Tuesday, 21 February 2012


The last time I listened to an audiobook I was 16 on a road trip with my sister's family.  We listened to Embraced by the Light by Betty Eadie and Rainmaker by John Grisham.  I remember them being a good way of passing the time, even though I no longer remember much about the books themselves.

So when a publicist for Macmillan Audio contacted me, asking if I'd like to review some audiobooks, I wondered if I was qualified to do it and if I'd have the time to listen to a book (when I read I can speed up if I want or need to, but an audiobook requires a set time to get through).  After some thought I decided to give it a try.

Here are a few things I learned. 

Audiobooks require a fair amount of attention, so you have to choose your activities carefully.  I thought I could do some art projects and listen... yeah that didn't work out well.  Cooking worked better as long as I didn't have to measure ingredients.  Listening while doing the dishes was great as it's a purely mindless task.  My commute to work was the best as it was a decently long amount of time I could devote to the book and worked perfectly, aside from the noise of the subway entering the station, which drowned out the audio track if the volume wasn't as high as it could go. 

That wasn't the only noise that could drown out the track.  Walking to the library should have been a great opportunity to listen to a few chapters, but the noise of the cars - normally ignored - was so loud that at times I couldn't hear the audiobook at all.  I eventually realized I'd have to turn the volume up all the way - something I was resisting as I'd like to maintain my hearing into old age - if I wanted to hear the book over traffic.  I don't think we realize how loud our world is.  Either that or the earbuds I used somehow amplified outside noises at the same time it piped the book into my ears.

I also 'read' the book in a much more disjointed fashion than usual.  It was impossible to know when page breaks would occur, so stopping when I reached my destination or finished my task, involved waiting a moment or two until a sentence ended and then turning it off, regardless of where in the chapter I was.  The one time I got to the next audio chapter, it turned out to still be the middle of the scene so I had to turn it off.  The Alloy of Law - the book I chose - was great in this regard.  For the most part it was easy to turn off (until the climax, then I was a bit annoyed that I couldn't keep listening) and very easy to get back into when I turned it on again. 

I considered sitting in my 'reading chair' and listening to the audiobook, but decided against that as staring at the wall in the dark would result in an unscheduled nap rather than listening to the next few chapters.

I also had to watch it as I've trained myself to tune out music for the most part.  It only happened a few times, but I did have to rewind some tracks because my mind wandered and I missed something important.  I can't entirely blame the audiobook format for this as it happens enough when I'm reading, but it's pretty easy to tune out the audiobook so I had to remind myself to concentrate on the story when it was playing.

Another unexpected problem that I stumbled across half way through the book was the difficulty I'd face when reviewing it, in terms of getting character and place names spelled correctly.  In the end I copied down what I'd need from the physical book at work.  I also like being able to flip through the pages to find specific references, which of course I couldn't do with the audiobook.  On the other hand, I remember the text much more clearly than I sometimes do when reading.  As I was forced to pay attention to every word (whereas with reading you can skim over boring passages, etc.) I've retained a very clear image of the story and had little problem writing the review itself.

The Alloy of Law was such a success that I'm getting ready for my next audiobook review.  Now that I've learned a few tricks, the listening process should be easier.  Which is good, as my next book is more of a thriller and will probably not appreciate being stopped and started in odd places.

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