I’ve been a member of http://www.Audible.co.uk – the audiobook company now owned by Amazon – for four years. My monthly subscription of £7.99 entitles me to one credit which lets me download one book a month. If I wanted to I could purchase additional books but I’ve found that the monthly credit is sufficient. When I first joined one could only download the audiobooks to an iPod but latterly this facility has been extended to smartphones, tablets and other MP3 players as well. This is a great advantage as it reduces the need to carry two devices when out walking – which is when I usually listen to them.
Time was when I listened to music when walking but now it is almost exclusively books. One can also listen to them in the car – most recent cars have an “aux” channel on the radio console which, with the addition of a cheap cable readily available in any electronics store, allows the audible content to be broadcast. If your car doesn’t have such a facility you can purchase a battery powered device that will let you stream the audio content through an unused FM frequency. They cost about €20 and are well worth it. Obviously you could listen to your MP3 player/phone via earphones while driving but I’m not sure if it’s safe or legal to do so. Besides, it looks odd.
There is nothing like an interesting book to shorten a long walk or journey. Much as I love radio there are times when I want to escape from the unremitting gloom of the news, the opposing voices of the latest Great Debate, the talk-radio moaners and whiners and the inanities of the music DJs. A good book is a blessed relief from all that.
I don’t think I’ve ever downloaded a book that I didn’t finish. I check the reviews on sites such as Amazon as well as those on Audible itself and so far I haven’t been disappointed. The quality of narration is very important of course – a poor narration can impede the enjoyment of an otherwise excellent book – but I’ve never come across a narrator that I did not like. You can listen to a sample of each book’s narration before purchasing and decide if you could live with that voice for the duration.
Some books benefit from being narrated rather than read as the characters come to life in a way that they might not when one is imaging how they speak. Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up The Bodies” is a case in point – the narration by Simon Vance is masterly. The different characters’ voices are unique and memorable and add hugely to the enjoyment of the novel. You are transported to the Tudor court in a way not possible through a conventional reading.
The longest book I’ve listened to is William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” which is 57 hours and 13 minutes long. It is a riveting history and one that has stood the test of time well (it was originally published in 1960). It took me about two months to complete.
Other memorable books include Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Keith Richards’ “Life”, “The Popes” by John Julius Norwich, “Fatherland” by Robert Harris, Le Carré’s “Smiley’s People” and David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet”. Mitchell’s book is one of my favourite novels – I had already read it twice and the audiobook, beautifully narrated by Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox, further enhanced my enjoyment of it. It is a wonderful read in any format. More recently I have greatly enjoyed “The Fry Chronicles” narrated by Stephen Fry himself and likewise the comedian David Mitchell’s “Back Story” also read by the author (who is not to be confused with the novelist).
I have just finished Ian Fleming’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” narrated by David Tennant. I was wary about downloading a James Bond book. I had read them all when I was twelve and thirteen and I was a devoted fan. I remember my sister getting me “From Russia With Love” from England because while it was not (as far as I know) officially banned in Ireland (this was 1964/65) it was not available in the local bookshop or library either because of its racy content. The whiff of notoriety surrounding it only served to whet my adolescent appetite of course. And it was a tremendous read (and one of the best Bond films). But that was a long time ago. Were the books really as good as I thought they were then? Would I be disappointed in them now with nearly a lifetime of reading behind me?
The original Pan paperback cover of “OHMSS”
I’m glad to say I enjoyed it enormously. David Tennant is a brilliant narrator and Ian Fleming was an excellent writer. His books are much more interesting than the films – hearing Bond’s thoughts fleshes out the story in a way that a film can never do. “OHMSS” kept me keenly interested throughout even though I knew how it ended (and what a devastating end it was).
All the other Bond books are available on Audible and they are narrated by actors such as Kenneth Branagh, Damian Lewis, Hugh Bonneville, Rory Kinnear and others. Whoever commissioned the series deserves the gratitude of Bond fans. I shall certainly be re-living my early adolescent Bond obsession over the coming months thanks to Audible. My advice is to forget the films – especially the camp Roger Moore ones – and discover the books for the authentic 007 experience. That said, it is almost impossible for me to imagine anyone other than Sean Connery as Bond. He was the original 007 and the early films – “Dr No”, “From Russia with Love”, “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” – co-incided more or less with my reading of the books. They were also fairly faithful to the original stories whereas a lot of the later Bond films bore only a passing resemblance to them and recent ones none at all. Ian Fleming wrote 14 Bond books whereas there have been 23 films with more to come.
Some of the other Bond titles in the Audible library
But enough about Bond. There are over 100,000 titles to choose from the Audible catalogue. Audiobooks have come into their own thanks to their compatibility with MP3 players, tablets and smartphones and are ideal for anyone on the move be it for work or leisure. And being actively mobile – walking or driving (I can’t comment on running or cycling as I don’t do either) – I think is integral to the experience. On all other occasions I prefer to read rather than listen.
Unlike listening to music, listening to an audiobook requires concentration in the same way that reading a paper book does. I’ve sometimes found my attention wandering and have had to re-wind to get back on track just as I’ve often read paragraphs or even pages of a book and did not take the content in. That concentration, that absorption in the story, takes us out of ourselves and helps us forget about our worries and woes for awhile and is one of the great joys of reading.