Audiobooks – what are they good for?

audiobooks

When I was a kid I used to love listening to audiobooks. I would color in my coloring books or do other kiddy crafts while being read to by the casette player. Then came a long period without audiobooks. Music took their place in my walkman and discman, and I developed my obsession with the printed book. Then came university and more books. Only when I was writing my Master’s thesis did I rediscover the joys of the audiobook-coloring book combination. That’s right, at the age of 24 I took up coloring My Little Pony and Disney princesses while listening to Harry Potter. All the while doing my thesis on Pynchon and Heller. And I’m not at all ashamed! Just look how adult coloring books are popping up all over the place. People are now realizing, as I did, that coloring is very relaxing and doing it while listening to books even more so.

I don’t color these days, but I do loads of crafts that would take time away from my reading. With the rediscovery of the audiobook I can read and crochet at the same time. That means I can get through even more books! How amazing is that? Well, I’m not sure. It’s definitely a nice change from the constantly Netflix-listening, but does it actually compared to reading? Perhaps not. Maybe my mind wanders without me realizing, making me miss parts of the book. You definitely lose that sense of immersion that sitting with a real book allows for. The feel of the pages is a big part of reading. But I’m also discovering books I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve discovered books so amazing that I’ve had to buy the printed one, so I can read it for real some day. And I’ve encountered narrators who brought the books to life in a way I’m not sure my inner voice can. Yes, occasionally I miss stuff, sometimes the app messes up and I have to try and find my way back, and books take a long time to read aloud, so it is slow going at times. And I will admit that I won’t purchase audiobooks – they’re simply too expensive compared to real books that look very nice on my shelves. But streaming services like Storytel and Mofibo allow you to shop around, discover new things and just skip a book if the first few “pages” don’t tickle your fancy. Ok, I’ve just cancelled my subscription to Storytel due to their faulty app and disappointing selection of English titles. But I’m thinking about trying Audible and sticking to really long audiobooks so I can settle for that one freebie a month.

For me, audiobooks serve as a nice supplement to my “real” reading, in situations where my hands are busy with other things. Of course, there are still books I would never listen to (unless I’ve also read them). Some books deserve the attention and commitment real reading requires. Some books deserve a place in the bookcases. And to be completely honest, audiobooks could never satisfy my need to collect.

What do you think? Are audiobooks as good printed books? When you do like listening to audiobooks, if at all? If you don’t, why not? And if anyone knows of other decent streaming services, let me know!

 

The Stand by Stephen King (audiobook)

thestand

Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
Read by: Grover Gardner
Release Date: 2012
Rating: 5/5

47 hours and 47 minutes. That’s how long it takes to hear Grover Gardner read The Stand. It’s several times longer than any other audiobook I’ve listened to and I never once got bored with it. I kept anxiously looking at the remaining time, wishing that number would decrease just a little slower. It didn’t and here we are. The Stand is one of Mr King’s most epic and iconic novels, but an older cover had me thinking it was about a good jester fighting an evil jester in the desert for 1100 pages. So I steered clear (liked I did with most King novels until recently). That’s what you get for not listening to that old idiom; you miss out on amazing things! Because The Stand is nothing short of amazing.

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.”

A deadly virus developed by the US military wipes out more than 99% of the human race, and a lot of the animals too. Left behind is a group of people seemingly immune to that particular strand of flu, called Captain Trips. Or more precisely, two groups of people. One group finds themselves drawn to Boulder with dreams of an old black lady, the other to Las Vegas and a dark figure. It’s straight up good vs evil, God vs whatever Randall Flagg is supposed to be. And some people may dislike the heavy religious theme and how religion and the “deities” seem to control the flow of events. And I’m sure King could have easily told as story just as great with maybe an even better ending, if he had left out the faith aspect. But he does like to include that, and for me it didn’t take away from the story at all. Because creating complicated characters and portraying the relationships between them is what King, in my opinion, does best, and he is pulling out all the stops with this one. The character gallery is impressive to say the least. One interesting and incredibly nuanced person after another populate the book. We follow people from both sides and sometimes the ones from the “bad” is are just as sympathetic as the good ones, which just makes for even more heart-breaking stories. Not only that, but the character development and the portrayal of human emotion and reaction in the face of uimaginable hardship, catastrophe and evil… well, I was blown away. I think King may be, no matter how crazy it sounds, underrated when it comes to his characters. Sure, he’s the king of horror and all that, movies are made, books are sold by the million. But I have a strange feeling that people don’t fully appreciate just how masterfully he developes characters. Or maybe I’m just being arrogant. Either way, it’s astounding.

