Most people have very strong preferences about how they read books. A majority of the people I have spoken to say they love to hold a book, feel the heft of it in their hands and take in its smell (of course they may feel less strongly when trying to hold an 800 page hardcover in bed at night). I have never been very fussy about how I consume my books and have always read books on my mobile, on my desktop, on a kindle and on the kindle app in my phone and so on. But there was always one barrier I wouldn’t cross- the audiobook.
I have always found it difficult to concentrate on one particular thing for any length of time. So when I first attempted audiobooks over a decade ago(Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ – nothing less would do), it was an absolute failure. I had to keep rewinding, rewinding, rewinding because I kept missing what was being narrated and would wake up and go “huh?”. Podcasts suffered from the same fate though most of the feature and news podcasts I listened to didn’t require your 100% attention all the time so I did continue to listen to a few podcasts over the years.
And then I rediscovered Dan Carlin’s long format (some of the episodes are more than 5 hours long) history podcast episodes. Now Dan is one of the best narrators who can keep his audience engaged with his lively anecdotes for hours and hours, but listening to his series made me realise how much I liked the audio format. After all, the audio format is what comes closest to the primal human experience of listening to a bard or a shaman telling a story around a fire. I love listening to stories and I often dream of living in a simpler time when life stopped after 8pm and the only entertainment you had access to was a radio. Short of that I think podcasts and audiobooks come a close second.
When Dan Carlin shared a promo for audible I didn’t think twice and I signed up for a free trial. Audible (the US store) offered me 1 free credit to download any book of my choice and also two free audiobooks from six Audible originals. I downloaded the Martian as I had been wanting to read the book for a while now and in some ways I think I hit the jackpot. R.C. Bray does an AMAZING job of narrating the thrilling story and it took me all I could to not listen to the book all day long. I loved it and as soon as I finished the book I downloaded two Audible originals and ran through them pretty quickly as well (the titles were Mala, a monologue and a YA book called Sovereign- I wouldn’t give them top ratings but they were interesting enough for me to not abandon them).
Eventually, I transferred my Audible subscription from Audible US to Audible India because the monthly subscription fees and the prices of the books themselves are a whole lot cheaper (you do need a credit card issued in India to access the Indian prices though unfortunately). From the time I started the Martian which was just about a month ago, I have already listened to five audiobooks. I also added Educated by Tara Westover and Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy to my collection.
I have also personally taken it upon myself to heartily recommend audiobooks to everyone I meet. (you can thank me later Audible).
So what changed?
- I think that I have evolved as a reader since that first time I tried listening to Heart of Darkness well over a decade ago. Reading is a skill and like learning to ride a bicycle or learning how to swim, you have to hone your muscles. I think something akin to that has happened to me and I now much more receptive to reading a wider variety of books than I used to be 10 or 15 years ago.
- I chose a genre that I knew would work well for audio and for me. This is trial and error. A lot of people give up on books because they are trying to read the book that their friend is reading and it holds no interest to them. The same can happen for audio books. You have to look for the book that appeals to you. I went for the Martian because I knew I’d definitely listen to a thriller. My mom chose humour and went straight for P.G. Wodehouse.
- I set rules. I decided that I would not rewind excessively. That if I missed something because I was distracted, that was it. This encouraged a bit of self-discipline and I consciously paid more attention. Maybe this will even help my concentration skills over the long term, who knows? Of course if I missed something because of a genuine reason, I did rewind and go back but as a general principle, no rewinding.
- I limit listening time. I only listen to audiobooks when I’m out on my evening walk or evening outing. Or my weekend morning chores. This is to ensure that I don’t get an audiobook overload and also to make sure that I’m still making inroads in my physical book TBR pile. So morning and evening metro commute time is still allocated to physical books.
- From point 4 you may have also noticed that I have given up on reading only one book at a time. I now think this is a ridiculous rule because my brain is completely capable of holding two or three different in-progress narratives at the same time.
In industry terms, audiobooks have been doing very well. In the UK, audiobook sales have doubled in the last five years and US data shows that revenue from audiobook sales jumped a whopping 22% between 2016 and 2017 . Funnily enough though, there are no ominous predictions of the audiobook causing the death of the physical book.
What about you? Do you listen to audiobooks? If yes, which service provider do you use and do you have recommendations for me? If not, will you be willing to give it a try?