How to read when you don’t have time: #SecondThoughts on audiobooks

Last year I took the Goodreads challenge and I thought that a book a week was eminently doable. I was nearly proved wrong, which I was inordinately worried about.  A while ago a was having a cuppa with my friend @RotwangsRobot (Kathryn Harkup, the immensely talented writer of ‘A is for Arsenic: The poisons of Agatha Christie’, and several other pop science books), and she told me this story of two old dears who’d gone into a bookshop and asked for recommendations of twenty absolutely must read titles.  They’d worked out  how quickly they read,  how much time they had left, and done a very simple calculation.  The scary thing is even at 50 books a year, I might be down to 2000 books left to read…and when it doesn’t look like you’re going to have time even for that…Eeep!

Goodreads very helpfully let you know how many books a week you need to read to complete the challenge, and when it started becoming more than one, I don’t mind telling you, I was a worried man.  The challenge is a personal one: you set your own target and then you see what you can do.  So last summer, when I was edging up to a required read rate of 1.5 books a week, I knew I needed a cunning plan.

I’m very lucky with my commute, which is a 20-25 minute walk in either direction. It’s a reasonably pleasant walk, but it’s nice to have something to listen to.  For several years I’ve been listening to a range of things on the BBC iPlayer app, although at the point all this was occurring, I was beginning to think that I’d pretty much listened to everything that I wanted to listen to.  I’d been thinking a lot about audiobooks anyway, so I decided to take the plunge and get an account.  My first book was Ben Aaronovitch’s ‘Rivers of London’, read by the superb Kobna Holdbrook-Smith.  I was sold on the idea of audiobooks completely.

However, Audible is a pay-for service, although once you have bought the book, as long as Audible is viable, you can listen to the book over and over again, even if you suspend your subscription.  But even though I have a tendency to go for long-‘reads’ (a contributing factor to my lack of progress against my GoodReads target), with the commute and listening to books whilst I do chores like the washing up, I could easily listen to 3-4 books a month – and I’m not prepared to spend that much!

What to do? What to do?

Shortly after starting with Audible, I was in my local public library and I spotted a sign advertising audio and e-books, which could be checked out on an app from the comfort of your own home. Bingo! Problem solved.  

The RBDigital app is not quite as smooth to use as Audible, and there are all sorts of books that I would like to get hold of, which aren’t available.  But given the range that is accessible, for free, and all the new books that I have found, it has been like discovering reading all over again.  In the space of the last six months or so, I’ve listened to around 20 books, put a serious dent in my virtual TBR (and then refilled it) and only been mildly disappointed once (the narrator didn’t distinguish been the voices enough so it was difficult to follow some of the conversations).  I was a lot disappointed with one of the stories, but that would have been the case whatever the format!

Listening to books is a very different experience to holding a book in your hands and sinking down into a favourite chair with a cup of tea, but as such opportunities are currently in short supply, I thoroughly recommend listening to books.  As a writer, it’s also helpful because it reminds you that people won’t just be reading your words, but listening to.

And I might just get through 3000 books…

What’s your experience of audiobooks?  

© David Jesson, 2020