All About Audiobooks

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The first time I really remember adding audiobooks to my listening habits was years ago (I think it was 2005) when I was returning from dropping Tenley off at gymnastics camp in Athens, GA. Back then, it was not uncommon for me to listen to audiobooks on cassette. Over the eleven years since then, I’ve migrated from listening on CD, to listening to them on my old iPod, to finally listening to them through the Audible App on my phone. There’s usually still a cassette involved, as I use an adapter to send the sound through my car’s audio. (Right now I have a rental which routes it through a USB and I feel all techie when that happens!). The first book I prominently remember reading via audio was Life of Pi. I’ve lost count of how many there have been since then. Hundreds?

Audiobooks Are Big Business

Just how “big” are they?

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans have read an audiobook in the past year.

The Wall Street Journal says audiobooks are the “fastest-growing format in the book business today,” citing the Audio Publishers Association as stating “sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year.” I can say I’m certainly doing my part to make that true.

For more on the history of audiobooks, this On Point show is really interesting.

That Voice In My EarAudiobook Readers

This post is partially inspired by a conversation I was having with other reading fanatics. Some of us had read Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale in a traditional format, and I had read it via audiobook. I had shared how much I loved narrator Amy Landon’s voice, how I liked it so much I could listen to her read the phone book. That led to a discussion of other narrators we love (or don’t love….).

Another of my favorites is Cassandra Campbell. She has narrated many notable audiobooks, including being part of the ensemble narrating The Help, but it was her narration of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that really blew me away. Just the way she said “culture” (which is said OFTEN in that book) was worthy of “I could listen to her read the phone book” status.

I also typically enjoy it when authors read their own memoirs. Memorable books in this category include Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas, The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage (visit my blogs about this book here and here), Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, and Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew.

I also credit Jenna Bush Hager’s reading of Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope with giving me a deeper picture of her as an individual, and by extension, her family. She has some VERY particular pronunciations of things (like saying “buddon” instead of “button” but for that one book it worked).

Narrating an audiobook is a skill (and art), for sure, as demonstrated here by Amy Landon:

What Is It About Voices?

Since I don’t plan (right now) to post about it separately, allow me to take a slight detour on the topic of voices in general.

I wonder what it is about voices that lead us to conclude they are “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” As audiobook readers who frequently pay discretionary income for books (there are some sources of free audiobooks out there I must mention), we certainly have a right to voice our preferences.

For my mother-in-law, who was blind, and listened to many of her books as voiced through the impersonal generic narration of the books on tape she received from a talking books service for the visually impaired, I’m pretty sure she would have agreed that variety is GOOD (as technology improved, she was able to listen to audiobooks with a variety of narrators. I really regret that she didn’t live long enough to take advantage of easily clicking on a book she really loved, with narration she also really loved. She was so close with the ownership of an iPhone. SO. CLOSE.)

It’s quite impossible for me to write about voices, though, without thinking about NPR’s underwriting-credit announcer challenges. I have to admit I can’t remember what Frank Tavares, who did it for years, sounded like, but I vividly remember the uproar when Sabrina Farhi took over and illuminated vocal fry’s moment in the spotlight. I’ve always felt a little sorry for her, even though I, too, was not a huge fan. I never criticized her via social media, but I certainly sent her successor, Jessica Hansen, a congratulatory note praising her work. Jessica Hansen has another voice I love.

Is it Reading or Listening?

I’ve often heard the debate: is consumption of an audiobook reading or listening?

That’s easy: IT IS READING.

Although I feel strongly that it is reading, I can understand why book lovers ask if consuming an audiobook is “really reading.” Forbes takes a stab at answering the question here, asserting that “reading and listening are strikingly similar cognitive processes.” (It’s a fascinating article; I encourage you to click through and read it.)

While I am somewhat alarmed at my diminishing focus on reading paper books, I cling to the idea that listening is still reading. Audiobooks have kept me in love with reading and expanded my exposure to ideas, people, and concepts while pushing my imagination to new horizons.

To that, I say, turn the page; click the button for the next chapter. Whatever you do, JUST KEEP READING.

Audiobook Readers

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The Diva Rules Sparkles: A Book Review

Michelle Visage, co-host of RuPaul’s Drag Race and author of The Diva Rules, was allowed to do something as a child that I will not allow my child to do.

When she moved from New Jersey to Manhattan to attend drama school, she continued returning home on the weekends to be part of the teen club scene in New Jersey. One weekend, her mother refused to pick her up at the train station, insisting that the only way to have a life in New York City would be … to have a life in New York City.

“But how will I get into clubs?” 17-year-old Michelle wondered.

