How to enjoy Audiobooks
02/03/2012 audiobooks
Last week, the New York Times ran a piece on whether or not listening to audiobooks and reading printed books was the same activity.
Despite the debate surrounding it, as a fan of both printed books and audiobooks, it read largely like old book snobs fighting new technology.

Quite honestly, some audiobooks work, and some don't. Some people are visual learners, and some are auditory. Some activities lend themselves to audiobooks and others require too much concentration and detract from audiobooks. I've found that in the end it all depends.

But I would like to leave you with some tips, picks, and suggestions on how to get the best experience from audiobooks.

These are some things I've picked up after a few years of toying with audiobooks. They work for me, and might not work for everyone else, but hopefully there's something useful for everyone.

1. Don't overload yourself while listening

A few friends tell me they listen to audiobooks while doing work at their desk — like coding and reading email and preparing for meetings. That kind of work takes too much concentration to enjoy or even absorb most audiobooks. Personally, I just stick to simple things like while driving on long trips (reserved for straight shots on freeways, usually not while driving in the city, and especially not in strange cities where I might get lost), doing yardwork, and even sitting around the fireplace wearing an iPod.

2. It's all about the narrator

Try out audiobooks before you buy. I love the iTunes Music Store's audiobooks section because you can listen to 30 second clips on anything they sell. Listen to a passage and ask yourself if you could listen to that same person for eight hours. If you aren't keenly interested by the end of the sample, move on to the next choice. Great narrators make boring books come alive and conversely, great books can put you to sleep if the narrator is an emotionless drone.
Great narrators make for wonderful listening experiences. These two Ask MetaFilter threads (one, two) are great for finding suggested recordings. I tend to enjoy narrators that are comic actors, great speakers, and/or both.

3. Keep it light, keep it easy

I don't think audiobooks were meant for Tolstoy's work. Comedy works extremely well on road trips. Light hearted business reading with a few laughs works as well. Children's books are terrific to listen to. If you're driving and you have to pay attention for a moment and you miss a beat, it's not a big deal if the material isn't densely packed. For books that have some meat to them, don't be afraid to use the pause button when you've heard something provacative. I do it all the time.

4. iPods, iPods, iPods

In the old days you used to have to carry loads of tapes and constantly flip them over and change them while you drove. Even with CDs, often books require three or five or ten discs to cover a book. An iPod on the other hand can hold a library's worth. If you're using it for road trips, rig up a tape adapter and a power source and avoid FM transmitters that are frequently buggy.