When I was growing up, one of my very favorite things was to have books read out loud to me. My mother (a total bookworm, thank goodness) read to my little brother and I every night, and it was the best thing ever. We’d beg for her to read just one more chapter of My Father’s Dragon or From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I loved to fall asleep guessing what was going to happen next.
However, I am now a bit older and I no longer live with my mother (knock on wood). That is why, for this installment of BiblioBitch, I would like to make a case for the mighty audiobook. Audiobooks have replaced my mother when it comes to reading out loud to me at bedtime, and they usually feature celebrities (something that was missing from my childhood listening experience – sorry Mom, but it’s true).
Situations that are improved by audibooks
My affinity for audiobooks began, once more, with my mother. She would make us listen to them on long car trips (what, no Raffi?!?) and even though we complained, they really did make the time pass quickly. Audiobooks are great for the car, especially if you are going to be driving for hours on end. One of my favorite auto-audiobook experiences was when I listened to Chuck Klosterman’s Killing Yourself to Live (read by Patrick Lawlor) on a work-related road trip. The book itself is partially about driving long distances, and it’s really funny.
Audiobooks are also nice to enjoy, as previously mentioned, at bedtime. I love lying in bed and hearing someone read out loud to me. It calms my brain down while I am trying to sleep, and I think it makes my dreams more exciting (depending on the book, of course). I especially like to listen to short stories while I am in bed, because if I fall asleep in the middle I don’t have to rewind as much. I love the weekly podcast PRI: Selected Shorts for this purpose (plus, it’s free). Each week a few short stories are read out loud onstage by various actors, all surrounding a particular theme. This week’s theme is “Figuring it Out” and it features a favorite short of mine, “Towel Season” by Ron Carlson, read by James Naughton.
An exercise session can also be improved with an audiobook. While I myself cannot claim to be particularly sporty, I do enjoy listening to audiobooks while I walk around my neighborhood, or attempt to use the eliptical machine at the gym. If you’re like me, it’s nice to be able to lose yourself in a narrative so that you forget about how boring it is to exercise. If you are one of those people who thinks exercising is insanely fun, then I am jealous of you. Regardless, audiobooks make great workout partners. I recently finished listening to the heartbreakingly brilliant Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, read by Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell, while strolling around town (and crying because I was so moved by the book).
There are various ways to obtain audiobooks, at varying costs. The least expensive and technologically advanced way is to check them out from your local library. They are typically available on both cassette and CD (sorry, eight-track lovers). However, libraries don’t necessarily stock the most current or exciting audiobooks, so this is a good option for the open minded penny-pinchers among us. I am usually too lazy and picky to get audiobooks from the library, but a more industrious friend of mine was able to get Three Junes by Julia Glass, read by John Keating, by putting it on hold at her local library. (Me, being the lazy one, actually paid for that particular audiobook a few years ago and found it to be delightful.)
Buying audiobooks on CD is another option, for those of us who don’t mind shelling out a few bucks. I bought a copy of Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation as a gift for my mom and it went over like gangbusters. It’s read by all kinds of cool people, from Jon Stewart to David Rakoff, and even though buying new at the bookstore is a tad pricey, it is nice for gift giving.
For tech-savvy folks with a little change in their pockets, there are tons of ways to get audiobooks on MP3. The easiest and most comprehensive site I’ve found for this purpose is audible.com. Audible has just about every audiobook I can think of, and it’s cheaper because you download a digital copy as opposed to paying for lots of packaging. An even cheaper option (though a tad sneaky) is to take advantage of audible promotions through podcasts like Slate’s Culture Gabfest and This American Life, which offer free audiobooks if you sign up for a trial period. If you have more than one email address, you can do this more than one time (shhh…). I listened to Nabokov’s Lolita as read by Jeremy Irons with my audible account (creeeepy but awesome). And if you don’t have an ipod or MP3 dock in your car, you can always burn the books onto CD. (The only good kind of book burning – Am I right?)
And finally, for techies without much cash to spend, iTunes is a great place to get free short stories on MP3. In addition to the previously mentioned PRI: Selected Shorts, I like The New Yorker Fiction Podcast for great shorts.
How about you? Have you heard any good books lately?