Listening to Books

Yesterday I mentioned in my post that B and I will be listening to an audio version of Anna Karenina on our trip to visit his mother. It got me thinking about the many other audiobooks I’ve listened to in the last few years, and I decided I needed to explain a little about my love for this type of reading.

First of all, I’ve always been a reader that adores having a book in my hands–I love the feel of the paper, the smell, the visual enjoyment of illustrations or typeset, everything we all love about books. But a few years ago, when faced with a long commute for a summer class I was taking, I started listening to audiobooks. The book I chose for that slow Seattle commute was Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver, read by the author. It was such an enjoyable “reading” experience for me that I got hooked and started listening to books while on my shorter commutes around town. I was amazed to discover how much “reading” I got done on short trips to the grocery store, to and from work, etc.

I’ve always loved being read to. I was read to as a child, loved being read to in school, and my husband and I read books to each other and then to our children. So listening to an audiobook is that familiar kind of pleasure for me. But when I started listening to audiobooks, I had to teach myself to listen better. When I first started, I’d get distracted and find my mind wandering. I’d miss big chunks of the narrative and have to “rewind” and listen again. Since then, my listening skills have greatly improved. This skill has spilled over into my daily life, and I think I’m a much better listener overall (although B might beg to differ!).

I have also become a real fan of talented narrators. Not all books are meant to be listened to, and a really good narrator is crucial, so there are a few audiobooks I’ve given up on. However, a talented narrator can really enhance the pleasure of a good book. I’ve become so devoted to some of my favorite narrators that I would recommend listening to ANY book they read. Favorites include:

  • Ron Keith. He did an excellent job of reading The Shining Company, by Rosemary Sutcliff, which is the listening experience that hooked my husband on audiobooks! I also loved listening to his reading of The House on the Strand, by Daphne Du Maurier, and Kingdom By The Sea, by Paul Theroux.
  • Flo Gibson. She is the grande dame of audiobooks, with her huge volume of work (over 1000 audiobooks). It may take a moment to get used to her somewhat gravelly voice, but she does a delightful job of reading such favorites as The Secret Garden, Wuthering Heights, or Silas Marner .

There are numerous audiobook companies now, and more and more books available digitally, but my favorite company for a long time has been Recorded Books. The quality of their products is excellent, and they have a phenomenal collection of unabridged audiobooks, many that simply are not available anywhere else. I joined their “Recorded Books Unlimited” program a few years ago, which works like Netflix–pay a monthly fee, receive 4 books, finish a book and return it, and they will send you the next available book on your queue. I listened to a lot of books while I was a member!

I set a few listening guidelines for myself. If I’m listening while driving and it’s at all distracting instead of calming, I turn off the book. I can read in bed, but can’t listen in bed…because I always fall asleep and have to figure out where I was in the book before losing consciousness! And I don’t listen to books when family or friends are present. It’s something I do when I’m alone.

One last thing…listening to a book is a different experience than reading the book, and is much like theater. If you don’t like the dramatization of the story, or how the narrator interprets the words (right down to the emphasis on certain syllables), then don’t listen to it. But I have found that listening to the beautiful writing of an author, read by a talented narrator, just gives me another reason to love the genius of the book. Many of those works were written to be shared aloud.

8 thoughts on “Listening to Books

  1. Gentle Reader

    Thanks for the narrator names–it’ll be good to look for these folks when I’m looking for audiobooks. I love listening while driving, too šŸ™‚


  2. tanabata

    I’ve never given it much effort, but I’ve never really gotten into audio books. I think it’s also the expense of them that puts me off. But you do make me want to try. šŸ™‚


  3. Robin

    Jenclair, I enjoy listening while knitting, but it would be perfect to listen while sewing.

    G.R., I find that listening to the books while driving keeps me calmer in traffic.

    Tanabata, they can be pricey to purchase or to rent, but I get most of mine from the library now. Our libraries here have a really good selection and they’re getting more popular all the time.


  4. Elaine Magliaro


    Your mother must be an amazing woman. I’d like to read INFIDEL. I’ve heard the author being interviewed. She sounds like an amazing woman, too.


  5. Robin

    Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, my mother is quite amazing. She lives next to a library, and is constantly reading. However, she also loves to knit and listen to music, keep up with her family via email, and go out to lunch with friends. The people at her retirement home wonder why she doesn’t sign up for more of their activities…but you can see that she doesn’t have much extra time!



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