Z688.A93 → Exploring the Audiobook Format

For the past year or so, I've been getting more and more curious about audiobooks. I've always been a reader of physical or electronic books - and never truly thought of reading via my ears. If I'm being completely honest here, my original motivation for trying it out was the near constant sponsorships that Audible did of many podcasts that I loved to listen to. Inevitably, the sponsorship/advertisement went along the lines of "sign up with our coupon code and receive your first audio book for free!" A free book? That's definitely a deal I couldn't pass up.

And so I went ahead and got my free book (it was Stephanie Laurens' Devil's Bride), but looking back, I didn't take into account the difference of the format. Oh sure, I knew I would be taking in the story via my ears and not my eyes, but I didn't anticipate how my reading schedule would affect my process of reading. At that time - working full-time as I was - I only really had dedicated reading time when I was going to bed. So there I was all tucked into bed, only one light on, when I turned on my iPod to listen to the audiobook. I'm sure you can think of what happened next - that's right: sleep. Nearly instant sleep. It's more than a little disappointing to jolt awake and realize you've missed who-knows-how-many chapters. And so, I thought, audiobooks just weren't for me.

And then I got a job that consisted of a 30-40 minute commute. I still had my reservations though. I mean, would I really be able to pay attention to a story while my focus was going to be on the road? So I gave it another shot.
To start things off, I listened to Lisa Kleypas' Devil in Winter - a near-classic of the historical romance subgenre and one that I had read before a long time ago. I knew the major plot points, but hadn't remembered the nuances of the content and dialogue, so listening to the audiobook was a wonderful refresher. I specifically chose something I had read previously as a way to handle the distraction issue - if I missed a key piece of the plot because I was navigating a snowstorm, big deal - I knew the gist already.

The next book I tried on audiobook was J.D. Robb's Holiday in Death. I didn't finish it. I got to the fourth disc and my car CD player just wouldn't accept it at all. It didn't look badly scratched or damaged, but something was wrong and it just wouldn't do anything. It was happy about being played in my computer either, so I decided to give up on the book. This was certainly frustrating - I was already put off by the fact I was reading a Christmas themed book in the middle of January, but to get to a point where I couldn't even know how it ended? Ugh.

I decided to go back to trying a book that I had previously read. Next up was Sandra Brown's White Hot - perhaps one of my favourite books by the author. This was a challenging read for a different reason - I knew the book so well that I began to confuse myself when I realized scenes were missing. It wasn't until I looked at the catalogue record that I realized I had picked up the abridged version of the story. Disappointing, but it was nice to experience listening to a book narrated by a male performer as up until this point it had been female narrators.

And now, I'm reading a brand-new-to-me story: Susanna Kearnsley's The Winter Sea (or, as my version of the audiobook is known as, "Sophia's Secret"). So far the experience has been great - while there is a Scottish accent being used which can confuse me - I'm enjoying the story so much that I may have to pop a disc in my computer to listen to this weekend when I'm not planning on being in the car that often.

I've realized a lot of things through my adventure in audiobook-land. For example, the talent and effort of voice performers and how well-matched they are to the content of the story itself. In Holiday in Death, the narrator was a slightly gruff and hard-edged woman - perfect for the character of Eve Dallas, whereas in Devil in Winter and The Winter Sea the narrators have distinct English and Scottish accents respectively, as makes sense for stories set in and around London and Scotland. I've also noted that the formatting of the discs can vary widely. By this I mean largely in the introduction of the story and the chapter breaks. For example, in White Hot chapter breaks were never indicated or announced in the recording and on top of that, the end of each disc was never acknowledged either - it simply petered out into nothingness. In comparison, Devil in Winter and The Winter Sea acknowledges each chapter break and the end of a disc is noted with a simple statement such as "this marks the end of Disc 1" and so on. From an accessibility perspective, I much prefer the noting of the disc endings and would think many other do as well.

Overall, I've really begun to enjoy my foray into audiobooks. I'll certainly try another one after I'm done reading The Winter Sea - perhaps a non-fiction title this time? They pass my commute time well (much better than listening to the constant commercials on the radio), though there are certain issues related to the format to contend with. Issues of scratches that may not be seen until after an attempted listen, or issues of poor accessibility formatting in terms of introductions and end acknowledgements can really hinder the reading experience.

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