Audiobooks: A voice in your ear

Juliette Bowen 22 November 2016

To be completely honest, I’ve been on the brink of deleting my Audible account for months. Every time I get an email from them promoting the latest release, I inwardly groan: another eight pounds gone. It’s not that I have anything against audiobooks, or even that I remotely dislike them — I just don’t have the time for them. Gearing up the nerve to press play and commit myself to ten or so hours of listening is, apparently, beyond me.

Of course, it didn’t used to be, which is the reason I subscribed in the first place. As a kid, I could easily dedicate myself to an afternoon on the sofa, listening to the Harry Potter books, A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Famous Five, and Matilda. I listened to them until the cassettes unwound and the CDs scratched. I listened to them until my parents started to exchange looks of 'Please, not again'. I listened to them until I could be caught mouthing along to even the most mundane of chapters.

It seemed a bit of a no-brainer, then, that I subscribe to Audible. A new audiobook every month for less than a tenner. It didn’t once occur to me that, in less than a year, I’d have more than I could be bothered to listen to. Although I’m sure that I’d love to read books like Rivers of London and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, both of which are now audio-files on my phone, I find myself struggling with them being read to me. Part of the reason, I think, is Cambridge: this isn’t a place where you often get to take things slowly, and when you know you’ve got to churn out yet another essay, the thought of taking a couple of hours out just to sit down and listen… It hardly seems plausible. At least when you read, you’re going at a pace that suits you.

This is probably why the audiobooks I do find the time for are ones I’ve already listened to. I know what’s going to happen, and so the level of commitment required is massively depleted. I can dip in and out, or have it playing in the background, and if I fall asleep while it’s on then it’s no biggie. It doesn’t matter that they’re being read more slowly than I would read them myself, because I’m not so desperately clamouring for the story. And, undoubtedly, it is the enjoyment I get from returning again and again to my favourite audiobooks that has stopped me from following through and unsubscribing from Audible. I know that they are a way of experiencing books that I adore — I’m just hoping that at some point I’ll regain the patience to appreciate them properly.