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Confessions of a Newbie Audiobook Listener

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Swapna Krishna

Staff Writer

Swapna is the Comics Editor at Book Riot. She's a Space Columnist for Paste Magazine and writes for Syfy Wire—Fangrrls,, Bustle, and other sites. She co-hosts a podcast called Desi Geek Girls. You can find her incessant ramblings on Twitter at @skrishna. She lives outside Philadelphia.

Audiobooks seem to be the “big new thing.” Everyone seems to be talking to them, listening to them, and just all around gushing about how great they are. And really, if you think about it, audiobooks are pretty cool. I mean, you can get through that infinite TBR list while cooking, cleaning, and even during your commute.

In principle, then, audiobooks are awesome. But in practice? Well, that’s a little more complicated. I tried audiobooks for the first time a few years ago, and honestly, I didn’t feel like they were for me. I listened to a few here and there, but I just couldn’t get into them. I don’t have the best attention span (hence why I’m a book polygamist), and I felt like I kept losing the story thread while listening because I’d tune out on occasion. Plus, really, who wants to listen to a 20 hour book? I mean, clearly some people do, but I’m not one of them. So, I determined that audiobooks weren’t for me and moved on.

But over the past year, as I’ve been hearing more about audiobooks, I decided to give them another try. This time would be different, though. This time I’d have a PLAN.

First of all, I decided to abandon fiction altogether. Fiction in audio is just too difficult for me; too many story arcs and threads to keep track of, and I’m not an auditory learner. I tried the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series on audio, and that worked okay (I think the simple plotlines helped), but I didn’t feel like I loved the experience. So just nonfiction, then.

But not just any nonfiction. Heavy history was out for me as well; while Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester was really an awesome read, and Winchester is a great narrator, I probably only absorbed about half the book (and that’s me being generous) in audio. It was just too long and involved and complicated; if I read a history, I want to learn, not to constantly guess at what’s being discussed because I tuned out the beginning of the chapter.

I also vetoed any audiobooks over 10 hours. Sometimes I’ll break this rule if it’s something I’m really interested in, but generally, I’m bored easily. And the LAST thing I want is to be bored by my entertainment. So, short audiobooks are the way to go for me.

And you know what I found?

That I really and truly do enjoy audiobooks.

But only in a narrow range.

I’ll never be one of those people who can listen to A Game Of Thrones on audio (is there an audiobook for this? I don’t even want to know.) But within my narrow preferences, stated below, audio actually works really well.

(1) Celebrity memoirs (and memoirs in general)

love life - rob lowe (audio)I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not a celebrity memoir person. But for not being a celebrity memoir person, I’ve read (and enjoyed) a surprising number of them in audio. Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Rob Lowe, Wil Wheaton, Andre Agassi—these are just a few of the memoirs that were excellent, perhaps even better in audio than in print. And really, memoirs of all types work well in audio; I haven’t yet had one that didn’t work for me.


(2) Social/Psychological nonfiction

I don’t really know the “official” category name for these. But those books like Lean In and The Checklist Manifesto—not exactly self-help (which is really not my thing) but sort of an examination of society with the aim of learning how successful people do things in order to better yourself. These work very well in audio, and as a bonus, they’re often short.

(3) Fiction rereads

skin game - jim butcher (audio)Yes, I realize this breaks my “no fiction” rule, but the reason I have that rule is because I find it too difficult to follow a book’s plot/characters through audio alone. But if I’ve already read the book, then I already know the characters and plot. I just want to remember the details or read it again because of nostalgia. Audio is great for that because you get to experience the read in an entirely new way. I’ve been doing a reread of the entire The Dresden Files series on audio, and despite the fact that I’ve read the series in print and had my own conceptions of what the main character sounded like, the narrator James Marsters has since absolutely become Harry’s voice in my mind. And, as a bonus, it’s a great way to reread books when I have so much trouble finding time to do that in print.

If you’re new to audiobooks, but want to give them a try, we have 11 audiobook suggestions for you. But if, like me, you’ve given them a try and found that fiction just does not work for you, why not try something new?

If you aren’t a huge audiobook listener, what are some audiobooks that have worked well for you?