After a period of extended unemployment, I finally got a new job that involves driving. A lot of driving. Four or more hours a day on the road, and I’m not really that into driving. Right around the time my new job started, Audible let me know that it was about to reactivate my account after a hiatus, and I thought: serendipity. There are only so many news podcasts a person can listen to (then, right before the election, now… well) without wanting to just drive off the road to escape the world at large.
But books? Those are another kind of escape. And audiobooks are perfect, because it’s a chance to read in time that would otherwise feel like an empty waste. I used to love reading while I was on the bus, so this would be similar.
Audio books aren’t cheap, though. Makes sense, because you’re paying not only for a good book, but a good performance. The narrator makes such a difference; a bad narrator can make a good book boring, and a great narrator can almost salvage a book that I’d otherwise be flinging across the room in annoyance if I had a dead tree copy at hand.
It’s gotten to the point that I’m now doing most of my reading via audiobook rather than regular book. I can read for hours that way while I’m driving, whereas once I get home, if I settle down on the couch and try to read a regular book, I’m guaranteed to be passed out with a cat on my face within the next twenty minutes. Long hours and a physically demanding job will do that to a person, I guess.
There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but I’ve noticed that it has changed my book buying habits a little. There are still authors that I will buy the instant they have a book out, and just devour it in whatever format it happens to come in. (NK Jemisin, for example.) But I’m also paying more attention to who the narrator is. There are books I’ve bought because while I know nothing about the writer or the story, I like the narrator and want them to read more to me—particularly Kyle McCarley (The Prince of Shadows), Grover Gardner (John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit), and Robin Miles (Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race).
Even weirder, remember how during our school years, our book-hating compatriots would make inexplicable choices based on whatever book was the shortest? I’ve gone the opposite direction now. Audiobooks aren’t cheap, and I’m devouring them at an alarming rate. The longer the audiobook, the better. But it’s a bit of a nerve-wracking task to find the longest possible book that will still be interesting twenty hours later, and with a narrator I’ll still want to be hearing from.
So far, the length choices I’m happiest I made were the Tor.com Collection: Season 1 of novellas and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I liked the Tor.com collection particularly because it had such a diversity of stories, and was a chance to get to know a lot of writers. (Plus, if there’s a novella that you’re not wild about—not that I’m saying this happened, because everything in that collection was solid—you soon get to move on to a new story you might like a bit better.)
I’d like to find more novella collections like that; a single novella feels like a questionable deal when you’re trying to stretch your Audible credits as far as possible, but several packaged together like we used to get them in the spinny racks at the grocery store is perfect—and just as fun as it used to be.
In scifi and fantasy, most novellas are still being released as standalone audiobooks and ebooks, but I’m hoping there’s enough success that we’ll see publishers bundling them again. It’s also a way to expose readers via eye or ear to new authors we might like, which is a major bonus! It’s another reason to hope ebooks continue to push the novella revolution.