Tuesday, June 25, 2019

How I Listen To Audio Books (Plus Some of My Favorite Listens)

Continuing on with my theme in my last post, I'd figure it might be helpful to talk about how I listen to audio books, and list some of my favorites that I think you should check out. I'm assuming most of you know how to get audio books, but just in case anyone out their remotely cares or finds this useful, here is how I get my audio books.

Short Answer: Library apps on my phone.

Long Answer:

Okay, if you've been following my stories over on Instagram, you know that there has been major drama in my life over the past few years about where I get my audio books. Since I started listening to audio books regularly way back when I lived in Chicago, I've used my local library to access free audio books. Both the Chicago Public Library and the Houston Public Library system (where we lived after Chicago) offered Overdrive as their service for electronic material checkouts, and I was a huge Overdrive fan. Yes, you had to wait for books to come off hold lists, but both those library systems had really great selections and I learned how to manage my holds list so that I was rarely without a book to listen to.

Then we moved to Kansas, and surprisingly, our local library here did not offer access to Overdrive. I kept using my Houston library account for a few months, until they kicked me off their system because of a long and complicated, but actually rather funny, overdue book problem (I blame my husband entirely, he accidentally packed up a stupid little counting book when we were moving, and by the time I realized it was overdue, it was stuck in a box in a storage facility somewhere in Oklahoma or something, and we didn't find it until we bought our house and moved in and unpacked months later, and then we had to mail it back to Houston, and at that point they had charged me a $43 fine and blocked my account from all services... grrr!)

Anyway, that left me with only what the local Kansas library system offered, which was a pathetic little app called Axis 360. The selection offered on this app was abysmal. I mean, they offered a handful of new and popular titles (with super long wait times, and sometimes the book would get removed from the app before I ever got off the wait list!), but their backlist was terrible, and they offered a grand total of 60 titles in their "Classics" genre. I don't have enough exclamation points to express my frustration with this app.

By March of this year, I was getting pretty desperate. I had just exhausted what Axis 360 had to offer, so I started considering paid app options. I believe 100% in libraries and free books, even if it means I don't get to read the hottest titles for a few months, so it was a bit painful for me to consider paying for my audio books. But like I said, I was desperate. I need audio books to survive my commute every day.

I know the big favorite audio book app out there is Audible, run by Amazon. And Audible has it's (few) advantages, mainly in that it offers any and every audio book ever. But the cost! I cannot get over the cost of that stupid service! You pay $15 dollars a month for one measly audio book credit! Ridiculous! Robbery! Okay, maybe not robbery, considering owning an audio book is probably worth that amount (and I know there are certain free titles you have access to, etc., etc.), but look, I have zero interest in owning audio books, unless we're talking about Harry Potter. But generally, I'm just not interested in owning audio books. And, I consume far more audio books than one (or even three) a month. I usually consume anywhere between 5 to 10 audio books a month (last month alone I finished 16!), and if I had to purchase every single one of those, that would be some serious money (hundreds or thousands of dollars, no thank you!). All that is to say that I could simply never rely on Audible as my sole source for audio book consumption.

So I finally decided to check out Scribd, which is an audio book app that I've heard described as the Netflix of audio books. It cost $8.99 a month, which is a great deal cheaper than Audible and just about on the threshold of what I could stomach paying for limitless audio books. If Scribd truly had a Netflix platform, I think this service would've won me over and been pretty ideal. However, their claim that they provide "limitless" access is misleading at best. I used the service for two months to get a good feel for it, one month on their free trial and one month as a bona fide paying customer, and at first I thought it was perfect. They had a great selection of new and popular titles and back-list items, and I had my pick of any of them! I quickly created a favorites list of all the books I want to listen to, but after listening to two fairly newer titles, suddenly all the other new or hot titles on my favorites list became restricted. I couldn't access them for another month. It wasn't too much of a problem at first, because I always like listening to classics, but the more and more books I finished, the more and more the rest of the titles became restricted. After about 5 books, I was left with zero available titles I was actually interested in (the classics options left were all amateur recordings, so frustrating!). I ended up being in an almost more desperate position than I had been with Axis 360.

But then my wonderful mother-in-law stepped in. Knowing about my plight, she generously sent me her library card information and let me set up an account on my phone in her name. So maybe this isn't a strictly honest solution, but guys, her library system is awesome. Like, the best (for any who are interested, she lives across the border in Missouri, part of the Mid Continent Public Library system). I'm all set up with Libby now (Overdrive's new user-friendly app) and back to endless free books (as long as I manage my holds well enough), and all is right in the world again.

So, how is any of this helpful to you? Well, first is to say, if you live in a library system that offers Overdrive/Libby, count your blessings and take full advantage of it! If you do not live in a library system that offers Overdrive/Libby, and you don't happen to have a generous mother-in-law willing to let you "borrow" her account, I learned about a spiffy alternate option: non-resident cards. Apparently many library systems allow you to purchase non-resident cards for access to electronic materials, which is going to be more expensive than free, but is generally quite a bit cheaper than paying a subscription service for Scribd or especially Audible. The Mid Continent Public Library system my mother-in-law lives in offers non-resident cards to anyone in Missouri or Kansas for $65 a year, which is one of the cheapest rates I've seen (but is still restricted to residents of those two states). So I would say check out library systems around you to see who offers non-resident cards and what their prices look like (most I've seen are under $100 for a year).

