Question of the Month: Audio Books

by Susan Henderson on April 2, 2012

Do you listen to audio books? I’d love to hear why or why not.

My kids were into audio books when they were young. We’d listen to them on long car rides, and my youngest liked to fall asleep to the Harry Potter CDs. In fact, he listened to that series so many times, he developed a British accent!

I’m a visual person, for the most part. I like to see the words, re-read my favorite lines, dog-ear pages, scribble in the margins. But it’s tricky when your work day is reading, writing, editing, and then the thing you like to do to relax is reading, writing, editing. That’s a lot of eye strain. Sometimes, at the end of a long work day, I wanted so badly to read for pleasure but it gave me a headache and my eyes couldn’t focus. That’s when I first started dabbling in audio books, mostly the classics I could get for free.

Later, I found another reason to choose audio books over paper books: sometimes other people simply read a book better than I do. Seamus Heaney reading BEOWULF with his driving pace (verses my stumbling over the Old English) shows off the genius of the poem’s rhythm; if read right, you can actually hear the rage, the marching, the testosterone. Leo Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA is also much better as an audio book because, unlike me, the paid reader knows how to pronounce those Russian names. And think of all you can do while you listen to a book: laundry, dishes, a long drive, a hike in the woods.

UP FROM THE BLUE is coming out as an audio book this month. (April 10th!) I’m  looking forward to getting a copy of it because I haven’t actually read it yet. Over the six years it took me to write and edit it, I tended to break it up into problem-sections and couldn’t read without a red pen in hand, ready to tweak a sentence. When it was published, I held and admired it, but that was all. I think, though, that it would be nice to hear it as someone else might read it, without the pauses for self-criticism and the instinct to stop and correct it some more.


I went on two business trips last month and they were both fabulous in very different ways.

The first was to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. I was so excited about this one because my good friend, Darlin’ Neal, is a professor there (and author of this gorgeous book), and I couldn’t wait to spend time with her. I was told my itinerary would include a luncheon with students, a reading in a large lecture hall, and then dinner with the staff of the school’s literary magazine. The day before I left for my trip, I was packing and emailing Darlin’ about details when she forwarded me some specifics about the luncheon. In the note was a suggestion to keep my speech under 30 minutes. My what??! To me, luncheon has always meant eating, but in this forwarded note I saw that I was a part of something called “the distinguished speakers” series, the previous speakers including astronauts, film directors, CEOs, and the president of Poland. I quickly threw whatever into the suitcase (i.e., no pajamas or walking shoes) and got to work on that speech, which I think went okay. The students at UCF were smart, vibrant, focused, funny, and asked the best questions.

Later, a group of us went out for Vietnamese food, which was all kinds of fun because the formal stuff was over by then and I could just relax and play. The next day, we took Darlin’s dog on a four-mile walk, a really great time before I was due back at the airport. A little rushed, but that is my life lately. And now I’ve got a plaque saying “distinguished speaker” that Mr. H finds as funny as the plaque I got at a former job calling me “patient” and a “good listener.”

My second trip was to Portland, Maine, where I was on a panel with Jessica Keener and Leora Skolkin-Smith for a book festival sponsored by Maine Reads. A weekend of amazing talks and revelations! Many thanks to Sarah Cecil, Karen Baldacci, Judy Gelman, Vicki Levy Krupp, Alma Katsu, my kick-ass panel mates, and so many fine and fascinating book lovers who made it a great experience! I stayed an extra night to finish judging a contest at Fictionaut and then drove home with a broken GPS system, which required me to do some old fashioned navigating (with frequent calls home to troubleshoot when I veered off course). Great time but good to be home with my family and pets and writing again.


Let me close with some thank you’s to LaLaLovely, the Good Book Fairy, WLBZ, Bethany Duvall, Caffeinated College Kid, Shannon’s Book Bag, Central Kentucky News, Bookseller RecommendsPeace Love Lungs, Talking with TimBieb Blog Vlissingen, and Camille Kimball.

In 2006, when I still ran my blog off of the Publisher’s Marketplace site, I posted some thoughts about the James Frey/Oprah Winfrey fallout. I used to have to erase that blog every three posts to clear space for new ones, so I had no permanent record of the things I talked about then. But recently, my blog was re-posted, in light of the Mike Daisey/This American Life fallout, along with a fascinating debate about truth and memoir. Here is my original post, which Camille had saved from my blog for the past six years. And here is her response. I think it’s a fascinating discussion and I’m not entirely sure where I stand on it all. If you have thoughts about the debate, one way or the other, I’m sure Camille would appreciate you posting comments on her site.

And that’s it. Have a great April, everyone!