Commuter’s Life Preserver
By: Beth Schmidt
My commute is about an hour on a good day. After a few years of that type of commute, you get tired of every type of music (even your own mix tapes) and every variation of morning show antics. You get tired of people arguing, whether it’s know-it-all sports talk or 2 minutes of politics followed by 58 minutes of commercials. Twice a day, day after day, whatever button you push, radio gets redundant.
About 6 months ago, I switched to audiobooks. I never thought I’d like audiobooks much; it felt like cheating. But, it’s not like reading Cliff’s Notes. It’s not like seeing the movie instead. It’s like grown-up story time. It’s an engrossing time passer. It’s the complete opposite of road-rage. It’s delightful. There are even mornings when I look forward to getting in the car to go to work. (And those who know me well just fainted.)
Should you be interested, here are a few things I’ve learned about audiobooks:
1. Audiobooks are not just for old people. Really. They’re not.
2. Like real books, audiobooks can create goosebumps, cause you to tear up, make you laugh out loud. They can entertain. They can teach. They can inspire.
3. It may take a book or two before your brain adjusts to the experience. For example, without pages shifting from right to left in your hands, you won’t have indications of progress that your subconscious expects. After a book or two, the pacing of stories will reassert via the number of CDs and/or tracks.
4. Next to whatever makes a great book great for you, the most important thing about an audiobook is the narrator.
- Any author reading his/her own work is going to be great.
- Most well-known actors, actresses, or voiceover artists are going to be good, and some will be spectacular.
- A very proper enunciator is not the same as a good storyteller.
- Some male readers will try to do voices, including for the female characters. (Imagine someone from the cast of Monty Python or Kids in the Hall when they do voices for ladies. Now imagine one of them as a lady’s voice in a Dashiell Hammett novel. It ain’t right. Oh it can be funny, sure. But it ain’t right.)
5. You might want to look up a book before purchasing the audio format. Audiobook packaging doesn’t always include the same level of description as a physical book. And you might wind up, for example, tolerating 20 CDs read by some annoying, grating very proper enunciator before realizing it was book 1 of a trilogy.
Yeah, some cliffhangers I can live with.
6. Speaking of the angst of buying a bad audiobook, you can avoid this issue completely by joining a library and borrowing their audiobooks.
7. Keep in mind that it appears to be library policy to put all audiobooks on the shelves nearest the floor, with labels pasted alternately North-to-South and South-to-North, so you’ll squat there, tilting your head left to read one title, then right to read the next title. Squatting, head moving—chicken-like—left, right, left, right, pecking at row upon row of miniature books sorted only by author, not genre.
Still, it’s free, and if you get a bad book (or an enunciator), you can just take it right back and try another.
8. When you go to the library, don’t ask for “books on tape.” (They’re on CD now of course, and librarians, who are, apparently, rather literal people, will tell you they don’t have any.)
9. When you go to another library—because the first one you went to (near where you work, where your hours of being able to look at books best matches up to their hours of operation) can’t give you a library card unless you first get one from the neighborhood in which you reside (even though it’s all computerized and you have a valid driver’s license, and even though, once you get the card from your home library and go back again to the first library, they give you the option to use the exact same card)—don’t call them “books on tape.”
10. I am now looking into ways to download audiobooks from the web. I’ve looked at amazon’s audible.com ($14.95/month seems a bit high to me) or iBooks via the itunes store where, it appears, you pay per book, but I haven’t yet tried either.
I’m sure there must be other similar sites or apps. If you know of one that you enjoy, that seems reasonable, and is user-friendly, please share some details in the comments. Thanks!
Beth Schmidt began writing at age 8, when she penned the story Kooky House. Unfortunately, she spelled it Cookie House and readers completely misunderstood. As spelling and grammar improved, she did a stint composing very dramatic teenage poetry before going on to earn a writing degree. Subsequently, she has supported her writing habit by taking on various jobs in ad agencies and corporations in the Pittsburgh area. Life Preservers is one woman’s view about the things that keep us afloat: family, friends, community, humor. And sometimes cussing.