Years ago, I considered audiobooks useful for one of two things – inspiration or instruction. At the time “books on tape” was the operative phrase and I rarely listened to an audio tape unless I was in my car commuting to and from work. Listening to a book meant gathering information to improve myself in some manner but it also started to feel a lot like work. The thought of utilizing a “book on tape” for the simple purpose of enjoyable entertainment wasn’t even a consideration.
In the intervening years, my opinion of audiobooks has greatly changed and I am sure that is due in part to the expanding industry with greater choices and easier delivery systems. But equally significant are my motivations for listening, rather than reading, and now when I hear the word “audiobook” I think entertainment, patience, diversion, tranquility, and comfort. Just as effective as the ritual of sitting down to read a book, an audiobook brings with it a calming quality that lifts my spirits even if I am listening to a title of a more serious nature such as Linda Howard’s Cry No More.
I discovered fictional audiobooks in 2003 when facing a long drive. Satellite radio was not an option at that time and I refused to endure noisy radio ads but I still needed something to combat sleepiness. I found a recording of one of my first romance favorites, Dream of Me by Josie Litton and was amazed how narrator Josephine Bailey brought a fairly typical romance to such vivid life. I now realize how fortunate I was to have such an excellent narrator for my first fictional audiobook experience. Since that time I have discovered audiobooks also make great companions for exercise and housework as well as keeping frustration at bay while enduring traffic gridlocks.
Several years ago I developed a problem with light sensitivity that ultimately cut my reading of the printed word by half. Rather than reading less, I chose instead to increase my audiobook budget and broaden my definition of acceptable audio choices. As I tended to buy audio versions of only those books I had already read, I pushed myself to listen, rather than read, newly published books when available. And now that I am better at choosing narrators, I’m finding listening can be every bit as enjoyable as reading (and sometimes more) especially when I consider the fact that there is no eye strain! This month I am eagerly awaiting the audio version of Lisa Kleypas’ latest, Tempt Me at Twilight, scheduled for release the same day as the print version.
There are those times when listening to an audiobook is simply comforting. Possibly it’s to lift my mood or keep my thoughts positive in the middle of a negative situation, but it’s more likely that I just want to revisit one of my favorite audiobooks. Although skillful narration definitely influences my unconscious selection of my favorites, it’s even more important that the narrator’s performance of the hero’s role harmonizes with the voice I have playing in my head. My manly hero can’t sound unperturbed when the book states he’s raising his voice, sound sweet when he needs an obvious attitude adjustment, or sound overly harsh when lovingly communicating with his heroine.
There are a number of audiobooks that easily come to mind when I think of my own “comfort listens” (thanks Peggy P for that phrase): Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas (unfortunately only available in audio cassette), Death Angel by Linda Howard, Nobody’s Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and of course, as I have mentioned previously, Phil Gigante’s narration of Karen Marie Moning’s Kiss of the Highlander. Listening to these audiobooks is akin to watching one of my favorite movies over and over except I don’t need a TV. I can find enjoyment in my kitchen, my car, my workout room, or while walking my dog.
When I reflect on my love of reading and the time I dedicate to this favored past time, I recognize the significant role audiobooks now play. Yes, it is partly due to my sensitivity to light but I think it more likely these days that I delight in having a great story to play in my mind wherever I am.
When He Was Wicked – Julia Quinn
When He Was Wicked: The Epilogue II – Julia Quinn
Simon Prebble stands out from many a male narrator in that he doesn’t choose to pitch his voice high for his female characters. By roughening the hero’s voice, the leads are easily distinguishable. Although there was a slight popping noise at times (I assume from production) in the background, it’s mostly easy listening. It’s doubtful I will listen to this one again but that has nothing to do with the audio but rather the storyline itself. The epilogue is sold separately and provides 53 minutes of Michael and Francesca’s married life.
Not Another Bad Date – Rachel Gibson
This is one I enjoyed tremendously in print in 2008 and recently found the audio version quite entertaining as well although that was due more to the story’s plot than Nicole Poole’s narration. Her voice was pleasant, the differentiation between characters’ voices adequate, but the Texas twang she gave to hero Zach made him sound less like the purely masculine creature I knew him to be and more like a “golly gee” sort of guy. Still, it remains a very sexy book and I will likely listen to it again some day since Rachel Gibson’s a favorite of mine.
Black Sheep – Georgette Heyer
As I prepared to listen to my first Heyer audiobook, I braced myself to endure the very English accent that I had no doubt was very accurate as well. It was rough listening in the beginning but I soon found the rhythm and enjoyed the actual story quite a bit. I’m still working on my appreciation of such authentic narrations since I see this as only the first of many Heyer audiobooks in my future. About halfway through, I thought I heard a character sounding very much like Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the meadow scene as she tells off Lizzy in A & E’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice. Sure enough, upon checking, narrator Barbara Leigh-Hunt is one and the same.
Match Me if You Can – Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Both narrator Anna Fields and SEP rank high in my world and usually prove to be quite a winning combination. One of my favorite SEP books, Ms. Fields solidly delivers the first of many laugh-out-loud moments with her first words. Her self-deprecating portrayal of Annabelle combined with her convincing depiction of Heath’s attitude fit perfectly in my mind. Yeah, I may have wanted Heath’s voice to be deeper (as I had envisioned the two times I read MMIYC in print) but overall this is one smashing audiobook success.
Upcoming Outlander Discussion
Our November audio column will be devoted to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and will cover the audio aspects of the first four books in the series – in order: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, and Drums of Autumn. The unabridged version of the fifth in the series, The Fiery Cross, is either very expensive or difficult to obtain (I have yet to find a copy through my local library system or to rent online) but discussion of the latter books is welcome. Although this will be presented from an audio perspective, I expect an open discussion of Outlander’s plot as well as narrative. However, I’ll request our participants to provide spoiler warnings for responses that include plot details from books 2-4. Hopefully this will allow readers who have only read the first in this series to fully enjoy the discussion without fear of revelation of future plot elements.
Now for your thoughts
Why do you listen to audiobooks?
Why do readers resist listening to audiobooks?
What are your audio comfort listens?
Do you have a recommendation for a particular narrator or a romance audiobook you have enjoyed in the past?
And, lastly, as always, please share your latest audio successes or failures.
Thanks for stopping in.
– Lea Hensley