

A) The narrator matters a LOT - they can make a mediocre book fun or destroy a fantastic book.
B) Audiobooks are best in tandem with something else - whether its exercising, chores or commute. I can't manage to listen to an audiobook all alone, I get bored too quickly.
C) Audio with any content that is detail oriented is a bit challenging. Missing a word or two in a narrative isn't a deal breaker. Missing numbers or having to parse difficult content to discern meaning is simply a non-starter.

I've purchased ~300 audiobooks from Audible in the past 4 years, and probably as many regular books. The first thing to know is that smart, serious stuff is available: Bernard Williams, Wendy Doniger, James Wood, James Kugel, Tony Judt, Michael Sandel, Charles Mann, John McPhee, et al. It's true that most audiobooks are dumb, but so are most books. Do you know who enjoys audiobooks? Richard Posner. So forget about the stigma.

The second thing to mention is that nonfiction makes for easier listening generally. Popular nonfiction goes down smoothly, because it is highly structured: facts are conveyed via example, summarized, synthesized, etc. History is okay so long as it is somewhat analytic. Essentially what you want is a text that has checkpoints, way stations, where you can make sure that you've comprehended what has been said up to that point.

You should listen to audiobooks when you are walking, commuting, working out, and shopping. This will leave less time for thinking Big Thoughts, but most of your thinking is actually repetitive and uninteresting. Better to pepper your intellect with new ideas. If you buy Audible.com books in bulk with the platinum package, they average $9 a pop even though they often are released the same week as the hardcover edition. Buy an iPhone and use the Audible app --- your life will change. Note that the New Yorker is available as a podcast via Audible.

I wish more respect and attention were paid to the growing audio culture. While I love my audiobooks, I feel that they are ultimately a compromise: text is not a script for narration (see Walter Ong on peculiarities of literate culture). Podcasts with semi-spontaneous dialogue between experts may be the way forward. Russ Roberts is doing good work, as is BloggingHeads, Philosophy Bites, and some others. Rarely do they really push the medium to its potential however. Tyler Cowen speaking with Peter Singer about ethics, Brian Leiter chatting about legal positivism, and John McWhorter and Glenn Loury talking race on bloggingheads --- those all stand out as illustrations of what's possible.

I am recent convert to audiobooks and really love them for commuting. I will chime in that the reader makes a big difference. I started with light non-fiction (e.g. Steven Colbert's "I am America, and so can you") and moved on to weightier non-fiction, and some fiction. I love it when narrators can make characters come alive, but sometimes their efforts are embarrassing to listen to.

One trick for not letting my attention stray is to play a mindless game on my ipod at the same time. The mindless game (e.g. solitaire) keeps my mind focused enough that I don't start daydreaming. Weird by true.

High quality non-fiction is wonderful to listen to while commuting. You end up learning about lots of things you would never have the time or patience to learn about otherwise.

Try: Colonel Roosevelt [sound recording] / by Edmund Morris. That's part three of his trilogy on TR, covers the period after his presidency til his death. Excellent ideas about the world.

Also enjoyed Mao's Last Dancer and many, many others.

Originally I started listening to audio books to listen to fiction but I found that philosophy is actually quite easy to absorb. I suppose history is a bit harder to follow on audiobook.

Public domain audio books:
http://librivox.org/

Narrative fiction and non-fiction which is conversational and meant to be read strictly in linear order (biography or narrative histories, for example) works well. Audiobooks are not good for non-fiction that you can jump around in, or anything that requires reference to illustrations, charts, formulas, lists or the like. Self-help books can be pretty aggravating in this format as they are often meant to be read one chapter per week or so and start sounding shrill when compressed.

Good voice actors and the lower level of attention required for audiobooks can make them a particularly good format for an otherwise mildly dull book, for reading at bedtime so that you can fall asleep as the reader reads, and for books with lots of unfamiliar words you otherwise wouldn't know how to pronounce from a foreign language or esoteric specialized vocabulary or archaic vocabulary. They work very well with younger readers who have larger auditory vocabularies than they do vocabularies in the written language (although it can get to be a crutch and are bad for developing spelling proficiency). I found them particularly good for magical realist fiction when I first read it as there is a certain "eye of God perspective" tone and sense of irony in those texts that is as easy to miss as tone of voice in an e-mail until you have heard it enough from a voice actor who understands the text well to know to expect it. Readings by authors also have special value added as their interpretation carries special authenticity and intimacy.

Audiobooks are, of course, also ideal for a low vision reader or someone for whom eye strain is an issue (for example, people who work at computer screens all day).

We listen mostly to a combination of audiobooks checked out from the library (the Denver Public Library), the Denver Public Library's free download service (no late fees!), and the Talking Book Library for the blind (where the quality of the technology and of the reading has improved markedly from what it was twenty years ago when I did Talking Book readings). They are hard to make work as gifts, however, because they are quite a bit more expensive to buy than the written book but carry the same risk of misjudgment about someone's reading tastes.

One more point. It is much easier to share an audiobook experience than a conventional book. Reading a story to someone can be a memorable experience, but it is also a chore. But, it is easy for a family on a car trip, or a family having some down time in the evening in a living room each doing their own thing in addition, to share the experience of an audiobook and then have a common experience to use as a point of reference with each other later on. One person can be cooking, another folding laundry, another having a snack and a fourth playing with a toy at the same time while all listening to the same audiobook at once; in contrast, video sucks up everything to the near exclusion of all other activities and has less diversity of content, reading aloud means at least one person can do nothing else at the same time, and reading silently excludes everyone else from the experience.

