By Alane Lim
As someone who easily incurs motion sickness and commutes about 40 minutes everyday to school, audiobooks have become a cherished source of enjoyment for me. I listen to them when I want to keep to myself in a lonely office, the multiple 15-minute walks in all weather, or when the schedule has promised a train that should have come 20 minutes ago.
I admit that I’d been wary of them before, having thought that true appreciators of books only read the written word (cue cup of tea and an upturned nose). Thanks to the urging of some friends and a few choice sales at Audible I finally began listening. In the months since, I’ve shamelessly eaten my previous sentiment. Thanks to audio books, I’ve loved a lot of books that I wouldn’t even have thought of picking up before.
Good audiobooks are like those magnetic friends that everyone clusters around. The narrator paints a story so well that it’s hard to stop listening. If you’re like me and robotically read out dialogue from Romeo and Juliet during English class but still thought you were the best voice actress ever, then you might find that a narrator who’s trained and/or just has a knack for this stuff really breathes life into the same characters, words, and story.
There are a few types that I’ve come to appreciate.
1. When the author speaks directly to you.
When a memoir or autobiography is read in the author’s original voice, the already personal story is made so much more personal. Listening to Maya Angelou recount her powerful experiences of growing up black in a racist environment lends even more rawness and bite to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. On the other side of the spectrum, hearing Tina Fey and other comediennes sound out their memoirs helps dense folks like me appreciate the jibs and jabs sprinkled throughout the book.
2. When you become immersed in another accent or language.
No longer will your impression of Benedict Cumberbatch be based on just a few movies you saw. Now your impression can be informed by an hour or two of him reading material inspired by Sherlock Holmes.
All kidding aside, audiobooks for cultures you might not be familiar with often have narrators who are either from said culture and/or trained to emulate its accents. One example is A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True, narrated by Cassandra Campbell. This audiobook features two Polish girls from two different generations, with all dialogue and one half of the story told in Polish accents.
As someone without any experience in the language, I wouldn’t know how to pronounce the various names and inserted Polish throughout the book otherwise. This differs from movies with subtitles, where you supposedly completely immerse yourself in another language audio-wise, but end up reading the script of the entire movie in your own native language. Because these audiobooks featured both an accent on words that I already knew and just a few words I didn’t know, I not only actually learned some words, but also gained much more of a sense of how someone from another culture might sound while speaking English.
3. When you transform into an action hero.
Does reading a sci-fi consisting entirely of hack-and-slash action appeal to you? Whether or not it does, you might consider checking out audiobooks like A Princess of Mars narrated by Scott Brick. This book features the protagonist getting into and battling his way out of situation after situation, with no rests in between. Thanks to the slow, dramatic growl of the narrator and the never-ending sword fights and wrestling matches, the book becomes more and more exciting rather than repetitive. Disregard the early-twentieth-century objectification of women with exquisitely chiseled features and perfect and symmetrical figures (it gets really funny, actually), and you’re set.
What I appreciate most, though, is that the books gave me a guideline for my imagination. Because I was so much more actively involved with them, I remembered things. I unfortunately am one of those people who can’t remember anything 5 minutes after they’ve done something. But thanks to the excellent performances in the books I’ve listened to not only am I able to recall facts about the audiobook months later, but I’m able to remember what I felt as I was listening to them. Definitely something to tell your friend as you both commute back home.
Alane Lim is a materials science student based in Chicago. In her free time, she likes to write comedy, science, anime reviews, and other things. Follow her on Twitter @thisisalane.