A voracious reader, yes. Audiobook listener? Not so much. Here’s one reason why it’s hard for me to get into audiobooks: I spend very little time driving. I work from home and have put less than 80,000 miles on my car in the last ten years. I can’t get into a story on my five-minute drive to the post office.
This wasn’t always the case. When I left my hometown of Chattanooga, TN for a new job in Lexington, KY, I had two kittens that I hated to leave unattended. When I got homesick, I’d put the fur balls in their kitty carrier and rent books on tape. Do you remember those portfolios of ten or more cassettes that you could rent at one Cracker Barrel and return or exchange at another one? The narrator’s voice somehow soothed the cats and entertained me on those eight-hour round trips.
I hear what you’re thinking right now: “Um, technology has advanced just a little beyond the book on tape circa 1997.” Yes, I’ve heard there are even books on CD now. And my husband and I have purchased audiobook downloads from Audible and checked them out from our local library’s Overdrive system. We usually listen to them on road trips, like the one we took last month to Savannah.
We listened to Campbell Scott read Steve Martin’s novella, An Object of Beauty. Zach and I don’t often like the same kind of books; he’s a fan of sports, politics, science fiction and history. And I’m a fan of…well, the stuff that’s on this website and you can see what I read over here at Goodreads.
For example, Zach just cracked the spine on Book 1 of 4 of the Lyndon Johnson biographies. No offense to Johnson’s biographer, Robert A. Caro, but these books are tomes. I love history, but I’d rather have Zach clunk me over the head with that block of a book than read it aloud to me. I can’t even imagine how many notebooks of cassette tapes just one of those books would create.
Back to An Object of Beauty…when it comes to audiobooks, Zach and I can both agree on titles from Steve Martin. I adored Shopgirl and we enjoyed listening to Martin narrate Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. An Object of Beauty is set in the New York art world, a setting that Martin knows well because he is a huge art collector. We joke all the time that when Steve Martin agrees to reprise his role in a Cheaper by the Dozen sequel or is starring in Pink Panther 28, it’s probably because he has his eye on a Picasso.
I really enjoyed listening to An Object of Beauty. Campbell Scott is a terrific narrator, and though I have no interest in or knowledge of fine art, I was enthralled with the story of those who appreciate and deal in art. The book even references the heist at Boston’s Isabella Gardner Museum, an event that B. J. Shapiro wrote about in her novel, The Art Forger.
I wish every author and publishing company had the luxury and resources to afford a professional audiobook narration of their books BEFORE the book goes to print. Why? Because if Steve Martin had listened to Campbell Scott before he turned the book into his editor, he would have removed that extraneous dinner party in Miami that stole about 15 minutes from my enjoyment of An Object of Beauty. Perhaps that’s not a long time in audiobook minutes, but it’s a lot of unnecessary pages for attention-deprived readers. And I finally abandoned an audiobook I listened to while driving one leg of a road trip because the author fell so in love with the historical facts and sayings from the time period she was writing about that she stalled out on the mystery at the core of the book. That’s the benefit of ingesting a story with your ears instead of your eyes: you can quickly tell when a story’s veering off course.
A little more than a week away from my next road trip, I am thinking about my next audiobook selection. Have any suggestions? I’d love for you to share them in the comments below. I’ve also included a few “Suggested Reading” links below in case you’re interested in learning more about the audiobook phenomenon.
- The 2014 Audies Finalists – The Audies are awards “recognizing distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association (APA).”
- 40 Ways to Listen to Audiobooks Even If You Don’t Commute – BookRiot suggests ways in which you can get into audiobooks “even if you aren’t trapped in your car for 90 minutes every day…”
- Audiobooks and the Return of Storytelling – in this New York Times op-ed, T. M. Luhrmann talks about the experience of listening to audiobooks and says the “sale of audiobooks has skyrocketed in recent years.”