I have to admit to being a cynic when it comes to audiobooks. And yet…..
A few years ago I would say, “Give me a proper book anytime,” when people suggested ebooks were here to stay. I can use a proper bookmark to keep my place (or, woe betide, turn the corner of the page down). I can flick back to remind myself who is who and what is what. I can read the end before the middle, if I so desire. And, when I’ve shut the finished book with a reassuring slap, I can place my book on a shelf and admire it, or pass it on to others to enjoy.
Then I embraced ebooks with a passion. How else could I travel around the globe with a ‘library’ in my hand luggage? How else could I whip out a story to read on my phone in the doctor’s waiting room. Reading at night became a real pleasure, without the need to turn on a light and disturb a grumpy husband. With the click of a button, small sums of money 1-clicked out of my account while words streamed down onto multiple devices for consumption as and when required. I could start reading on my laptop, switch to the phone when out and about and carry on on the iPad as my bedtime reading.
Bookmarks became just a click away, highlights and searches allowed for explanation and reassurance of storyline. No need to search through shelves in the bookshop as recommendations came my way by email every day, based on ‘your recent viewing’, of course.
Despite the ease of reading ebooks, the pleasure of real books remains. Proper books, with a shiny cover and the back page giving hints of what lies inside, eased carefully off the bookshop shelf to be chosen for their looks and feel as much as for their content. In recent times, it has felt good to support a local independent book shop, comforting to talk to the proprietor about loyal customers’ support and reasonable sales. I will admit to buying real books in support rather more than in necessity of late.
And there’s the point. Real books and ebooks are both OK. I can do either, or sometimes both at once. Like cinema and streaming, live sport and recorded highlights, there’s a place for both.
With that thought in mind, I recently made the decision to admit a third medium into my life and stepped hesitantly into the world of audiobooks.
“Oh, I can’t do audiobooks,” I hear you say. “They just make me fall asleep!”
And yes, they do. Indeed they do. If you sit down with a book or an ebook, you may well fall asleep too, may even get a black eye if you happen to be reading ‘War and Peace’ at the time. But the difference is that the book stops at the point where you fall asleep. Of course, you may have to flick through a few pages to find your place in a physical book, but your faithful ebook will sit tight until you swipe or click when you eventually wake up.
An audiobook, however, will just plough on, the narrator blissfully unaware that the listener is no longer listening. And, believe me, it is hard to remember the exact moment at which you fell asleep, so there is always a certain amount of rewinding and fast forwarding required. And then there’s those stupidly annoying headphone cable things that always get wound round each other and tether you to your phone or computer as if they won’t let go until you reach the last page. There were so many reasons to resist.
Until, that is, my husband bought me some wireless earbuds for Christmas. He likes watching the occasional action movie on TV. I do not. So I think it was his intention that I could lose myself in music while he watched all the blood and guts. It worked. Instead of leaving the room, I could stay by his side, listening to my kind of music, blissfully unaware of gunfire and explosion, not to mention expletives!
One tires of music after a while, so I considered trying an audiobook. My first one was borrowed from the library, downloaded on a whim one evening while Matt Damon fought to save the world against evil. I could easily write more about the joys of a local library, but that is for another occasion. For now, let’s just say I have fallen in love with Bolinda!
I popped in the earbuds, pressed play and concentrated on chapter 1. It was rather pleasant. Reminiscent of listening to the radio as a child, the lilting voice drove me gently along the storyline. I woke up to hear the narrator introducing chapter 5. I wound myself back, listening to chapter 1 again. Now, do I remember this bit? No, perhaps not, so rewind some more.
In the middle of chapter 2, the film finished. “I’ll make you a coffee,” I mouthed, being a dutiful wife. I hit pause, took out the earbuds and went to put the kettle on.
“Why did you stop?” said husband. “I think Bluetooth will make it as far as the kitchen.”
I pondered his words as I poured the coffee and fetched the bicuit tin. “Silly man,” I thought to myself. “What does he know?”
Dunking my second bicuit, a moment of revelation came upon me. I could have merely got up, walked to the kitchen, made the coffee, gone to the toilet and, very possibly, put the cat outside too (if we had a cat, that is). All the while, narrator lady would have carried on at the same volume, regardless of boiling kettles, flushing toilets and miaowing cats. At that moment, my world took a step sideways.
This was confirmed a few days later when I had some fairly urgent baking to do. Cakes needed making and cooling in time to go to a neighbour’s place for tea. But I had gone past chapter 5 now, and things were getting interesting. Did I have time to listen to the next chapter before I put the oven on?
“Stupid girl. You can do both at once,” my new audiobook brain said. It was a turning point. I creamed, beat, mixed and folded my way through the next three chapters, arriving next door with cakes made and cooled to the perfect temperature. What can sometimes be a chore passed by with the pleasure of a good story in my ears.
And so began my new life. Ironing, dusting, sewing, knitting, doing a jigsaw, baking a cake, getting the dinner, or even lounging in the bath. Walking the dogs, weeding the garden. All these things, and many more, can be accompanied by narrator lady (or man) reading you a story. I have not yet tried driving while listening (no earphones, of course), but I understand it works well. I think you may have to be prepared to pull over and reach for the tissues if things get a bit emotional though — you know, the bits in a book where the dog dies, or unrequited love blossoms, or whatever.
So, now I can’t consume audiobooks fast enough. Just like the real thing, I can buy an audiobook, but they are quite expensive. I can also subscribe to a provider for a monthly fee and download as many as I want (usually the first month is free too). Or I can use my local library to borrow audiobooks for nothing.
These days, when browsing the library online, my finger hovers over the ‘ebook’ button, but invariably errs towards the ‘audibook’ version. I am a convert, but I am not a zealot. There is still room in my life for real paper books and ebooks, for the times when all I want to do is read.
There’s only one thing I can’t seem to do while listening to an audiobook — and that’s NOTHING!
Book 1 of the Applecross Saga, ‘The Wideawake Hat’, narrated by Su Melville, is available from all the usual providers.
Books 2-5 are also available exclusively on Google Play, with computer-generated narration by Anya. Not a patch on the real thing, but better than you might expect!