The trouble with finding a good audiobook

As any avid audiobook listener will tell you, finding a good one is difficult.

I listen to lots of them. I spend my day either at a microscope dissecting or at my computer analysing data. Although these require some skills, they leave my mind free to wander whilst my hands are otherwise engaged. I also like to be entertained during my daily commute, whilst cooking, eating, painting… all in all, it gives me plenty of headphone time.

Audiobooks and podcasts are perfect for people like me. People with busy lives. For those without the time to devote their attention to one task alone. My favourite podcasts are ‘Sawbones’ and ‘So You Want To Be A Writer’, but even their lengthy back catalogue of episodes eventually runs out. This is when I turn to audiobooks to entertain me. When you go through as many as I do though, it leaves you with a lot more discernment over which are worthy of your time and which fall short.

The problem isn’t specific to audiobooks though. There are countless novels I abandoned over the years. I recently reached the point of having to create a DNF (did not finish) list on Goodreads just to keep track of the ones I started and gave up on.

When it comes to finishing a book, either you decide it not worth your time and put it aside or you persevere regardless. Personally, I don’t have the wherewithal to force myself to the end of books I am not enjoying. In some instances I know from the start that one isn’t for me. In other cases I can make it up to 90% of the way through before finally giving up.

DNF at 0-10% 

  • The story failed to grab me (no hook).
  • The language irritated me (over use of adverbs, poor editing etc).

(These problems are usually pretty obvious from the start. They are mainly taste/style preferences and differ between readers.)

DNF at 11-90% 

  • Illogical plots.
  • Inconsistencies in the story.
  • Poor character development.

(These problems usually take longer to become apparent. They are often invisible in the first few chapters. By the time you notice them you are already too invested to quit, resulting in many hours of difficult reading.)

Audiobooks have an added hurdle though; one that fells many excellent novels. The narrator. If there is a problem here, the audiobook tends to fall into the DNF at 0-10% category. Bad narration can turn a literary masterpiece into a painful earache. Voice is key, but everyone has different tastes. I personally dislike Americans with a bad English accent and narrators who stress the wrong parts of sentences, but you might get irritated by something completely different.

Worse than poor pacing and mis-pronunciation though is that many stories were never written with narration in mind. Have you listened to a text or e-mail conversation in an audiobook? I cringe just thinking about some of them. Although this example is only relevant to stories based in modern settings, there are still plenty of other issues invisible to the eye, but that can make your ears bleed when read aloud.

Good books can be badly narrated. Bad books can be well narrated. Either way though, the result is a few infuriating hours before finally giving up. So I hope this post gave you some tips of what to listen for next time you are trying to find a new audiobook worth your time!

If you are looking for some good recommendations then check out these links for the best fantasy and romance audiobooks I’ve come across over the years.

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