So much to read, so little time! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed attempting to keep up with fiction and non-fiction. I regularly take stacks of books home each week but can only manage to read a portion of them. Of course, I read reviews, browse our incoming New Books section and talk to patrons about books. But, for me, one of the best ways to keep up with reading is … to listen to books.
Early on in my library career, a wise colleague named Elfriede suggested that I listen to audiobooks as a way to acquaint myself with popular authors that I didn’t read. It had never occurred to me to listen to an audiobook. I loved reading; why would I want to listen to a book? Like many patrons, I associated audiobooks with people who didn’t like reading or couldn’t read because of vision problems.
Elfriede suggested that I could listen to genres that I didn’t usually read or books that didn’t appeal to me. I took her advice and checked out my first audiobook – Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. While Sebold’s book was popular at the time, I had no interest in reading it. I thought I‘d listen to the book for a while to get an idea of what it was like and then stop – ready to function more ably as a reader’s advisor. I started the novel on my drive home from work one evening. When I got home I couldn’t leave the car. I kept listening. The narrator, Alyssa Bresnahan, was mesmerizing. I felt like she was reading the book to me; I was hooked.
Before I started listening to books, I was one of the few librarians I knew who didn’t really like mysteries and thrillers. Now, after starting listening to books to increase my reader’s advisory ability, I devour mystery series. Just like I look forward to the latest Richard Ford or Miriam Toews in print, I can’t wait for the latest Flavia DeLuce mystery by Alan Bradley in audio. Other favourites include Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache series, anything by Denise Mina, Ken Bruen, James Lee Burke or Lee Child.
I’ve become attached to certain narrators. I’ll listen to anything read by Simon Vance (Peter May’s Enzo files or Chris Ewan’s Good Thief’s Guide mysteries), George Guidall (from Lillian Jackson Braun’s cat cozies to Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme thrillers) and the inimitable Barbara Rosenblat (especially the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters). I’ve joked that Ralph Cosham, who is Louise Penny’s Gamache to me, could read the cereal box and I would keep listening. Audiobooks read by narrators with accents are especially appealing as the story and characters are so enriched. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, read by multiple narrators, is one of my favourite ‘listens’ – and a book that I didn’t really want to read. I think the audio version is better than the book. An AudioFile reviewer noted that “audio is THE way to be inside this story, brilliantly cast with four voices…[the narrator’s] musical speech and emotional connection to the characters are riveting.” Generally, I stay away from author-read titles. But Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please and Tina Fey’s Bossypants, both read by the author, are not to be missed.
I find it quite difficult to recommend books I haven’t read. Similarly, it’s tricky to find author read-alikes if you haven’t read the original author. Listening to audiobooks can help you differentiate your James Patterson’s from your David Baldacci’s. Haven’t read Janet Evanovich – and don’t plan to! – listen to the fabulous C.J. Critt or, for more recent titles, Lorelei King narrate the witty travails of Stephanie Plum.
Audiobooks are the perfect companion for any activity. At the library, I am constantly trying to promote audiobooks as an alternative to reading. After a busy work day, being read to rather than reading is a soothing way to end your day. You can suggest patrons use the automatic shut off feature of their phone or iPod if they say that they fall asleep listening to books. Commuting is, perhaps, the best opportunity to listen to books. For those who can’t read on a bus suggest listening instead. Road trips and audiobooks are like chocolate and peanut butter – they go together!
I guarantee that you will not regret listening to an audiobook. It will provide you with a broader base to provide reader’s advisory services – for every 1 print book that I finish I probably listen to 2-3 audiobooks. You may even become an audiobook zealot like me!
For audiobook reviews and more go to: audiofilemagazine.com.
Look for the monthly Earphones Award winners, Audie Award winners (annual award for outstanding audiobooks) and audiobook reviews.
Stephanie Crosbie is an auxiliary librarian at the New Westminster Public Library. Her nose (or ears) are frequently stuck in a good book!