When commuting I zone out of the audiobook after about ten minutes. I even do this with a majority of podcasts. Maybe it is is just the driving or the fact could be that most of the audiobooks I have are Jimmy Carter's audiobooks. So hard to pass up these for $5 at Ollie's.

The Great Courses on tape work, at least the philosophy, literature, and music offerings. If you were focussing on tech stuff in undergrad or didn't attend a top college where this stuff was not well taught, there is a lot of outstanding material here.

Count me in the group that speeds audiobooks up. I know it is a different mental process, but I think I should be able to listen to a book in the same amount of time as I could read it. I generally do them at 1.7 speed; listening at regular speed now sounds ridiculously slow.

Scott Brick is awesome, he is probably the only one I would listen to without even caring what the book is.

Also, many libraries have a large selection of Books on CD, and a lot even have downloadable audiobooks. Both are free, so I use this source a lot.

I listen to financial histories, but they can sometimes get complicated because there are so many characters. A good mystery/thriller novel works really well (Charlie Huston, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, et al.)

My personal criteria:

(1) The author has to be the narrator. It makes a huge difference (at least personally) knowing the voice is authentic.

(2) It doesn't matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction; what does matter is whether the book has a straight-forward narrative quality to it.
--I've tried fiction like Kiran Desai's Inheritance Loss, and found that unbearable. The prose was simply too thick to appreciate in an audiobook format.
--My personal favorites are histories -- notably anything by David McCullough, Ron Chernow, etc.

(3) Audiobooks can actually be better than the regular text where the narrator pronounces foreign words with the correct pronunciation. For example, Kite Runner was excellent on the audiobook because the narrator (and the author) was to pronounce words such as Hazara and Afghanistan with a pitch perfect accent.

(4) Non-narrative non-fiction can still be good, much the same way NPR can be entertaining. It helps to have a deep interest in the subject. Audiobooks like this can be difficult to read in one sitting.

I use the following criteria:
- preferably under 8 hours, otherwise it takes too long if you don't have a long coomute to work
- uncomplicated, else you find yourself rewinding constantly
- search for a narrator with positive reviews. More often than not books read by the author are worse.

I listen to audiobooks while a) running and b) walking to the office. I typically listen to non-fiction books that are of professional interest, but are not central enough to my current (academic) work that I would take time to sit down and read them in print (i.e., when I'm walking or running, I find the opportunity costs are lower.)

Some non-fiction books are actually better in audio, especially if the original prose is clunky. Sometimes the right reader can turn clunky prose into something more fluid, just through pacing and emphasis.

Fiction works great, if it is a book that does not make you look back a few pages to look up a character or event ("Mr Smith? When exactly did we encounter him before?") very often. Non-linear timescales are no problem if the narrator is good.

Non-fiction also works, as long as it does not depend heavily on mathematics or graphics (diagrams) - For an example I really enjoy the TTC-lectures.

I usually listen to audiobooks while driving my car to work.

Audiobooks are great for exercising (unless you do something like swimming). They make exercise something to look forward to. They are also great for road trips, long walks, bus rides, etc.

Generally, I find the best audiobooks are mostly narration rather than description. It's hard to pay attention to descriptive details when you listen to something, but easy to follow narrative flow.

Also, nonfiction books that rely on graphs, tables, and figures are obviously not as good on an audiobook.

One more point: the reader matters A LOT. A bad reader can ruin an audiobook experience, a good one can make it come alive. Look at the Audble reviews to see what people think of the reader, and if possible, find an audio sample so you can see if you like the voice.

Another vote for Harry Potter read by Jim Dale... Listening to the whole series can use up approx 150 hours of your life, and very pleasantly too.

To work as a pure audio-book (as opposed to an audio-play, which is a very different kind of creation), my experience is that you want:

1. A linear writing style. It's much harder to jump between characters and subplots in audio than in writing, much harder to lookup a cross-reference or skip to a footnote in non-fiction.

2. Not to be too dense (in ideas or in writing style) so if you miss a minute or so because you're distracted then you can catch up.

Something that isn't written in academicese, or legalese: few tables, figures or footnotes.

But ... something you might want to highlight ... and export from.

As a cyclist, I've been listening to audio books for years. My best experiences have been: Atlas Shrugged, Lolita (narr. Jeremy Irons), Brave New World, Gauguin: A Life, and a two volume Dickens biography.

I thought the audio version of Strange and Norrell was very good. Also excellent is the late, great Ron Silver reading Philip Roth.

So far, I have prefered fiction to non-fiction in audiobooks, although that opinion is highly weighted by having listened to an audiobook that had frequent references to graphs, whach were supplied in an accompanying Adobe e-book. It was an unpleasant experience, although if you had it on your Kindle you could at least have the figures with you as you listened.

The publisher is a more important indicator of quality with an audiobook than with a paper book. I have found the quality of audiobooks published by Blackstone Audio to be very good. Also, for fiction, audiobooks read by a cast can be easier to follow, although a good narrator can keep any number of characters distinctive.

Well, nothing that has equations, illustrations or complex reasoning.

Popular science, biographies, fiction, history, business and self-help books is the way to go.

Humour works well audio format. I'd recommend Mike Birbiglia's "Sleep walk with me", or "Things I've Learn From The Women Who've Dumped Me", In "Things I've Learn From The Women Who've Dumped Me", Larry Willmore's story about his daughter is very funny!

I liked Marion Zimmerman Bradley's 'Lady of Avalon' on audio book.

On those long road trips or even when stuck in traffic nothing passes the time better than a good story on an Audio Book.

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