True Confessions of an Audiobook Worm

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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).

Audiobook technology

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 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?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

I love audio books. I began

I love audio books. I began listening to them when I began my work as a social worker. I was working mostly home based so I traveled for the better part of my day. In between visits I would listen to them and knit. My favorite (!) audio books were by Neil Gaiman. Most of his books are narrated by him- and is heart brake-ingly suave voice-, but some of them- American Gods and Anansi Boys aren’t. And that was fine by me because the narrators were amazing, especially Lenny Henry. Many Authors read their own books, Chuck Palahniuk is another author that has narrated his own stories, and let’s not forget President Obama.

I'm always in strong support of a good audio book; It makes me respect the written word so much more when I’m able to sit and devote my attention to reading. And let’s be honest, how wonderful is it to have Barack Obama read you to bed at night.

Another love of mine is podcasting. My usual podcast fodder are knitting podcasts. I know many of the podcasters (The knitting community tends to be close knit-ugh) so it is like a good friend talking about how awesome their knitting is. I have recently become a big fan of This American Life with Ira Glass. I’m surely last to jump on that bandwagon. But the show is inspirational and wonderful- not to mention respectful. This clinical social worker approves of the interviewing style!

Come and listen to some spoken-word

I love audio books as well, but what I also found enjoyable is spoken-word. I would love to invite you (and any others you want to bring) to an terrific event happening this Saturday, August 29 (see info below). Come out and join us, you might be pleasently surprised.

Beats & Rhymes to Excite & Unite
Featuring spoken-word artist Ro Deezy, political songwriter David Rovics and MC/soulstress Toni Hill. A benefit for Radical Women. Saturday, August 29, 8:00 pm at Ducketts Public House, 825 N. Killingsworth St., Portland (1/2 block west of N. Albina; Tri-Met bus lines #72 and #4). Free show starts at 8:00pm. 21+ only. Special drink offer with $7.00 wristband. For more information call 503-240-4462, email or visit

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In the past, I've felt like

In the past, I've felt like there was almost a stigma to audiobooks ("whaddya, too dumb to read?!"), but I think the gluing of mp3 players to everyone's ears has made them much more popular and accessible. As soon as you mentioned audiobooks, I also thought of <i>The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao</i>, and I had a similar experience of tearing up in public while listening to it--though it was while driving to DC with my boyfriend, who teared up, too, even though he didn't think he'd be able to get into listening to fiction.

Right now, I'm 2/5 the way through <i>Nixonland</i>, and it's really fascinating (also really long--36 hours). However, the narrator mispronounces a few words and names, and that's kind of distracting.

Joseph Campbell's <i>The Power of Myth</i> works really well as an audiobook, by the way, because it's just the dialogue between Campbell and Bill Moyers from the original TV Specials. Stephen Colbert's book is great in audio version, too, because of the guest voices (like Amy Sedaris!).

I began listening over 10 years' ago

When a co-worker suggested that I listen to some titles she had on-hand. I must say I got hooked instantly and while I read the occasional book every now and then, listening to audiobooks keeps me caught up at a faster rate than sitting and reading. So easy to do while multi-tasking, cruising, and just trying to get to sleep at night.

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