“No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of the change. You just come out the other side.

Or you don’t.”

In the foreword to this uncut version, King himself mentions how he’s been criticized for suffering from “diarrhea of the word processor”, and I have noticed in other works of his how he tends to go on and on. But even though this book is as long as it is, I definitely do not agree that it’s too long, and I’m glad I didn’t have to settle for the original cut version. The long passages describing this new world and the long travels of its remaining inhabitants are breath-taking. He manages to create a setting that’s simultaneous unnerving, maybe downright scary, but beautiful and drawing at the same time. I almost feel like strapping on my backpack and heading to Boulder, Colorado myself. If I’m perfectly honest, I could have waited forever for the end of the book. The different journeys the characters set out on are so enthralling, I wouldn’t have minded if it had gone on for ages. There’s a final showdown, of course, but that’s not the end and the story could have gone on ad infinitum, as far as I’m concerned.

Mr. King doesn’t get all the credit for this production, however. The narrator, Grover Gardner, does a tremendous job. His voice acting is great and it doesn’t take long to learn how to tell the many different characters apart. Quite a feat if you ask me. I’ll definitely be looking for other books narrated by Gardner.

All in all a fantastic postapocalyptic novel that’s well worth the time and effort. So don’t let the jesters or the length of the thing scare you off; this is a read that’ll stay with you for a long time afterwards.

 

 

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (audiobook)

thegirlonthetrain

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Random House UK
Read by: India Fisher, Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey
Release Date: 2015
Rating: 1/5

Gone Girl part 2. An alcoholic mess of a woman sits on a train day in and day out, drinking warm pre-mixed gin and tonics and watching a couple, who lives in a house a few doors down from where she used to live. That is until her jerk of a husband left her for another woman. Another mess, I should say. Her life is in shambles, to say the least. One day something happens. I’ll let you guess whether or not that something is the disappearance of a woman. That’s a whole genre now, I guess. Anyway, the drunken loser decides to play detective all the while drinking herself into blackouts where she may or may not have called her ex-husband, kidnapped her ex-husband’s baby etc. You get the picture. Slowly the story unfurls and the truth comes out. It’s a very dull and not surprising truth, but I won’t spoil it anyway. The big twist and shock that all the reviewers promised? I’m still waiting…

There are three narrators in this book. They’re all women (though only one is on a train), and they’re all unsympathetic, crazy messes. The same can easily be said for the men in the book. Ultimately this leaves the reader (or in this case the listener, me, unfortunately) with no one to actually root for or care about, so the ending doesn’t really matter. The book switches between the three women and between different dates, and the point is that you’re supposed to kind of play the detective yourself, piecing together different information about the same events. I kind of like this idea, even though it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff. But it just goes on and on. Maybe if it were half as long, it wouldn’t have felt like such a waste of time.

I’m not sure who came up with the “tagline” for the book; “You don’t know her. But she knows you.” but they surely haven’t actually read or heard the book. It’s painfully obvious that she’s a completely unreliable narrator, who doesn’t actually know anyone. Least of all me. It’s baffling to my how this book has gotten such high ratings and such good reviews (at least the ones I’ve seen). It’s dull and the ending is insanely anti-climactic. The writing is choppy and I couldn’t wait for it to finish. Luckily it’s the shortest audiobook I’ve listened to in a while.

The voice actresses are alright, I suppose, though one of them keeps over-emphasizing her t’s and d’s to the point where it sounds like she’s spitting. Nothing special.

I won’t give you any quotes from this because thankfully I don’t have a hard-copy.