Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How to Choose an Audiobook

Stuck in traffic? No problem. Pop an audiobook in your car's cd player and you'll be happy to have the opportunity to listen to an extra chapter. OK, maybe not happy, but it will certainly be more pleasant. I bet you won't notice an extra kilometer or two on your daily walk if you are listening to an engaging story. There's nothing like an audiobook to make dull jobs disappear - laundry, dishes, snow shovelling (yes, it's coming).

But how to choose? If you are picking out a print book, there is a lot you can tell by handling it. We all do the same thing. Looking at the cover artwork gives a sense of the tone of the story. The publisher's blurb, of course, is helpful. We also flip the book open and scan the pages. We look at snippets here and there to get a sense if this the is the book we're in the mood for right now.

What to do about audiobooks? We can look at the cover and the publisher's blurb, but we can't get the same impression that handling the book will give us. Many publishers, on their websites, offer a sampling of the book. Here, for example, MacMillan Audio offers a sample of of the book. If you use the library's Digital Media Downloads (Overdrive), you'll find similar samples. However, it is what the publisher wants to you hear, so it is limited compared to your own sampling of a print book.

So what else to do? Audiofile Magazine (and its website) is a good source for reviews. A good audiobook review will focus on how well the narrator fits with the story. After all, a badly matched narrator can ruin a perfectly good novel. (I listened, years ago to John Lithgow read an Anne Tyler novel. Wonderful actor, but not at all suited to that novel).

Once you have found a great narrator, you can search the library's catalogue with the name and find other books they have read as well.

Publishers have started to use audio clips as a part of their marketing campaigns. If you have the opportunity to take the subway in Toronto, maybe you will see this campaign. You can plug in your headphones and have a listen.


  1. I love audiobooks! I've read so many great books over the last few years while walking my dog. My current favourite narrator is Scott Brick, an American actor who has read all of (I think) the audiobooks Michael Pollan's titles (The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Botany of Desire, etc.) and also the recent audio release of Capote's In Cold Blood. For me, audiobooks are particularly suited to nonfiction titles.

  2. I wish I had an ear for audiobooks. My overly active visual learning style preference makes it difficult for me to gather any of the story from a purely audio format. Which is too bad because there are lots of tasks where I could be listening to a book, but can't be reading a book... dishes comes to mind!