Until recently, my only experience with audio books was through the cassette player in my old Subaru, listening to some Louis L’Amour tapes my mom loaned me for the long drive from Montana to Philadelphia. Maybe it was the road noise, or maybe it was Louis L’Amour, but somewhere on a particularly tedious stretch through Indiana, I concluded that audio books were not really my cup of tea.
Listening to books, my attention tends to wander. Sometimes half a chapter will go by before it returns. By then I’m not sure who’s shooting who, and trying to rewind to just the right spot when you’re driving is sort of like texting when you’re driving — the sport of fools. Also, I have this problem when male readers do women’s voices, and vice versa. It just seems faintly ridiculous, and takes me out of the story.
But recently my friend Yvonne showed me the wonders of the New York Public Library‘s audio book collection. For a flat fee you get access to thousands of titles, including some very popular authors, that can be downloaded and played on any MP3 player — no iPod required. I downloaded Lawrence Block’s The Girl With the Long Green Heart and have spent the last couple of nights listening to it before drifting off to sleep.
This turns out to be a problem. With a print version, I know know I’m done reading, generally by the sound of the book hitting the floor. With an MP3, I might wake up at 2 a.m. and the guy is still rambling along as though I’ve been hanging on every word — and he’s just wrapping up Chapter 18. Yeah, I can skip back, but that would involve knowing precisely when I drifted off.
And again: the reader has a nice hardboiled baritone, but I always wince when he pitches it up to voice the willowy redhead who is central to the plot. Let’s just say my suspension of disbelief gets unsuspended in a hurry.
That said, I do like the idea of having books around when I’m in no position to read them: walking the dog, say, or the running on the treadmill at the Y, or staring moodily into the middle distance. I’ll probably try a few more titles.
Anybody else have anything good or bad to say about audio books? Check out the New York Public Library site and let me know what you think.