Before long, a package arrived at her dorm (the Beacon Hotel) which contained a fake ID and a notarized fake birth certificate to back it up. Michelle Shupack had rapidly “aged” a few years and been rechristened a student at the University of Texas. Yeehaw.

Although I would never do the same for my daughter or son, and never would have sought out the same thing for myself, it worked out pretty well for Michelle (who didn’t drink then and doesn’t now). She says that once she got into the NYC clubs, “it was there, in those dark, sweaty, legendary dance halls at The Underground, as well as the Palladium, the Copa, the World, and Tracks, that I started working it every night, and where I made all the connections that would lead me to where I am today.”

When I bought The Diva Rules, I will admit it was because the audiobook was on sale on Audible and I was out of credits. It didn’t take me long to be glad I ended up listening to the book (which I’ve listened to twice — a rarity for me), and I now own the hard copy.

I loved many things about this book. Here are the main takeaways, one thing I disagreed with, and a piece of advice:

The NYC Pier/Club/Vogueing Scene

If you’ve known me for more than thirty minutes, it’s likely you know how much I deeply love New York City. That’s probably one of the reasons I was in intense like with this book within a few pages. The New York City Michelle experienced is one I never did, but I loved learning about the sense of community she felt in the clubs, how she was part of the vogueing trend, and the pier queen scene. What she described about the community and family structure helped me understand why so many patrons considered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando as more than a club; it was a safe place. It was family.

Presence Trumps Perfection

This was one of my favorite lines from the book. It addresses one of my constant struggles, the struggle to not let myself get paralyzed when things aren’t perfect enough. It addresses the fact that pretty much every supervisor I have had has, in one form or another, said “you need to have more confidence in your decisions.”

In the “Presence Trumps Perfection” “T (Truth),” Michelle writes what she would tell her 19-year-old self (“stop being so hard on yourself”) and shares one of her favorite RuPaul quotes, “What other people think of you is none of your damn business.”

Exposure Won’t Put Food on Your Table

If you’re at all involved in blogging circles, you’ve probably been a part of the recent discussions of why working for “exposure” (something some brands offer instead of cold hard cash) doesn’t put food on the table. Well, here’s Michelle echoing that, word for word (see page 99). “…when it comes down to it, exposure won’t put food on your table.”

I have been part of several multi-thread discussion recently among bloggers about the fact that a brand that offers you “exposure” rather than monetary compensation is not recognizing your worth as a blogger. That said, there are times when exposure is helpful. I am new enough to blogger land, especially sponsored blogging, that I have chosen to do some projects for “exposure” or in exchange for product only in the hopes that it will help me be more prominent as a blogger and prove myself.

What I still have to force myself to shut up and not say is, when I have done a cause-related project for which I was compensated, saying to the brand/cause, “I would have done it for free.” Because if I choose to write for a cause it is probably technically true that I would have done it for free — I don’t accept assignments that I don’t believe in. But even causes/non-profits have budgets for communication and what favor am I doing myself if I hint at the fact that they really didn’t need to pay me in the first place?

But About Those Dockers

When I decided to listen to the book a second time so I could narrow down which takeaways I wanted to focus on, I kept remembering “but there was one thing I disagree with.” I didn’t recall what it was … until I got to Diva Rule #18: Never trust a man in Dockers. After reading WHY she doesn’t ever trust men in Dockers, I have to say the one bad apple clad in khaki really did give her a compelling reason to distrust guys in pleated tan Levis.

Given this small glimpse into my husband’s closet (believe me, the rest looks pretty much like this), I can attest at least one Dockers-clad guy out there isn’t all bad!

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Doing Things Differently Brings Joy

Here’s something that gave this book a spark of joy I have rarely felt from books recently. It’s DIFFERENT! It’s UNIQUE! It makes me think in terms of glitter and hot pink zebra print!

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The sparkly glitter starts on the cover!

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What you see the minute you open the book!

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Even the Table of Contents is different – color blocks instead of lines of text!

Audiobooks Rock

One recommendation I have if you decide to read The Diva Rules is to get the audiobook version. It’s just different hearing Michelle Visage herself narrate her life story. I mean the Pier Queenese lesson on pages 62-63 is SO much more entertaining when you’re listening to Michelle give it verbally rather than just reading the words. (But as you can see from the images I’ve shared from the hard copy of the book, it also has its fun points too (glitter, zebra, etc.!).

Other books I recommend on audio because authors narrate them include:

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush

Bringing Things to a Close

This post was inspired by a Mama’s Losin’ It prompt: Talk about something you were allowed to do as a child that you will not allow your child to do. I wrote about how Michelle’s mom had gotten her a fake ID and accompanying fake birth certificate.

Inspired by Michelle’s unique style, here’s a little green zebra treatment of that question! What’s your sparkly answer?

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Mama’s Losin’ It