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Audiobook Etiquette

I started listening to audiobooks regularly about three years ago. Before that time, I had only listened to audiobooks on long trips or as a particular treat. I never thought of them as a staple of my reading life and, to be honest, I always felt like I was cheating a little bit when I listened to a book instead of reading it with my eyeballs. Plus, as all you bibliophiles know, I have an unexplainable need to own a book that I’ve read and enjoyed. Why owning the audio version didn’t count in my mind, I don’t know. But as a middle and high school teacher, I also felt it was an unnecessary expense because if I enjoyed the book and felt it was right for my students, I was just going to buy the hard copy for my classroom library anyway.
Then three years ago, I met Kat. She was a new colleague at the high school where I had recently transferred and a major proponent of audiobooks. At the same time, I began working with a personal trainer and because I think exercise is EVIL, I needed a distraction. So audiobooks became a regular part of my life. And I was floored. Why had I never thought of this before? Using an excruciating element of my life (exercise) to enjoy a rewarding part of my life (reading) was a weird and strangely satisfying juxtaposition of pursuits. This also tends to lighten the load of other tasks of drudgery like folding laundry, cleaning bathrooms, and yard work. So I, too, have become a fan and evangelist for audiobooks.
There is an art to choosing an audiobook. All narrators are NOT created equal. Listening to Christopher Moore’s vampire books narrated by Susan Bennett and the Sookie Stackhouse novels narrated by Johanna Parker, I became incredibly spoiled. One must sample the audiobook’s narration before committing to the read. Some narrators (like those mentioned above) are amazingly talented. And some narrators are shockingly, horrifically bad. In my early days of listening, I abandoned quite a few recordings in favor of the hard copy because I just knew that the narrator was ruining the book for me. The talent of the author doesn’t matter. Even a good book (like Dirty Jobs by Christopher Moore) can be ruined by a poor narration. (I love Fisher Stephens as an actor but DEAR GOD, MAN, he shouldn’t have narrated that book.) So, after three years of enjoying my ever-growing listening library, here are my rules of etiquette for selecting an audiobook.
1. Use a reliable audiobook provider: audible. com and iTunes are the most prevalent out there. They have a large and varied selection and the posted reviews are reliable.
2. ALWAYS listen to sample if possible before purchasing. Just because the book itself has gotten a good review is not a good indicator that the audiobook will be worth it. For instance, David Lubar’s Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie is a funny, poignant read about starting high school. I could tell from the beginning of the book that it was good writing but the narration (full cast) was killing. It’s like a joke in the hands of someone who delivers the punchline with the wrong cadence-it just doesn’t work.
3. Follow narrators. Chances are, if you like the narration, the narrator has been working long enough to have a sizable portfolio of titles. Narrators can be just as selective as readers and, if they are good narrators, are hired to read good books. Aside from the narrators listed above, a few others to check out are Ed Westwick, Euan Morton, Steven Crossely, Neil Gaiman (who narrates many of his own titles) and Jenna Lamia.
4. Write reviews. The more you listen, the more you’ll come to understand the nuances involved in book narration. There have been several times I’ve thought I could narrate this book better than s/he does! Write reviews so others can avoid the wincing and fast-forwarding caused by poor narration.
5. Use a combination of hard copy reviews and audiobook reviews to select titles. Even an amazingly talented narrator can’t save bad writing.
Ultimately, don’t forget the most important reader etiquette: ENJOY AND SPREAD THE WEALTH AND ENJOYMENT THAT IS READING!


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