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Guide to Choosing an Audio Book

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Before there were books we had storytelling. The popular image here is of people sitting round a camp fire telling tales of long forgotten lands. Yes, this must have happened, but storytelling was so much more than just tales beside the campfire. They were a way to pass down traditions, ensure that the culture was maintained and to warn and advise the young ones about the dangers in a wild world.

In our modern and largely safe world we have mostly forgotten the thrill of listening to a well told story. But we now have audio books offering us a small glimpse into what used to be. After dinner why not sit down in a dark room with maybe just a small light in the corner and listen to a story being told well?

So you think that you might like to try an audio book? Well, here are some guidelines to help you chose.

1. With an audio book you can’t really skip a few pages. This means that you have to sit through horror stories and not jump to the end to see if it turns out well. You have to let the tension build, and this can be both good as well as frustrating.

2. Dead sections are a real problem. No, not dead people, but those parts of a story where the author has just let it go. It can be difficult to maintain the pace and style throughout a long book, and when this fails you get the slow and dead parts. If you were reading them, it is easy to skip past these. On an audio book you just have to grin and bear it.

3. Do you love a whodunit? If so you will know the number of times you go back to previous pages to check up on the clues. Well, with an audio book you have to catch the clues there and then.

4. Do you like business books? Well, beware as tables and statistics do not make good listening.

5. You will discover some great narrators. As an avid reader you will probably check through previous works for your favourite authors. As someone who loves audio books, you will find yourself checking to see what else your favourite narrator has recorded. Will Patton and Jeff Harding are for me two of the best around.

6. You will be surprised. There are books which just don’t suit you when printed, but if you try an audio book then they can become a complete and amazing surprise. Two of my favourite audio book writers are James Lee Burke and Jo Nesbo. I don’t like their printed work, but when read aloud it comes alive and is enthralling.

7. Music can change it all. I am always puzzled as to why the producers don’t use music more. Occasionally, it is included, and for horror stories it can help build the tension quite nicely.

8. Lovely writing. There are some stories and some chapters which just seem to flow beautifully when read aloud. I find that stories which try to evoke past times in a good light can be magical when read aloud. David Gutterson’s East of the Mountains springs to mind. As a book I found the writing adequate, but I would never read the book a second time. On audio the story comes to life and there is brilliance and light in the words.

9. We all have our favourite books which we will read time and again. We think that we know the story inside out and yet sometimes a good narrator will pick up a different emphasis and just by changing the timing can bring a whole new meaning to a chapter. When this happens it is a pleasure indeed.

10. Too many voices. This is always a challenge for a producer. If the book has a large cast of characters do you employ multiple readers or ask the same one to do all the voices? Elizabeth Kostova’s book The Historian is one such work. It has a huge cast of characters and asking one narrator to cover them all is dangerous. For when a voice goes wrong, well, the whole audio book fails.

11. Sci-fi can be a challenge. We are all familiar with the long alien names which seem so popular. Well, try having to say those names time and again, and you will soon realise that this is a real problem for audio books.

12. Phrasing. Some writers have a habit of using certain phrases time and again. On paper your mind skips over them, but on a recording the repetition can irritate. Do you like the novels of Lee Child? Although his novels generally make the transition to audio there are times when you just grow tired of hearing “Reacher said nothing” time and again.

Well, we have discussed the above pointers towards enjoying an audio book, but which ones would I recommend?

I have already mentioned James Lee Burke and Jo Nesbo. Other writers whose work seems to tell well include:

1. Stephen King. Not really surprising here. Tales from the master of suspense make the transition well and easily to audio book.

2. Haruki Murakami. His work can be long and convoluted, but somehow the stories hang together and are a joy to listen to.

3. The earlier works of John Connolly.

4. Any book by Harlan Coban. They are fast and hold you enthralled.

5. Lee Child. The simple sentences, and great plots work well on audio.

6. Classical work by greats like Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas are well worth revisiting.

What do you think? We will all have different ideas about audio books, but to me they remain the best way to hear a good story and absolutely brilliant for thrillers.


Lisey's story

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About Colin Corlett

Living in the North of England and exploring the history and geography of this wonderful land.
  • Igor

    The biggest problem I’ve had with audiobooks is finding my place again when I fall asleep.

    After a few audiobooks I find that I’m happier listening to podcasts of about an hour duration.

    I’m a big fan of free books, especially classics. Since I no longer keep paper and ink books I really enjoy the idea of keeping books, like movies and music, in compact form on my hard-drives. I look forward to harvesting sources like Gutenberg Project.

  • Rob

    Great articles. Yes, bc of the modern convenience of audiobooks, and the modern reality of commuting, I’ve caught up on dozens of audiobooks, from parenting books to pop culture Dragon Tatoo trilogy to 1776 to even Mobey Dick. There is absolutely no way I would have the time, energy and endurance to read unabridged Mobey Dick, but thanks to the Audible version, I finished it in a month (though to your point even an audiobook can sometimes get excruciatingly boring, like the chapters on Cetaceas and on why he has such an issue with the color White)