Confession: I read very little these days. That is, I read a great deal for research purposes, and I read far too many newspapers articles (especially this year, when the politics everywhere has been so intense and dramatic!) – but as for sitting down with a novel … sorry, but I can’t remember the last time I did that!
Shocking? Well yes. Writers should read, shouldn’t they?
I agree, absolutely. My problem is, since I started writing novels myself, I’ve found my concentration span has shortened immensely when it comes to reading other people’s books. If a novel is fantastic, it makes me want to run off instantly and get back to my own writing – in other words, I find good writing inspiring. If something is poor, or just doesn’t catch my interest … well, frankly, life’s too short to waste.
However, I do get through twenty to thirty novels a year. How? I LOVE listening to audio books! I was hooked years ago, when I was a stressed-out company director and couldn’t sleep. I discovered that the sound of the human voice was very soothing, and if I was listening to a story, I wasn’t worrying about work. Now I ‘read’ at least a book a month, often many more, and I’ve learned not to panic when I can’t sleep. Lying listening can be quite relaxing too.
Listening to audio books is a whole different experience from reading a book.
- The voice of the narrator is of prime importance. It has to be good or frankly, I won’t even buy the book (you can listen to a sample).
- I can get a long way through before realising I’ve missed a key point because I’ve fallen asleep. (I once read a whole Poirot before realising I’d missed the murder.)
- It’s tricky getting back to exactly where you were when you nodded off, so sometimes you listen to the same passage time and again. (I set a Sleep timer for 30 minutes, so I’m never too far away from where I was.)
- You really can’t fast forward, because you have no idea what you’re missing or how far to go before the next interesting thing happens.
- Poor pronunciation of certain words e.g. place names is intensely irritating. Narrators, please do your homework properly!
- Good narration is amazing and can make characters leap to life.
- Slow build-ups get slower.
- Classics can stand the test of time very well (I reread Middlemarch recently and was knocked out by it.)
- Some novels are almost impossible to listen to – I gave up on Wolf Hall completely. Sorry. But having talked to friends who told me they had to flick back and forwards a lot in order to be sure what was happening and who was speaking, I now understand why I found it so difficult.
- It’s quite a slow experience (typically 10-17 hours), but this enables you to really get into the book.
Audio books are my friends and comforters. I adore Irish voices, so Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes have become favourites. I like Aussie accents too, and have discovered Liane Moriarty and Graeme Simsion this way. I like value for money, so Ken Follet’s blockbusters are terrific. I adore Michael Tudor Barnes’s interpretation of detective Peter Diamond, so Peter Lovesey has done very well from me.
This is a hugely growing market, it seems. Many people now listen on their way to work, on trains, buses or cars. I also listen when travelling – a good audio book can make a dull journey fly by, and if you’re tired on that plane, just plug in your headphones and close your eyes – you can go wherever your book takes you!
Does anyone else share my passion? And if so, what are your experiences?