A few months ago I moved out to the Dandenongs, which meant I started driving more, which meant I started listening to audiobooks more, which meant I became obsessed with Audible.com, more. I’ve listened to more books in the past six months than I would have ever had time to read.
For my monthly $14 Audible subscription I get one audiobook ‘credit’ a month, and I always spend it on a book that has a celebrity narrator. Because with celebrity narrators I feel like I am getting incredible value. Not only am I purchasing a brilliant masterpiece of literature, but I’m also getting someone famous to read it into my ear! It’s like 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner, or that weird vegemite and cheese spread.
The books I buy that are read by celebrity narrators are usually books I have already read ‘properly’: Slouching Towards Bethlehem read by Diane Keaton, Therese Raquin read by Kate Winslet, The Sheltering Sky read by Jennifer Connelly. So many STARS!
Because they are read by famous people and I am celebrity-obsessed, I find myself getting a lot of pleasure out of listening to them again and again. Sometimes the celebrity’s voice will get croaky when they’ve been reading too long in one sitting, and I think, ‘Oh wow, Anne Hathaway is human too’, which is something I would usually hardly ever think.
But my very favourite so far has been Lolita. Lolita, by Nabokov, is a work of art, but Lolita, by Nabokov, and read by Jeremy Irons, is a work of art squared. This recording is worth every cent and I have gone back to it again this past month, treasuring not just the exquisite sentences but the gorgeous, intelligent, enormously entertaining voice that carries the words to me.
Sometimes it can all go wrong though. I’ve been broke the past few months and this has plunged me into the depths of despair which has, understandably, affected my Audible buying habits. I’ve spent many a midnight hour with my cursor hovering over the ‘Self Development’ section of the website and my adventures there have recently included the I-wish-I-could-tell-you-I-was-drunk-at-the-time-purchase of The Power of Now.
The producers of The Power of Now decided to let the author narrate his own book. ‘Good for him!’ I cried when I discovered it. ‘Here’s to poor and struggling authors such as Eckhart Tolle finding extra employment where they can!’
I regretted it the next day when, embarking on a long, traffic-heavy drive in to the city, I almost fell asleep listening to Eckhart Tolle’s hypnotic and very s-l-o-w voice. Some audiobooks you just have to put down to experience and move on from—and I have, to the just-released The Great Gatsby, read by Jake Gyllenhaal!
Audible is, as you have seen, a rollercoaster of emotions, and at no time has this been more true in my own life than late last year when my boyfriend, who also has a subscription, went ahead and bought Gone Girl and started listening to it on his own.
‘How could you do that without me!’ I cried. ‘You knew I wanted to read it!’
‘Well—why don’t you just buy it too, and then we’ll be able to talk about it together?’
‘Never,’ I said, my voice dropping an octave in disgust. The audiobook of Gone Girl didn’t have a famous narrator, for one thing, and back then I still believed that if it was a book I really wanted to read-read, I should just use my good old-fashioned eyes.
Our household was lonely that week. He’d rush through the door when he got home from work with his headphones still on. ‘Sorry hon, I just have to hear what happens next,’ he’d say and then disappear into the bedroom, emerging later with this sort of stunned, stupefied look. ‘You’ll understand when you read it,’ he told me. I was so, so jealous.
At last, I saved up and bought a copy of Gone Girl for myself and read it PROPERLY, but I still harboured resentment towards him, even though I was obviously better than him because I had read it PROPERLY.
Then we drove up to Queensland for the holidays, sharing the driving but not our audiobooks. It was all about headphones—To the Lighthouse read by Nicole Kidman for her; The Last Policeman for him. It was all very quiet until we stopped halfway in Sydney and I noticed the blurb for Hermann Koch’s The Dinner at a bookshop. ‘Honey, look: it says that if you liked Gone Girl you will love The Dinner!’ I reported excitedly.
‘And we both loved Gone Girl, didn’t we!’ he said, and I flinched at the painful memory of being left out of his life that one time.
We sat in a 7-11 carpark on the outskirts of Sydney and searched for it on Audible. As we waited for it to download I reasoned that although The Dinner didn’t have a Hollywood-famous narrator, maybe that didn’t matter: maybe listening to an audiobook together was the whole purpose of reading.
