An Auditory Quandry

discmanI have a commute to work. A big sucky commute. Even driving through gorgeous autumn foliage does not make this commute easier. And while New Jersey’s superb radio stations are pretty good at making the time pass, I’ve been trying to listen to audiobooks to actually engage my mind, keep awake, and not plow into the car next to me (Note to reader: do not drive next to me).

However, I’ve never been an audiobook listener. I love the heck out of reading print books, I listen to NPR. Avid reader + talk radio listener = audiobook fan, right? Wrong. It’s actually pretty difficult for me to get into an audiobook, for the mere fact that there are just SO MANY ways an audiobook can turn deadly for me. Here’s a few:

  • Boring book: Listen, I’m not a history buff, but I love a good story, and there are definitely some amazing things that have happened in history that I would not mind hearing about. Also, it makes me look smart to name drop “Robert Todd Lincoln” at gatherings. (Yes, I go to gatherings where that earns respect.) However, there are a couple of non-fiction books that people have sworn to me are amazing…..and I’ve turned them off after the first ten minutes. When you are fast forwarding through an introduction….then the prelude….then the first chapter, you’ve lost interest, people. You can have the most amazing voice talent ever, but I will never get into Founding Brothers, or David McCullough’s John Adams, even though these are both books that I have sampled in print and found quite interesting. Why? It is the “wordiness” of the writing? Is it the narrator? I don’t know!
  • Boring voice talent: Imagine being back in that class in high school where the teacher drones on and on and on and you really honestly have no idea what he is saying because you can’t even follow his train of thought and you just want him to stop before blood starts pouring from your eyes and my god why won’t he just stop?! Well, I don’t know how it happens, but there are actual audiobook narrators that WERE PAID to read these books….and they sound like these same monotonous droners. Maybe they were friends with the author. Maybe they ARE the author. Either way, it’s a fast way for my mind to drift. Yet, ironically enough……
  • Great voice talent:  I once attempted to listen to Brideshead Revisited as read by Jeremy Irons. Anyone who has heard the silken English tones of Mr. Irons knows that he is one good speaker who knows how to emote. He was Scar, for god’s sake. The problem was that I became so auditorially intoxicated by Mr. Irons, that I did not pay attention to the story at all. To the point that the disc actually ended, began again, and I didn’t even catch it until ten minutes had passed. When you are starting an audiobook over for the third time because you still can’t keep the characters’ names straight, there’s a problem.

Am I being the pickiest listener ever? Probably. But the thing is, I DO know that there are good audiobooks out there. I listened to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, and aside from being an interesting, engaging story about her tour of presidential assassination sites, her quirky, infinitely intriguing voice kept me hooked from the very first chapter.

So where are they? Anyone have recommendations? Should I just give up and stick to the Alternate Side? Or attempt to read while driving and murder us all? Lives hang in the balance, people.