Let's hear it for audiobooks!

Headphones around five books

Photo Credit

I recently discovered that U-M purchased an audiobook collection, EBSCO Audiobooks. In honor of my belated discovery I wanted to talk about this format.

Over the past five or so years I’ve gotten very attached to the audiobook medium. I started listening to them at work during repetitive tasks like shelving books. I started with a tried and true series that I was already familiar with, Harry Potter. It was easy to follow along and if I missed a little bit because of a distraction I could just fill in the gaps with prior knowledge. Now I listen to audiobooks while crafting, cleaning, and getting read for bed. They keep my brain on a single train of thought so I don’t end up in the clouds when I am supposed to be doing something else like falling asleep.

Audiobooks are not all created equally, there are a few different formats i.e. CDs, online MP3 files, and a few playaways. There are also a few different ways to narrate a book. The following four are the main categories I’ve noticed.

  • Full cast, with different narrators for each character/point of view
  • One person doing different voices for each character
  • One person reading the whole book in their own voice
  • Celebrity narrators (do any of the above with varying success)

My personal favorite narrator is Simon Vance and I’ve also enjoyed books read by Robin Miles and Xe Sands. Celebrities that read their own memoir are particularly moving due to their voice acting abilities and deep involvement with the material. Kate Mulgrew from Star Trek Voyager fame was particularly phenomemal.

Playaway portable audiobook
No Smart Phone? No problem! We have CD and playaway audiobooks available. Photo Credit

Some folks really can’t focus on audio books, they have to see the text to take it in. I’ve wondered if I’m not taking the stories in as deeply when I listen to audiobooks. For example, I listened to book four and five of A Song of Ice and Fire and I don’t remember them as well as the first three books. But on the other hand I can remember other audiobooks so vividly, down to where I was sitting/laying when a particular line hit me like a ton of bricks. So maybe it wasn’t the medium I was using, but the books themselves that failed to leave a mark. I often forget physical books I read, maybe even more than their audio counterparts.

The trick with audiobooks is finding the ones where the narrator understands the text and uses their voice to highlight the best parts. A good narrator can’t fix bad writing, but they can make moments explode off the page. They can also make good writing sound stilted and monotone. I’ve learned that it’s okay to give up on an audiobook if something about the narration doesn’t work for some reason. Most audiobook platforms allow you to sample the first five minutes to see if the book clicks for you. Searching by narrator is also a good way to find new books that you may not discover otherwise. I’ve added some things to my reading list just because Simon Vance narrated them and ended up loving them.

There aren’t a ton of books available, but services like these usually expand if they get a lot of traffic. If you have a CD player we have quite a few physical audiobooks that can be found by searching audiobooks in the U-M Library catalog. Also a plug for public libraries which also tend to have a variety of audiobooks available in both formats.

Some of my favorites available through the U-M Library.

1 Comment

Rebecca Dunkle
on June 7, 3:40pm

I have not listened to it yet, but friends say that Michelle Obama, reading her own book, “Becoming”, is transcendent

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