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Rolling Along with Audiobooks

Rolling Along with Audiobooks post image

This week is Audiobook Week, hosted by Jen (Devourer of Books). Today’s discussion topic is “Audiobooks for the Uninitiated” — “Whether you just started listening or have a long history with audiobooks, you probably have some suggestions for those new to audio whether for narrators, titles, or ways to experience the medium. Write a post, make a list, get creative.”

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind was howling and the sky was dark, even though the June day had started out lovely. I was alone in my car on one of those stretches of freeway that seems to go on forever. Just me, the road, and a mountaineering adventure story so intense I found myself yelling at my Camry’s speakers like a crazy person. Thank goodness it was too dark for anyone else to see.

This is how I listen to audio books. Alone, making the long car drive between Madison and the Twin Cities. It’s about a 4.5 hour drive, give or take, which means I can finish about 9 hours of an audiobook over the course of a trip. I’ve tried listening to audiobooks at home while doing chores or even while commuting to and from work, but I’ve found that audiobooks work best for me when I can absorb them in long, uninterrupted pieces.

I’ve learned that there are three main qualities that make an audi book work for me during these long road trips:

  1. They must be well-narrated. Almost five hours listening to someone annoying will just not do.
  2. They must have forward momentum. I’m driving and I’m bored; I need a book with some “umph” to keep me going.
  3. They must not be too think-y. I like to take notes and argue with my nonfiction, which is hard to do in a car. I need the book to be more narrative than explanative.

I usually grab my audiobooks for these trips from the library because my car doesn’t have a hook-up for an iPod, and I’m usually too cheap to buy them as CDs. I don’t usually request anything ahead of time, which puts me at the mercy of whatever is in at the library at the time. Consequently, I’ve grabbed plenty of “meh” audiobooks among the gems and learned what works for me.

So what have been some of my favorite road trip audio books? Here are four:

  1. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer — This is the mountaineering adventure alluded to in the opening of this post. The book is narrated by the author, and it’s superb. Between the too-awful-to-believe story and Krakauer’s emotional narration, this is an audiobook I highly recommend.
  2. Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman — This is another adventure story (narrated by the author) that I found myself yelling about while alone in the car. The book has a satisfying mix of levity and danger, with just enough “WTF!” moments near the end to keep me on the edge of the driver’s seat.
  3. The Lost City of Z by David Grann — Clearly, adventure tales are the way to go. In this, an Amazonian adventurer makes his way into the jungle searching for signs of a lost civilizations. The terrible things that can happen to you in the jungle are not for the faint-of-heart to listen to.
  4. Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp — This is a little bit different from the rest; it’s a look at the culture of “hooking up” that’s become prevalent among young women (high school through college-ish). I think I loved this one so much because it gave me a lot to personally reflect on as I drove.

I’ve also grabbed some stinkers. One that sticks out to me was an audio of New Moon by Stephanie Meyer, the second book in the Twilight saga. I had listened to Twilight, mostly just to see what all the fuss was about, and thought it was fine. The writing is terrible and the characters are annoying, but the plot at least keeps things moving along. And on audio, it’s easier to just let the horrible slip on by.

But New Moon… my gosh, how awful. I listened to the whining and moping and general discontent for about a half hour, then gave up with disgust. Angsty teenagers are not good for road trips.

Do you have any favorite road trip audiobooks? Or, audiobook recommendations for short listening spans that I could try?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Esme June 9, 2011, 8:56 am

    I agree with you on the prerequisites for audio books-living in So. Cal we spend lots of time in our car in traffic going nowhere. Did you like Undress me in The Temple…I beyond hated the author-I thought she had to be one of the most selfish, self-centered authors I had come across and was not sure why she would put her self motivated, lack of caring for her friend behavior onto paper for all to read about.

    I quite enjoyed the Lost City of Z-funny story about that book-a rogue wave hit me on the beach and the book was demolished just buried in sand-I had to finish it so I dried it off and read it sand and all and then took it home to my dad.

    I just finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle-set in Wisconsin-really enjoyed the book-not sure about the ending.

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:08 pm

      Ha! If you didn’t like the author of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven then I bet the audio would be terrible! I liked her, but I think it’s because I didn’t see her as that selfish — how was she to know what was going on with her friend, you know?

      I like the Lost City of Z story! Gotta be careful on the beach.

  • Steph June 9, 2011, 10:04 am

    I read a paper copy of Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven but I can TOTALLY see how that would be a great audiobook for in the car. It is just so insane!

    I have a copy of Lost City of Z (again, a paper copy), and everyone loves it, so I really need to give it a go…

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:08 pm

      Yeah, I think that’s why I liked it. By the time you get to the last third it’s almost impossible to stop reading/listening to find out what is going on.

  • Unruly Reader June 9, 2011, 10:04 am

    I just finished listening to Keith Richard’s autobiography “Life,” and It.Is.Awesome.

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:09 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Jen - Devourer of Books June 9, 2011, 1:33 pm

    I am usually okay listening in bits and pieces, but I find that to start an audiobook I HAVE to have a certain amount of uninterrupted time, or I won’t be able to get into it.

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:10 pm

      I wonder if that’s why I can’t do audiobooks outside a car — I need a good starting point to get me into it. I’ll have to experiment.

  • Trish June 9, 2011, 1:54 pm

    Must not be too “thinky” Love that, Kim. I’m the same way–I’ve got to have something very engaging. I’ve found non-fiction to be perfect for listening–one of my favorites was Freakanomics. Bet Lost City of Z would be great too–but I read the paper version. 😉

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:11 pm

      I love think-y books, but on audio they just don’t work for me! I like to be able to stop and think, which just isn’t conducive. I listened to Superfreakonomics on audio and really liked it, although I did want to go back and think more about what they said!

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) June 9, 2011, 2:16 pm

    I listen to audio books on car trips too. It’s a 6 hour drive to my mom’s, so I can usually listen to one book per trip. Some books do work much better listened to in big chunks like that, others are okay in smaller bits.

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:12 pm

      I can usually finish on per trip too, since when I’m home for the weekend I do a lot of driving around to catch up with friends. But if I just have a bit left, I finish it on my commute to work.

  • Kathleen June 9, 2011, 5:40 pm

    I’ve tried audiobooks and just never been able to enjoy them the way I would like to. My mind starts to wander and I zone out after a few minutes. I think I’m just too much of a visual learner and have to see the words in order to read. I’m open to give it another try and listening on a trip sounds like a good idea.

    • Kim June 9, 2011, 8:13 pm

      I really can only listen to them in the car, otherwise I do the exact same thing — zone out when I should be listening. I think Jen had a good post up today about how audiobook literacy is a skill you have to develop; I must just not have it yet!

  • lisa (the little reader) June 10, 2011, 1:29 am

    ah, yes. not too thinky! that’s what i was trying to say when i wrote that The Emperor of All Maladies was a little too much to handle in audiobook format. thank you for those choice words!

    • Kim June 13, 2011, 8:52 pm

      Ha ha 🙂 I’ve heard Emperor of All Maladies was good on audio, but I think it would depend on the situation. I have it on my Nook and the writing is beautiful, it’s just taking me awhile to read it.