I have become an audiophile! Or, at least an audiobookphile. 2012 was definitely the year I fell in love with the audiobook. I joined audible at the end of 2011, but only thought of it as a little experiment at the time. I’d always had a bit of a snobbish feeling that we should look down on audiobooks or “books on tape” as somehow being inferior to “real reading”, but I don’t really know why. Having spent a year enjoying some great audiobooks I certainly don’t feel that way anymore.
In fact, I’m starting to wonder if audio books aren’t sometimes superior to their original written form.
Audiobooks can offer an intimacy and connection to the material that a written book lacks. We’ve certainly been telling each other stories far longer than we’ve been reading them. Authors reading a selection of their work is often a part of any book tour or signing stop. Our first experience with books comes from being read to by our parents. Might there not be a case for the audiobook being the most natural form of mass-produced storytelling? Are we better wired to take in a story through our ears than our eyes? I recently found an interesting article about some of these ideas that came out in the New Yorker last year. You can read it here.
I’ve also come to love the fact that I can “read” while walking to work, doing house chores, shopping, exercising and playing with my son (depending on the game). I consumed far more stories last year because of audio books than I ever would have without them, because a lot of the time I spent listening is time I couldn’t have spent reading.
Of course audiobooks are not perfect. One of the biggest gambles with an audiobook is built right into the format: the narrator. If you listen to a book with a good narrator (good being a completely subjective determination each listener makes based on their own tastes) it can really enhance the experience. On the other hand, if the narrator doesn’t suit you then it might be hard to finish the book or impossible to enjoy something you would have liked quite a bit if you were reading it in your own voice off the paper (or screen).
I’m also not sure the format is the best way to tackle something like the first novel of an epic fantasy series. I’m trying that with Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon and I’m finding it very hard to keep everything straight in my head, and I’m a very experienced fantasy reader! Epic fantasy is pretty much my home genre.
All that being said I can say that 2012 was a great year for me on the audiobook front and I’m very happy with my audible.com membership. My standout listens this past year:
- I, Claudius by Robert Graves narrated by Nelson Runger
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies narrated by Marc Vietor
- The 5-Book Mallorean Series by David Eddings narrated by Cameron Beierle
- God is Not Great written and narrated by Christopher Hitchens
- The Graveyard Book written and narrated by Neil Gaiman
- Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine narrated by Scott Aiello
- On Writing written and narrated by Stephen King
- Redshirts by John Scalzi and narrated by Wil Wheaton
- Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez and narrated by Scott Aiello
- Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny narrated by Alessandro Juliani
- Accidental Genius by Mark Levy narrated by Bronson Pinchot
- The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem narrated by Scott Aiello
- Hell House by Richard Matheson narrated by Ray Porter
- And I’m currently loving Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell and narrated by Oliver Wyman
In case you were wondering there are other options out there to get your audio-storytelling fix. Free choices.
Podiobooks.com is the big one out there. It offers free serialized fiction and audiobooks. This is a top-quality site. Some of the free audiobooks available here are also available as e-books, paperbacks and hardcovers at places like Amazon.
If you like short genre fiction and would like to sample some in audio form then I suggest checking out some of the SF/F magazine’s websites. Three that I know do audioversions of their stories are:
There are also some audio-only “magazines” out there:
- PodCastle – Fantasy Short Stories
- Escape Pod – Science Fiction Short Stories
- Pseudopod – Horror Short Stories
- The Drabblecast – Genre Flash Fiction (especially off-beat, funny or eclectic)
I’m looking forward to listening to more great audio storytelling in 2013. Do you know of any sources of audiobooks or short stories that I haven’t mentioned? Do you have any favorite audiobooks or stories? Let us know in the comments.