However, if you are one of those people who hates dealing with holds lists and waiting for audio books to come in, and if you listen to audio books regularly but only at the rate of 2 or 3 a month, then I think Scribd is a fantastic option. I'm still waiting for an actual Netflix of audio books app, but until then, Scribd is pretty good for the casual consumer.

And I only recommend Audible if you really really care about owning the actual audio book, say like with Harry Potter. But even then, I recommend only using the service as long as it takes you to build credits you need to buy the ones you care about, then cancel the subscription.

Okay, finally, I thought it might be useful to list some of my personal favorite audio books. When someone asked me a few weeks ago what specific titles I would recommend as great audio books, I had to stop and think about it for a moment, because I'm sort of at the point now where if I love the book, I love it as an audio book. Yes, things like the quality of the narrator or the production can influence how good of an audio book it is, but generally, if it's a good book, it's a good audio book. Honestly, I don't even notice narrators most of the time anymore. I used to be really bothered or irritated by certain narrative styles, but like reading physical books where it does matter but also doesn't matter all that much if you read the cheap paperback or the expensive leather-bound coffee table version, with enough listening practice the same holds true for audio books, and you forget about the narrator and get lost in the story. Narrators and production matter, but sometimes a good story is good no matter who's reading it.

That being said, I do have a few books that I found particularly enjoyable as audio books for various reasons:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, narrated by Jim Dale

Okay, this is not a book for everyone, but it was absolutely perfect for me. I loved the world, the magic, the color scheme, the way the plot meandered... I thought it was all just perfect. Then add the fact that this is narrated by Jim Dale who just is the voice of magic, and this audio book just carries me away every time I listen to it (yes, it's been more than once). Jim Dale is one of the few narrators I know by name and will listen to anything he reads (he did the Harry Potter series, although I'm assuming you already knew that).

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, narrated by cast

Okay, confession. Often I hate full cast recordings. This is when they bring in different people to narrate different voices, and, especially if it is a regularly narrated novel, I find the abrupt change between voices to be disruptive to the flow of the story. And often, full cast recordings will change things around to make it more like a stage play or script or whatever. Usually, it doesn't work for me. However, in this epistolary novel, the full cast recording was just perfect. I loved the voices they picked for each character, and because there is no narrator voice at all, just the letters in the voices of the characters themselves, the flow works beautifully. I've also listened to this one multiple times and it is just so enjoyable every time.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, narrated by cast

Yes, this is a middle-grade novel (it won a Newberry Honor in 2016), but I'm including it here because honestly, this audio book blew me away. The production of it was brilliant. The plot of this book revolves heavily around a key musical instrument which winds up in the hands of three very different kids and ties their three very different stories together in a unique and wonderful way. That means that music is a huge part of this story, and the audio production people did a fantastic job of combining music with the narration. I would say, don't even bother with the paper version, the audio book here is where it's at.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes et. al., narrated by Cary Elwes and others

You guys! If you love The Princess Bride at all (and who doesn't love The Princess Bride?) then you should definitely listen to this book. And yes, you should listen to it, because they bring in as many living actors/directors/people involved with the original film to narrate small parts that it's just fantastic. Elwes, who wrote most the book, naturally narrates most of it, and hearing his own stories in his own voice is just such so fun. I cannot recommend this as a good listen strongly enough. You will find it delightful, and then you will want to go watch the movie again as soon as possible (no matter how many times you've seen it in the past).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Yes, another middle-grade book, but this one is narrated by Gaiman himself, and I must say he is fantastic. I love when books are narrated by their own authors (I think it's especially crucial with memoirs and self-help books, but great with fiction too), and Gaiman's voice is so fantastic (British accent and all), plus the music of the Danse Macabre plays a role in one especially memorable scene. I like Gaiman a lot, but prefer sticking to his middle-grade fare as much as possible. P.S., this one makes a fantastic seasonal read around October.

Okay, now, I really want to know, what would you add to this list? What are your favorite audio books? How do you listen to your audio books? How many audio books a month/year do you listen to? Are there any other questions you have for me about listening to audio books? Let me know!

And I'll be back shortly (tomorrow, maybe, but I make no promises) to talk about kids and audio books, how my kids listen, and some of my favorite kid audio books.

See you then!


  1. I have been slowly won over to audio books, although I split my listening time with podcasts. Most of my reading is in the car, and at first I only liked rereading in audio, because if I got distracted by actually driving, I liked not having to go back.

    But long car rides eased me into trying new things, first with kid books for everyone to share, and then for me. (I remember listening to Will Grayson, Will Grayson in Idaho with the audio tuned to front/driver-side only and hoping the kids didn't hear any of the language these teens were dropping... I think they got suspicious when I urged them all to turn on their video devices)

  2. I used to split my listening time with podcasts, but recently have gotten too into audio books to want to give up any time to listening to anything else, ha! And your story about listening to Will Grayson with kids in the car made me laugh. That's exactly why I play the kids' audio books through the car speakers, and listen to my own with ear buds!