Audibooks: Why They (Only Sort of) Work for Me

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Last December, I started a new job. Which was amazing! The problem was that said job was so far away from my apartment that I spent about 2.5 hours commuting to and from work every day. Desperate for something to fill that time, and hoping to stumble on an option that still felt at least somewhat productive, I decided to venture into the wild world of audibooks.

Audiobooks aren’t a thing I’ve ever had much experience with. Growing up, my mom was a big reader, but my dad wasn’t, so even during our longest drives we never listened to books on tape. My only experience with them was traveling with a friend to Florida for spring break, where her parents had put in Harry Potter on tape in some effort to placate the two 17-year-old hooligans (us) in the back seat. I don’t remember anything about listening to it, because we were much more interested in playing games or singing songs from whatever musical came to mind instead.

Outside of that one experience, I hadn’t ever listened to a book on tape, and if we’re being honest, I barely listened to it then. It seemed clunky and inconvenient to me. I’m a fast reader and listening to someone read to me just meant I’d be getting through the book slower than if I were reading it myself. This seemed like a huge waste, so I’d never given them a shot. It wasn’t until last December, when I landed a new job and was now facing down 3 hours in the car every day for my commute that I decided to sign up for Audible in a desperate attempt for some listening variety.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson has been on my “I should probably read that” list for a while now, so when I saw it was a whopping 48 hours long, I decided that was the one. The reviews were great, the sample sounded amazing, and 48 hours of book would last me almost a whole month. I signed up for Audible, spent my first credit, and downloaded the book, ready to get started.

The first day I listened to it, I missed my exit for work. I was so enraptured with Michael Kramer’s voice and Sanderson’s world building that I completely failed to notice I’d passed my exit. After that, I managed to remind myself I couldn’t get completely lost in a book while I was driving, but I was still in love with the experience. Kramer and Kate Reading are wonderful readers, which really helped.

I ran into a snag at about 40% of the way through, though: I was getting bored. This was in part because of the book: the middle of The Way of Kings is a bit slow. Were I reading a physical copy, I could’ve sped-read my way through those bits; on audiobook, however, I was stuck getting through them at the same pace I had the book so far. So the slowness was probably half of why I was starting to choose other listening material for my drive home.

The other half—and this is perhaps a bit silly—is that I was getting anxious. It was almost like I was embarrassed for the characters and for someone to be reading their mistakes, fears, and deepest thoughts out loud. I found myself wanting to fast-forward through bits that were making me as stressed as the character, but hesitating for fear of missing part of the plot. There is a part in particular, where Shallan sketches a king and has absently drawn something strange into the background, and her panic and flailing to explain herself as she crumpled the work of art were painstaking to me.

I get second-hand embarrassment pretty easily. It’s why sitcoms are my worst nightmare and I have a tendency to get up and pace when a movie character is making a glaring mistake. This nervousness is a bit irrational, I know this, but brains are strange, complicated things, and mine wants to fold in on itself whenever something happens in a TV show or movie that’s embarrassing. Audiobooks, as it turns out, can have the same effect on me.

It ended up taking me almost six months to get through The Way of Kings. I let my Audible credits build up, unspent, and went back to podcasts as my primary option for long drives.

In September, I started trimming down some monthly expenses for services I’ve hardly touched and Audible was on the chopping block. If you ever get Audible and want to cancel, know this: your accumulated credits go away when you do, so spend them first. With four built up to use, I went back to the Audible app, working my way through some previews to find something that would work for me.

I ended up with four books—I talked about those in this Book Haul post—and I think I’ve found something that works:

Non-fiction.

I’ve heard people talk about memoirs or biographies in audiobook form before. The hosts of the Reading Glasses podcast talk about how they often listen to memoirs in audibook format. I sampled some nonfiction books with this in mind, thinking that perhaps someone reading something based on reality would make me less anxious or less bored than fiction.

I’m glad I made the switch so far, though I can’t say my first book has made me any less anxious, given the subject matter. Having real life stories or straight facts told to me in audiobook works really well, I’ve found—though I haven’t listened to half the ones I bought on my end of Audible spree. In the end, I’m thinking audibooks just aren’t for me—and that’s okay.

What about you folks? Do you like audiobooks? Anyone else experience that “second hand embarrassment” anxiety?

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5 thoughts on “Audibooks: Why They (Only Sort of) Work for Me

  1. This is exactly how I feel with audio books! The second hang embarrassment…. the pacing… and, yeah, I missed my exit to work once, too! I enjoyed “Sadie” on audio quite a bit because of the podcast element. I also have an easier time with Cassandra Clare books on audio than I do reading them on my own – not sure why.
    Great post!!!

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    • Those are some good suggestions, I’ll have to check them out! I want to like audiobooks but, man, that second hand embarrassment is just SO hard to get over, there were parts of Way of Kings I thought I was going to crawl out of my own skin having to listen to. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way!! Thank you!

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  2. I just can’t do audio books – although I see why they are a great idea if you have a long drive. Luckily my long commutes involve sitting on a train so I can read to my heart’s content. Like you, I prefer reading at my own pace.

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    • I was surprised by how much I bounced off of them, but the pacing is really a big thing. I’ve heard you can speed up the audiobook, but I feel like that would be so weird… It’s nice that you get some reading time on your commute!!

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