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10 Ways to Learn to Love Audiobooks

Apr. 14, 2018| 7-min read

“Listening is the new reading,” Audible boldly proclaims on its homepage. A lot of people I know would swear that’s true. And I might, too, seeing as I’ve already listened to more books this year than I’ve actually read.

This is surprising to me, because I used to hate audiobooks.

“It’s the only way I read anymore,” friends would say, and I’d roll my eyes. I had trouble with audiobooks from day one. I couldn’t pay attention to audio. It was boring; my mind wandered.

But when I made a conscious effort to read more, I knew being able to read on-the-go would do wonders for how many books I could fly through.

I’ve since met more people like me, who say they struggle to listen to books because they can’t pay attention to them.

Like anything you’re not a natural at, I believe you can learn to love audiobooks. At least, I did. Here’s what worked for me:

1. Listen to the genres you already love

This may sound obvious, but it’s so crucial. I made this mistake with my first book, and was put off audiobooks another six months before trying again.

The Alchemist ticked a lot of boxes: It appeared on best-of audiobook lists, was read by a famous actor, and was only four hours long.

But The Alchemist is a fable, a genre I haven’t picked up since my dad read me Aesop’s as a kid.

I’d probably have done much better with a memoir, one of my favorite genres to read. Choose a book you’d be thrilled to pick up in print, too.

2. Fiction will help you hang on every word

Listening to non-fiction books can sometimes feel like attending a college lecture. Fiction books, on the other hand, are like listening to someone tell you a story. They’re much more engaging.

I’ve really loved a lot of non-fiction audiobooks I’ve read, and they can have gripping narrative elements (like Evicted, about the affordable housing crisis in the U.S.), but I’ve never sat still on my couch just to listen to one. I have completely stopped what I’m doing just to listen to fiction.

I think this is partly because you can’t really afford to miss anything in a story. In non-fiction, you can often tune out for minutes at a time and have no trouble catching up.

But miss one key sentence in fiction, and you’ll probably be confused.

If you do go with fiction, fast-paced thrillers or genre fiction is probably best, something with short sentences and a plot that moves quickly. Avoid super literary and descriptive books, at least to start. The second audiobook I tried was Slouching Towards Bethlehem (again, on a best-of list, with a famous narrator), but it moved too slowly to keep my attention as an audiobook newbie.

Learning to listen to audiobooks, for me, felt like learning to read; you have to work your way up to the meaty stuff.

3. Be as discerning as possible with your narrator

The Alchemist wasn’t just a type of book I didn’t like. I really didn’t like the narration. Sorry, Jeremy Irons. (Doing an impression of this audiobook is one of my favorite things; please do ask the next time I see you in person.)

You can listen to an audio sample on Audible of up to five minutes. USE those five minutes, and look at the reviews for backup. Maybe the voice sounds fine enough for five minutes, but other listeners may point out that the narrator is too monotone or nasally for 10 hours of reading.

If the narrator talks too slowly or quickly for you, the Audible app lets you speed up or slow down the narration.

I sometimes use 1.25x on a slower narrator, but caution you against doing anything faster than that, otherwise you can really lose focus quickly.

You can read faster than you can listen, so an audiobook is always going to feel slower than reading. I had to just accept this.

For a while, I thought I had it all figured out that books are best read by their authors. But your mileage may vary there as well. Sometimes an author lends a personal connection to their words that an actor might not match. Sometimes, it’s best if authors stick to writing.

For example, I loved Adam Alter’s reading of his book Irresistible, but recently previewed Priestdaddy and didn’t find author Patricia Lockwood engaging as a narrator.

A tricky thing about fiction narration is also that the narrator will often do different voices for different characters, and you won’t get to preview all of them in the sample. I just finished Private Dancer by Stephen Leather, and though I was impressed by most of the male accents, the female narrator takes on the worst Thai accent I’ve ever heard.

But that leads me to …

4. Take advantage of Audible’s generous return policy

Audible has an amazing return policy that I can’t believe exists in the year 2018 from a corporation this large. You can basically return any book, anytime, for any reason.

And you’ll want to do this because…

5. Be fine with Audible taking all your money

If you really want to get into audiobooks, you’ll have to be fine with the fact that it’s expensive as hell. I’m pretty sure you can rent audiobooks from public libraries these days, but I haven’t personally investigated.

6. Use Whispersync as training wheels

Whispersync allows you to sync a Kindle and Audible version of a book. So when you listen for a few minutes, and then open the book on your Kindle, it jumps to the last thing you heard. Then when you go back to audiobook, it remembers the last page you read.

This is an easy way to dip in and out of testing the audiobook waters, and it lets you really fly through books on your reading list.

7. Work your way up in terms of length

Start small, and grow your ambitions. I found that a book length around or below five hours is a good place to start.

At first, more than 10 hours was a real drag or me, and the last few hours a slog. Now I can comfortably do 10, but still shy away from more than 15.

The really ambitious tackle unabridged Ayn Rand.

8. Choose your complementary listening activity wisely

With a regular book, your eyes need to focus on the page, so you can’t do much else. When you listen to audiobooks, you can multitask.

You’ll also need to work your way up in terms of concentration here. If I’m walking a familiar route, taking a shower, brushing my teeth, or folding laundry, I can shut my mind off enough to concentrate on the book. Driving is also a good option.

If I’m walking somewhere new, or trying to organize something that requires a bit of thinking, these tasks take up too much of my concentration and then I can’t focus on the book.

I’ve also recently bought an iPod for the sole purpose of it being my Audiobook Kindle. You literally can’t listen to something and read something at the same time, so I have a device with no messaging functions, no browser, no anything besides Audible, and it helps me pay attention instead of bouncing around apps or trying to multitask while trying to listen.

9. Ignore best-of lists, all other advice and follow your heart and ears

A lot of advice articles tell you to listen to radio plays or live recordings to get into audiobooks, but once again, I really recommend listening to genres you already love first.

Feel free to ignore any of my advice that doesn’t jive with you, too! Follow your ears.

10. Beginner Audiobooks I Recommend

The War of Art — Steven Pressfield is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, but he also wrote this book about the creative processand it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. A couple of short and similarly inspiring books by Pressfield are Turning Pro and Do the Work.

Irresistible by Adam Alter — A nonfiction book about distraction in the Internet age and, I thought, a fabulous reading by an author with enough storytelling to keep you interested.

Grit by Angela Duckworth — Another great nonfiction reading by an author

The Beach by Alex Garland — This is basically The Lord of the Flies updated with backpackers in Thailand. It moves very quickly and the narrator did a fabulous job with about 100 different accents.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris — Sedaris is no stranger to radio story-telling, and this humorous memoir had me laughing out loud.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle — Okay, this book is great for falling asleep to, but listener beware! I really do not recommend training yourself to fall asleep to audiobooks as your first foray into the genre. If you really need a sleep aid though…

What are your favorite audiobooks? Leave a comment: