One of my all-time favorite stories is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It has a rugged setting in which our world overlaps with a fantastic version of the Old West, combining guns and sorcery. I read the whole series of seven books over a few weeks, trapped in an escapist adventure that I hadn’t experienced since reading The Lord of the Rings as a child. I didn’t think I would ever be able to match the experience. And then my friend Eric gave me the series on audio.
Storytelling began as an oral tradition. We think that The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh were all awesome, but I’m sure the stories that never got written down were even better. What’s more is that these stories came from the dramatic voicing of old men by the fireside.
That’s not to say that written language isn’t a beautiful gift. You don’t have to wait to visit your grandfather on the weekend to read a good story. But the experience of oral tradition is something that a book just can’t capture. And now that stories are available on audio, I don’t have to wait until the next time I see Papaw if I want to hear “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”.
You gain a lot of benefits with the listening experience of audiobooks. Talented readers give the character dialogue a voice of its own, and they vary their tone and pace to suit the action, which makes it even more exciting than simply reading it. Also, there are many times when a busy life does not allow you to curl up with a good book. If you’re commuting to work, running on the treadmill, or doing housework, all you have to do is plug in your MP3 player and press play. (Yes, I have seen people reading on their commute to work. Please don’t do this; watch the freaking road!) Finally, you don’t have to read the kids a bedtime story if trained voice actors can do a much better job.
Let me say that not every audiobook is awesome. Like other forms of media, sometimes they are well executed, and other times they are not. The voice acting for the Earthsea Cycle was monotonous and droning, and I had a hard time following it, even though I really enjoyed reading the books. Although I really love terrible acting in movies, I can’t say the same for terrible voice acting on audiobooks. Fortunately, most websites that sell them allow you to preview a clip to see if you’ll like it before you put down your hard-earned money.
Nowadays the easiest way to get a hold of audiobooks by way of the internet. I have a subscription to Audible.com, which is a paid download site. I pay a monthly fee to receive a number of credits that I can spend on the books I want, and then if I use all my credits, I can still purchase extra books. Some other sites include Audiobooks.com, which allows you to pay a monthly fee and stream unlimited books as long as you’re able to maintain an internet connection from your listening device. Audio Book Store allows you to download, stream, or even rent CDs (it sounds similar to NetFlix). If you prefer to go old school, you can usually find CDs of audiobooks at a bookstore. (Whoa! Did I just call CDs old school?) If you want to go really old school, check yard sales and flea markets to find cassette tapes, 8-tracks, or record albums.
Some of my audiobook recommendations include The Dark Tower, World War Z, and Harry Potter. I just finished listening to another Dark Tower book that Stephen King recently released called The Wind Through the Keyhole, and it was awesome! Of course, you don’t have to stick with my favorites; if you have ever liked a book you read, you should try it on audio–it’s a whole different experience!