The Dinner goes for 8 hours 57 minutes, and the drive from Sydney to my parents’ home on the Sunshine Coast was 8 hours 49 minutes. We pulled up to the driveway at 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve and listened to the last eight minutes in the car while our dog scratched to get out. The moment it finished we both sighed with relief.
‘That book was really annoying,’ he said, shutting off the car and letting the dog out. ‘Yeah, I hated it! I said. At that, we embraced, and with the Great Gone Girl Argument of 2012 forgotten, a happy Christmas was had by all. Thank you, Audible!
NOTE: Audible.com is owned by Amazon and I resent that, but I am yet to discover a local or independent alternative. The Bolinda Audio website tells me their digital download store will be available later this year, and although I have no idea what that even means I await it eagerly.
Lorelei Vashti is a writer and book editor, currently writing a book for Allen & Unwin based on her popular blog, Dress, Memory. With Sofija Stefanovic, she has just launched Paper Trail Tours: writing tours of Melbourne.
23 Apr 13 at 13:06
This is funny, Lorelai! Thank you for making me laugh.
Do I have news for you. I just finished reading The Death Of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave, and a goodreads reviewer said that you can get the audiobook READ BY NICK CAVE! That’s like a work of art cubed.
23 Apr 13 at 13:52
Ha! This exact scenario played out with my girlfriend and I. Same (audio)book, too.
I also started listening to celebrity-narrated audiobooks exclusively, but I’ve been finding that “non-Hollywood-famous” narrators often tend to do a better job, presumably because they’re more familiar with the medium. Purely narrator-wise, the audiobook version of “The Fault in Our Stars” is pretty fantastic. Don’t give up on non-famous narrators, Lorelai!
23 Apr 13 at 14:11
You drive with headphones on? (or does the passenger get the headphones while the driver applies all their concentration to, you know, the road?)
23 Apr 13 at 14:20
Thanks, Lou! That definitely is some crazy sorcery with the Nick Cave title: I would be terrified to listen to it in case the world imploded with greatness.
Connor, thank you for your words of encouragement, and can you believe that ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is on my Audible Wishlist AS WE SPEAK because my friend Ronnie Scott recommended it (the proper book) to me weeks ago—now I am REALLY convinced, so thank you! I’m gonna use next month’s credit on it!
23 Apr 13 at 14:30
I would use both my Audible credits (I have two credits a month now, one wasn’t seeing me through) on a book narrated by Lorelei Vashti. Wouldn’t matter what it was, though I think perhaps Dickens… she would do an amazing Great Expectations I suspect.
23 Apr 13 at 14:36
Even though I hear an ad for Audible just about every time I listen to a podcast, I’ve never actually signed up (probably because they’re always recommending books by Sarah Palin). But reading this has convinced me to go for it!
23 Apr 13 at 15:01
YOU ROCK VASHTI!
23 Apr 13 at 15:05
I spend my life in the goddamn car and never listen to audio books. What the freaking hell have I been doing all these years? What a goddamn waste. I am getting on board STAT! Love your work as always x
23 Apr 13 at 15:30
I’m on the 2 credit/month Audible plan, and tend to spend my credits on long books, which makes me feel I’m getting value for money. 60 hours of narration for $10 ftw. I always listen on triple speed, though, which makes the whole experience of listening to a book closer to the experience of reading.
24 Apr 13 at 14:49
I’m amazed you’re able to listen to an audiobook while driving. I walk 40 minutes to work each day and can manage a podcast but listening to an audiobook, I would just stare off into the middle-distance thinking about some plot point all while the narrative continued on. Mind you, I’ve only tried it once and it was a free Charles Dickens audiobook.
Maybe I need some more celebrities in my ears.
24 Apr 13 at 15:22
Geoff, I agree, I love staring into the middle-distance while listening to audiobooks. That’s the best part.
26 Apr 13 at 10:16
Run that by me again. You did what to The Great Gatsby?
26 Apr 13 at 13:32
This is ace. I am moving to the ‘nongs soon too and the idea of audio books while driving is now another thing to add to all the things I’m already looking forward to. Thank you.