Almost exactly one year ago, at age 21, I discovered audiobooks. Since then, I have listened to 18 books, and I’m almost through #19. These are full-length novels—some of them over three hundred pages. Before then, I wouldn’t have dreamed of reading books for fun during the semester. As an English major, it can be quite challenging to fit in non-required reading; it feels like every waking minute should be spent on an obscure ancient British text, not the new Stephen King thriller. Audiobooks allow me to fit more pleasure-reading into my busy schedule.
I have a total commute time of 15 hours a week, so I listen to the majority of audiobooks while I’m driving. However, even if you are blessed with a commute-free life, audiobooks are great when completing other mundane tasks like folding laundry, walking to work, or eating lunch solo.
Audiobooks are also a great option for people who want to read more but have a hard time staying focused, are second-language learners, have a learning disability, or are just simply too busy to curl up with a novel. Being read to is terrific and should not be reserved to just kindergarten; the benefits exceed the realm of storytime or child-like bedtime routines. Researchers for Reading Horizons have found that listening to a story provides the same benefits as reading: “[students] recognize the underlying construction of written language; enlarge their vocabularies; increase their general knowledge of the world; enhance their understanding of story structure, written language conventions, vocabulary.” Hearing something out loud can aid comprehension, especially when the text is outside of your comfort zone, like Shakespeare, whose works benefit from a performance-like rendition. Grade-school teachers have understood the importance of oral narration for years, reading advanced reading-level books to their students. Not only can kids thrive from being read to, but adults could also benefit from becoming better listeners as well.
But audiobooks are expensive, right? Au contraire! List price usually ranges from $15-25, but as audiobooks grow in popularity, they are becoming more affordable. Amazon’s Audible has a subscription service for $14.95 a month which includes one book of your choice, two Audible originals, and newly-added unlimited audio-guided fitness programs. Also, you can exchange audiobooks if you’re not satisfied (I recommend listening to a sample first before committing to see if you like the narration.) If you decide to cancel, you keep all of your audiobooks and receive a 30% discount off of other Amazon audiobooks. Check out their website for current promotions and other offers: https://www.audible.com. Apple’s service, Apple Books, the main competitor of Audible, has an audiobook section along with e-books. Prices of titles on each service vary, but Apple Books does not have a subscription service (which is an excellent way to purchase an expensive, new release for much less) and does not offer the additional discounts like Audible.
Also, many audiobooks are even less expensive or free, especially classics. I just bought The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells for 66 cents because my print book was delayed in the mail, and listening to the book was engaging because the oral narration added suspense. Also, the narrator, Brian Kelly, brought the story to life with his British accent and transported me to the island in the late 1800s. Other classics for free can be found by searching for specific titles and are usually MP3 files that can be downloaded online but are not often offered by mainstream services. Apple used to offer some free audiobook classics on iTunes, but after building their audiobook collection on their app and splitting from Amazon’s Audible, Apple Books has raised its prices.
If you’re into free contemporary and classic works, the Flagstaff City-Coconino County Public Library has a wide array of audiobook selections, and they are continually adding to their collection. Popular picks include A Wrinkle in Time, Becoming (Michelle Obama’s new book!), James Patterson mysteries, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and a vast selection of recent releases and classics. To check-out audiobooks, all you need is a library card, which is available to Coconino County residents and NAU/CCC students. Before you commit to a book, you can listen to a sample. Requests are on their website (https://cocolib.overdrive.com), and you can get reading using the app, Libby (available on the App Store, Google Play, and Microsoft). The app keeps your place and gives you the option to bookmark and take notes. Once you check-out the audiobook, you can download it to your device, stream it, and access it on any device. The library also has MP3 versions of some audiobooks. If you’re not in the Flagstaff area, check your local library; I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Audiobooks are a wonderful way to experience a narrative. Oral traditions have kept human history alive for thousands of years, and it’s still the most common way we take in information, so it’s not much of a surprise audiobooks are soaring in popularity, especially because we are living in a more plugged-in world. Audiobooks are a viable and accessible option that, along with traditional print and e-books, reach more people in an ever fast-paced world.