I discovered audiobooks in late 2016 when a friend told me I absolutely had to listen to Tim S. Grover’s Relentless because everytime he wanted to get fired up and seize the day this was his go-to listen. So, I tried it, and I have to admit, I enjoyed it so much it has now become a default commute habit.
Traditionally, I’ve been pretty ambivalent about audiobooks, and not because of the “do they really count as reading?” question. I think it was always a question of personal limitations for me – when I had tried it on previous occasions, there was just something about the written to spoken word that would knock me out. Like literally, 2 minutes in and I’d be snoozing. In retrospect, I think this was because I aimed too high and started with Lord of the Rings – one of my all time favourite reads but when it came to listening to the damn thing, I just couldn’t listen for more than 10 minutes. The other factor I think, was where I tried to listen…in bed = bad idea.
So, in my vast year and a bit of experience, through a process of trial and error, I have discovered that this is what works for me when it comes to audiobooks:
- You have to like the voice – an author reading their own book works out great 99% of the time, but there are also other voices that were just made for narration such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, who brought Anna Karenina to life for me in a completely different way (at 35 hours long, thank God I loved her voice). There were also those voices that I struggled with. Whoever it was that narrated Sun Tzu’s Art of War, just couldn’t hold my attention for more than 2 minutes (although I am still debating if this was a voice or subject problem) and whilst Dead Wake was a fascinating story, I kept zoning out and having to rewind because of the narration.
- The genre matters – I’ve tried business, personal development, non-fiction, memoir and literary fiction…memoir is definitely a favourite, especially where read by an author whose voice you just love, love, love (Trevor Noah and Cary Elwes I’m looking at you). The ones I struggled with either tended to be more technical in nature (The Emperor of all Maladies, We Were Eight Years in Power) or the narrator’s voice grated (The Picture of Dorian Gray)
- Where and when to best listen (and pay attention) – I love listening in the car, and generally the mornings where I am fresh work best for me (however if the narrative is particularly gripping, such as in What Happened by Hillary Clinton, then I will try to listen to it at every potential opportunity). As an aside, audiobooks in the car in Kenyan traffic are a godsend. Less frustration = less road rage (especially towards matatus). Apart from the car, I also love listening on long walks or hikes – where you’re by yourself, but not by yourself if you understand what I mean?
General ramblings on audiobooks aside, the below 5 are my favourites. Based on these, if you have any recommendations, I’d love to know your suggestions!
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – written and narrated by Trevor Noah
- I read this almost as soon as it came out, and loved it so much that when I realised the audiobook version was narrated by Trevor Noah himself, I had no qualms about buying and listening to the audiobook within months of when I originally discovered the memoir. Since then, this has been my default recommendation for anyone who wants to try audiobooks but aren’t sure if they’d like it.
- Anna Karenina – written by Leo Tolstoy and narrated by Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Anna Karenina is one of my favourite literary classics and one I had read several times over, but Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance breathed new life and added further depth to a story I already loved.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k – written by Mark Manson and narrated by Roger Wayne
- Personal development and fun to listen to – this was the audiobook that I actually couldn’t wait to get into my car and listen to for my morning commutes.
- Yes Please – written and read by Amy Poelher
- One of the first memoirs I listened to – comic genius with a great voice!
- As You Wish – written and read by Cary Elwes
- A must-listen for all fans of The Princess Bride. A full-blown first-person, behind the scenes account of the making of the beloved film with voice appearances from most of the main cast and crew.