An Ode to the Audiobook

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One of my earliest memories involves being read stories by my mother.  Raised in North America, she had the kind of sing-songy reading voice that is perfect for children’s literature.  We had a load of old Dr Seuss and Disney fairy tales sent over from my granny in the US that I loved listening to.  After a while we no longer needed the text, we both knew the stories off by heart.

I adored books, I devoured at least one a week as a child. I exhausted the local library, begging staff to order unobtainable titles from other sites and generally avoiding having to actually fork out any pocket money on a trip to Waterstones.  I wasn’t fussy about what I read either: teen fiction was quickly followed by crime and horror novels, I then became fascinated with biographies and later travel guides, plotting journeys across the globe from my tiny bedroom in Edinburgh.

Then the inevitable happened; I grew up and grew out of the habit.  I discovered boys, music, booze.   Books gathered dust on the shelf; the bedside table became littered with tacky magazines.  Reading stopped being a joy and started being a chore.  I then left Edinburgh for a few years and spent a lot of time on bus and train journeys visiting family and friends.  A perfect time to pick the reading habit up again, you would think?  Think again.  I suffer terribly with travel sickness, usually exacerbated by reading.  Then I had a thought.  Remember those books on tape you can get from the library? There must be something more up to date for the MP3 generation.

A quick Google search and a few downloads later my love of audiobooks was born.  I set up an Audible account four years ago and now own more than 100 titles.  I get vouchers for Christmas and birthday gifts, such is my commitment to the spoken word.  New lippy?  Nah?  I’ve got my eye a couple of biographies, thanks very much.

As well as a frequent traveller I am also an insomniac.  There is something incredibly comforting about audiobooks when you are struggling to wind down and sleep.  There’s an intimacy you don’t get with words on a page. I have listened to Rob Lowe telling his life story at 2am, laughed at Nora Ephron at 6am while making my first coffee of the day.

My obsession with audiobooks really came into its own when I started exercising regularly. I used to spend hours mulling over music playlists to motivate me at the gym. Slight problem though. Even on shuffle I started to anticipate the songs and became bored quickly. So I started taking my Audible friends with me when I worked out. I ran through Holyrood Park with Stephen Fry and had a laughing fit at Tina Fey on the rowing machine at my local gym. That’s the thing about books as opposed to music, if you don’t know what to expect it makes the whole experience more enjoyable.

My tastes are fairly diverse but here are my current top five audiobooks, in no particular order:

Nora Ephron, I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections – My only criticism: too short. Hilarious, anecdotal take on Hollywood. A joy from start to finish. Many other Ephron titles are available including Heartburn which is narrated by Meryl Streep no less.

Mark Kermode, The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex – I am a MASSIVE film geek and fan of Kermode and a fully paid up member of the church of Wittertainment. This book got me through a pretty rotten summer and for that I am grateful.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall – I am a bit obsessed with the Tudor period and this was perfect for me. All 24 hours of it! Brings the era to life better than the TV series based on the novel did.

Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son – part memoir and part mystery; this is an affecting take on a difficult family life. I took the audiobook on holiday to Oslo and was glad to hear a familiar Scottish accent when I was feeling homesick.

Amy Poehler, Yes Please – I have long been a fan of Miss Poehler’s comedy and this book surprised me in its honesty. It’s a memoir, a peek behind the curtain of Hollywood and a self-help guide all rolled into one.

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