Friday, March 15, 2013

Let's Talk Talking Books

I'm an audiobook addict; well beyond being a fan, I'm bordering into obsessive territory. If I don't have an audiobook lined up when I finish the first one, I'll stop pretty much everything else to search for one.

It all started with road trips. Family vacations (and trips to see the grandparents) were always road trips. My mother would stop at the library and fill a shopping bag full of books on tape. And yes they were tapes, cassette tapes. Our first family minivan did not have a cassette tape player so the child in the middle seat was entrusted with a boombox, a bag of batteries, and a bag of audiobooks on cassette. There were rules around the audiobooks, they started at dusk so none of us would strain our eyes trying to read in the failing light. They stopped at rest stops and they didn't restart until we were back on the highway, past the on ramp.

An inordinate amount of our family in-jokes are allusions to these books. Most notorious is the time my father picked out the audiobooks. Not realizing there was a separate section of children's books, he brought home Crazy In Alabama which we listened to because not listening to an audiobook was never considered an option. My mother did keep hitting the fast forward button to get us past "those" scenes. When I was working in the library I brought home another questionable choice, The Bear Went Over the Mountain which while hilarious bordered on quite inappropriate for my pre-teen siblings.

They weren't all salacious. We sang along with WeeSing when we were little, and read many of childhood's classics that way. Lacking only 30 minutes of being finished with The Day No Pigs Would Die, our family rushed through unpacking the car to sit in the living room, everyone quietly crying, as we finished up that book.

Post-college, I returned to Kansas City and returned to audiobooks. My commute was 45 minutes each way and audibooks are far superior to radio. With a 2 hour commute on the weekends to my grad school classes, I was racing through audiobooks. It was then I discovered I loved non-fiction in audio form. I might not know the lyrics to any top 40 songs, but I learned a thousand other things. Should I ever become a Jeopardy champion, it will be due mostly to audiobooks.

And I am not the only one of my siblings to carry on the audiobook torch. My sister once confessed that she motivated herself to get on the treadmill by only allowing herself to listen to (a re-read for her) the Harry Potter books while exercising. (Confession, I've read those books at least once each, listened to them read by Jim Dale during my grad school days and recently re-listened to the British editions being read by Stephen Fry.)

My commute is much shorter now so I start my audiobooks earlier. I start them while I'm getting ready, doing my hair and make up and continue them until I pull into the library parking lot. I also listen while working out, cleaning the house, knitting, grocery shopping, and cooking.

One of my favorite library services is downloadable audiobooks because I can put the books on my iPhone and go anywhere. Our library has been using Overdrive for years in a consortium with other Alaskan libraries. Last year I got to do one of the orders for audiobooks. I believe I showed great restraint in not ordering mostly history and biography that I like. Recently we added One Click Digital which provides a different selection of audiobooks but also still has an app for easy iPhone use. I got to play with it during our trial period and have been loving it since the launch. (That might be because I've run through a good portion of our Listen Alaska collection though they add to it frequently.)

I've looked into audible which is the largest subscription based audiobook service. The maximum plan they offer is 24 books per year. Last year was a slow year for me and I listened to 31 audiobooks. So I save myself several hundred dollars a year by going the free route.

That's a very long ramble to make a simple point. We talk a lot about the future of publishing, ebooks, etc. But I don't hear a lot of talk about audiobooks. TV didn't kill radio and I can't imagine that the digital revolution will be anything but good for audiobooks. People are still listening to podcasts and downloadable audiobooks have that same appeal. In an on-the-go society where the average American spends 540 hours per year in their car, audiobooks will always have a niche. Our library has gotten rid of books on cassette. We still purchase books on CD and playaway (I get to select those), but we know that those are also probably transitional formats. If we do go firmly to ebooks (and I'm certainly not saying we will), I imagine we will also go firmly to downloadable audio. I just can't imagine a world where we don't have audiobooks at all.

Find me on goodreads, I am trying to get better about reviewing my audiobooks over there.

No comments: