Friday, June 6, 2014

June is Audio Book Month

Today I want to talk a little bit more about audio books.  I touched a few things in my last post, but today I wanted to talk about a few tips to selecting a good audio book to listen to.  Now, if you are just checking an audio book out from the library, the risk is relatively low to nonexistent.  On the other hand, if you are purchasing an audio book--they can be quite expensive--the risk is high.  Just because the book synopsis makes it sound good, that doesn't mean the audio version is going to be worth the money.

The reader really can make or break the experience for you.  While most stores don't have ways for you to preview an audio book before you buy it, a lot of websites do have that ability.  If you have a smart phone, you don't even have to pre-plan before you shop.  I highly recommend listening to a sample if available.  A sample will let you know if the reader's voice is compatible with your auditory preferences.  I have come across readers who do a wonderful job, but the sound of their voice just grates on me.  I'm sure the same reader sounds fine to other people.  If you don't like the sound of someone's voice, the chances of really liking the book, or even finishing it, are slim.

If the reader's voice is pleasant to your ears, listen for how he/she paces (is it too fast/slow for your taste).  Also, listen for how he/she handles multiply voices for various characters (are there unsuccessful accents, not enough distinction between characters, etc.).  Another thing to consider is if you think you can separate a reader from other work he/she has done.  For example: Jim Dale did such a wonderful job with the Harry Potter series, he really brought those characters to life in ways a simple reading didn't for me.  However, I associate his voice so much with those characters that I have had a lot of trouble listening to him read other books/series.  I still enjoyed those books and his voice acting/reading abilities, but I had a hard time separating from the characters with similar sounding voices from the HP books.  Of course I have listened to those at least three times each, so those voices are ingrained in my head in ways most audio book voices aren't.  Other people may not have that problem, but if you do then I recommend avoiding audio books with overly familiar readers.  I have often come across the same readers from other books, but it usually only takes me a little bit of time to transition to the new/current book and forget the other one.

Another thing to look for is the reader's credentials.  Obviously the reader doesn't need to be a TV/movie/Broadway star, or anything special, but having some sort of training/ability is important.  In general, I have found that any book read by the author is usually worth avoiding at all costs.  This is not a hard and fast rule, but a solid guideline to consider.  Most author's are dry and boring, with little ability to do voices and bring the characters to life.  There are definitely exceptions.  Some author's do an amazing job (for example: Roald Dahl).  The bottom line: be wary of author read audio books.

At the end of the day, there is no sure way to tell the quality of an audio book.  In general, most books are completely fine.  Not everything we listen to needs to be exceptional.  Every audio book doesn't need to blow our minds; after all, not every book we read has that effect on us.  Obviously publishers want a quality product, and they are not going to hire a reader that they don't think will do a good job.  My main recommendations are to sample what you can, look for recommendations from those you trust, and to avoid books read by the author.  In my opinion the audio format is an amazing alternative to reading.  It allows me to "read" twice as many books as I have time for.  I can listen in the car, while I'm cleaning and cooking, or while exercising.  For me, there are a lot of books I"m interested in, but don't want to dedicate/give up time to actually read.  If someone else can read it to me, all the better.  That way I don't have to pass on books I may not want to spend time reading.  It has also been a wonderful way for me to revisit some of my favorite books.  Whatever your reason for listening to audio books, I highly recommend the experience.  I challenge everyone to listen to a book this month in support of Audio Book Month.  Happy listening!

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