This Reading Life

I love reading. It has been a constant source of pleasure and joy in my life. From the fairy tales and fables of my childhood to reading novels, short stories and non-fiction, some of my happiest moments have been spent lost in the world of words.

These days I tend to mix my reading up a bit in terms of format. I still have many physical books, but I’m also accumulating ebooks and audiobooks. Depending on the book and the narrator, sometimes I will read a book across both formats, enjoying the simple pleasure of reading before sleep, or just for the sheer joy of it, and being able to keep the story going by listening to it whilst I’m doing other things. There are times when an accented narration makes it a bit hard for me to catch some words and I end up returning to the written format (this happened recently with Adrian McKinty’s first Sean Duffy book). It can also happen in reverse. I was finding it difficult to find the rhythm of The Sellout by Paul Beatty, but after listening to a sample of Prentice Onayemi’s narration, it suddenly felt right and I was able to enjoy the book on a level that had been missing beforehand.

Sometimes I switch back to the written word for a sense of speed too: it is possible to listen to audiobooks at a faster pace but that can sound like an old chipmunk record and it doesn’t really help convey the serious tone of the narration. I also enjoy being able to highlight passages in ebook versions, and sometimes make notes as I go which I rarely do with books.

There is always something that I want to read next, but sometimes, especially after a particularly affecting book, I like to read something lighter. Almost like a palate cleanser. This might be a thriller or detective style novel, and series seem to work well for this kind of intervention between more serious, literary novels.

I also like to peruse the online catalogues of the Blue Mountains Library, as there is usually an audiobook or ebook that has been on my peripheral which then becomes available. They are also a good source of classics; books that I might have on my shelves or have been meaning to read, and then a more mobile version is available. A recent find has been experiencing My Place by Sally Morgan as an audiobook which was excellent on many levels. And there is the added incentive of reading it within three weeks, although extensions are possible. Deadlines can be motivating for readers too.

What does your reading life look like?

[Photo:  box of books at preloved book fair]

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For Your Listening Pleasure: Why Audiobooks Are Great

There seems to be some contention about audiobooks. By listening to a book being read to you, are you really reading the book?

A stray tweet reminded me recently of the early discovery of the joy of having a book read aloud. Sure, the Disney records and books were also about learning how to read and follow a story, even if there were words on the page that were beyond the reader’s vocabulary at that point. The chime of a bell to mark the turning of a page would probably still produce a response from me today.

Audiobooks on tapes, CD and MP3 are provided by local libraries, and now they can be downloaded online from the comfort of home. There is no fear of forgetting to return them and incurring fines as they simply vanish on the expiry date unless you extend the loan. It really couldn’t be easier to tap into a whole world of literature and non-fiction with the only expense being time and bandwidth.

I have been introduced to many of my favourite books through listening to the audio version. Recent highlights have included:

  • The Belltree Trilogy by Barry Maitland: a detective series featuring Harry Belltree and set around western Sydney and Newcastle. This was memorable for the morally ambiguous main character and the excellent narration of Peter Hosking, who has guided me through many books including several featuring Peter Corris creation PI Cliff Hardy.
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This was a recent read for my book group and whilst I had the book itself, I was struggling to get into it. I listened to a sample of the audio book and suddenly the narrator’s voice was clear and I ended up enjoying the book much more than I would have thought.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Again I had the book and had read segments of it, but listening to it read by the author added an extra element of enjoyment and depth. It was an invigorating experience.
  • Rain and Other Stories by W S Maugham and The Home Girls by Olga Masters. Two short story collections by masters of the craft. Years later I can still recall elements of the stories made even more vivid with the telling.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater and Simon Vance.  I don’t usually listen to audiobooks more than once but these books are an exception to the rule.

There are, of course, downsides to listening to books. If the narration doesn’t resonate I tend not to persevere. Fortunately you can usually download a sample before committing to the entire book. For really long works this is a wise step as some books can go for days, literally. And it isn’t possible to listen all the time: concentration does drift away sometimes and some books have the odd boring passage. As yet, I haven’t skipped to end of the book to see how it ends, which is something I would do with a physical book that was not maintaining my interest.

If I really enjoy the audiobook, I will usually pick up a copy of the book itself to revisit passages or re-read entirely. For me, audiobooks supplement my love of reading, providing a convenient entry into another world, and one that I can enjoy whilst driving, cooking, cleaning and the like.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

[Photo: reading room in one of the buildings at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat]