Just Pour the Words into My EARS!

I’ll admit that even as recently as one year ago, had you asked me about audiobooks, I would have snorted derisively. “I learned how to read somewhere back in the first Reagan administration,” I probably would have said, “and I’m still an old hand at it.”

But I have changed my ways, as the old blues song (?) goes. First off my local library, being the rockstars that they are, have scads of formats to choose from in audiobooks. Books on CDs, the stand-alone Playaway if you can’t be bothered with downloading and just want to grab and go, and of course audiobooks in mp3 form for the smartphone folks and tech savvy people.

And like the junkie that I am, I started out of necessity. The only copy my local library system had of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone was a 5 or 6 CD set. Since my car is still old enough to have a CD player in it, I thought, “What the hell! I’ll give it a whirl.” Maybe it was Moorcock’s lustrous prose or the fast tempo of his story that hooked me, but hooked me it did.

The next month I was pouring through Overdrive, my library’s mp3 compendium and e-book dispensary, looking for tasty audiobooks to download. Being a quality site, Overdrive gives you the ability to rate each book and, more importantly, gives you suggestions on other books you might like, ofttimes by preferred genres. Oh suggestions…hmmm, come to daddy. I think they put a 10 item per month cap on everyone, but I’m a responsible junkie. I’m not out to OD on audiobooks. I’m merely keeping my book jones at bay whilst, at the same time, keeping my brain occupied at work.

Sometime this past fall my library even added another purveyor of content. Hoopla. The upside to Hoopla is that in addition to audiobooks, you can stream movies and, I think, even check out songs/albums via mp3.

My Hoopla experience started, again, with the old problem. The only copy I could find of Robert E. Howard’s The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian was on Hoopla. I downloaded it and played it through Hoopla’s app. The result was a cross between a Victrola and my first G.E. cassette-playing Walkman, which was only a bit smaller than a Victrola. For the first 3 minutes on Hoopla every third or fourth word was garbled. The rewind icon was absolutely useless, but looked pretty on the status bar. Also, if I wanted to pause the story then unpause it, I had to backtrack the You Are Here dot until the Hoopla player decided to start again–here is where I envisioned myself furiously cranking the handle on a Victrola.

To be fair, I’m positive that the developers have pushed out at least one update to Hoopla,  on Android anyway. Hopefully they’ve fixed these massive errors in programming.

Another downside to audiobooks, in general, is the problem of the bad narrator. My friend Bob swears that Dick Cavett is the world’s snootiest book narrator. I haven’t run across anyone whose voice has turned me away. On the contrary, I’ve listened to enough audiobooks to start getting a feel for the pro publishers (Blackstone Audio gets a thumbs up).

Some audiobook publishers like to put background music or sometimes sound effects into the story. This was the case with the copy of Elric of Melnibone that I happened upon, but it wasn’t too distracting for me. But listener beware.

I have to mention my biggest audiobook pet peeve. The abridged audiobook. ABRIDGED?!?! If I don’t have time to listen to a complete book being read to me, I don’t have any business around books in the first place. I always try to scan the cover of any audiobook I check out in order to avoid that monstrous cataclysm. My second audiobook in, I unintentionally listened to an abridged version of Ann Rule’s The Stranger Beside Me. After it was over, I thought, “Thaaaat was an awfully short book.” I looked at the cover and couldn’t believe it. An abridged audiobook. Pffft!

But I have joined the ranks of the converted. Do I plan on replacing books with audiobooks? Not on your life. I’ll never tire of that heady magic that comes off the printed page. Audiobooks don’t have that directness, that immediacy, but they are a nice filler. And with the spate of ever new smartphones with larger batteries (yay, Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge), it is easier to listen to an audiobook via smartphone and not have to worry about the device dying two hours later.

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