You may be looking at the title of this blog post and going, “Wait, Ellie. Your blog is about books you read, not books you listen to. What nonsense are you trying to pull?” Well, let me tell you something.
Once upon a time, I worked in a laboratory facility cleaning mouse cages. And the only thing that made it bearable was listening to music. Then, one day, my parents bought me the complete collection of the Chronicles of Narnia radio plays, and it was magical. I listened to the series once a year for all the years I worked there as a poor college student.
Fast forward several years, and I’m now in another position that has long hours of semi-repetitive work. I’ve worked in a couple of departments now; the first one, I was allowed to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks, so long as I put my headphones away during inspections. This second one, I’m allowed the same thing, even during inspections, but I can only have one headphone/earbud in, just in case someone needs to talk to me. I feel lopsided when I listen to music in only one ear, so I turned to podcasts.
Then someone introduced me to the Overdrive app. If you’ve never heard of Overdrive, it’s an app that serves as a hub for all your favorite libraries. If you have a library card, you can (most likely) have access to audiobooks and ebooks through Overdrive. I still have an active card from my childhood hometown (shh! Don’t tell!), as well as a card from my current county library, so I have two library audiobooks I can access. Before Overdrive, I tried Audible but was put off by its monthly subscription. Sure, I’d get one free audiobook per month, but I was averaging one book every two days–one book per day if I was listening to practically anything YA. My pocketbook just couldn’t support Audible.
With Overdrive, I can check out ten audiobooks and put five on hold (twenty audiobooks with two libraries, with ten hold spots! And if there is a book that I really want to listen to, I can put it on hold under both libraries and listen to it from whichever one becomes available first! SQUEEE!). And, since I can download them whenever I want, I don’t have to worry about using up data if I run out of downloaded podcasts in the middle of the day (that’s happened far too often). And, if I find a series I’m enjoying, I can get through them a lot faster than if I’d tried to tell myself, “I’ll read them someday.”
While I still enjoy reading more, having my audiobook world opened through Overdrive has been a lifesaver at my job. Though, I must admit, not all audiobook narrators are created equal. Anyone who has listened to free audiobooks in the public domain through Librevox recordings can testify that a narrator can make or break a book. And, even with professional auidobooks, if a narrator is bad, it can make a person stop listening halfway through the book. Luckily for me, I’ve run across mainly good narrators and can enjoy–or dislike–a book based on its own merits.
So…what are my top favorite books and least-favorite books in audiobook form?
Favorites (So far)
The Keys to the Kingdom series by Garth Nix.
I remember seeing this series on store bookshelves when it came out. It looked a bit weird yet intriguing, but I was too poor to buy the books (I have a bad habit of buying books if they look interesting, without knowing whether I’ll like them or not). Now, I’ve listened to six of the seven books, with the next book downloaded and ready for my next workday.
This has been a fun series to get into. The premise: Young Arthur Penhaligon is thrust into the world of the House and the Architect, simply because 1. He’s mortal, and 2. He was going to die on a Monday and was easy to reach. The House, which is basically the center of the universe, is in disarray and needs an heir to put things back in order. As such, he’s been chosen to become the Heir of the Architect and must collect the Keys to the Kingdom and free the parts of the Will (a written yet personified form of the Architect’s instructions) to gain his rightful place as the heir. There’s just a couple of problems: first, Arthur wants to live a normal life. Second, the seven trustees of the kingdom don’t want Arthur to get in his way and will do anything to destroy him and everything he loves.
This series is creative, wacky (as is often the case with middle grade/young adult books), with memorable and interesting main and side characters, and fast-paced. You can see Arthur grow and develop in each book, learning leadership skills a bit at a time and struggling with the power he’s coming into throughout the books. Arthur, as many middle grade and YA protagonists, is an orphan; but unlike other MG and YA protagonists, he has a healthy and happy relationship with his adoptive family. That makes it much more realistic when the trustees attack Arthur through his loved ones, and makes Arthurs motive to save them much stronger.
The seven trustees are named after the seven days of the week, and each trustee personifies one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Once I figured that out, I had a fun time guessing which sin each day represented. I was especially curious how Lust would be represented in a children’s book. Much to my surprise, it was approached as Desire instead–desire for mortal experiences. I mistook that character as Envy, but then Envy appeared in the next book.
I’ve listened from Mister Monday through Superior Saturday, with only Lord Sunday left. The narrator is good, and each character has a unique voice that actually fits their personality (you don’t know how often I’ve been annoyed at how I think a character should speak their dialogue versus how the narrator portrays them–Willow from the Magic Kingdom of Landover series is a good example of poorly chosen character voice). As far as stories go, each one was unique without falling into too familiar formulas, aside from each book’s drive of 1. Find and free the piece of the Will, and 2. Defeat the Day and gain the Key.
The one exception is Superior Saturday. That one had only 5 “parts” (Overdrive splits each audiobook into parts regardless of chapter beginnings or ends), compared to the other books’ 7 or 8 parts, and as the story progressed I felt that it suffered by being far too straightforward. In the other books, Arthur has to go through really challenging situations, and he stumbles and falls throughout the way. He has asthma, or he breaks his leg, or plans fall apart, or he falls into a trap. In this one, everything is way too easy. He gets through each barrier with ease, the piece of the Will is easy to find, and he’s starting to transform into something called a Denizen (a superior being). Even though this transformation seems to be having a psychological effect, this isn’t addressed. Though in this book he doesn’t gain the Key at the end, which is different, that’s not enough to save this book from the Penultimate Book syndrome. Superior Saturday feels far too much like it’s simply setting up for Lord Sunday. The last book better be good, or I’m going to be upset.
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
Ah, Wild, you tricky beast. I have heard so much about you, which is why I wanted to read you in the first place. But ah, Cheryl Strayed, you come off as the biggest attention hog. You have serious issues, lady, and your story is not inspiring.
There are many who doubt the truth of this memoir. I don’t know one way or the other. But I do know that Cheryl portrayed herself as some sort of pitiable creature, who took without giving back, who demanded people be kind to her and take pity on her without showing kindness in return, who is desired by every male in existence (and maybe some of the females too). I didn’t find this book “Spectacular.” I didn’t find it “a literary and human triumph.” I saw this as a person glorifying herself without realizing how shallow she was appearing. There was no growth. There was no change. There was someone who felt that people should fawn over her, who should let her stay and eat and just expect nothing from her. Maybe if I hadn’t read another book about backpacking, Barefoot Sisters Southbound by Lucy and Susan Letcher, I would have found this book inspiring. But, after having been exposed to a book filled with life-threatening hiking misadventures, trail angels who helped Lucy and Susan and who Lucy and Susan helped to return the favor, sibling rivalry and personal growth, and triumph through impossible odds, this book felt shallow and empty. I want to read more books about backpackers, but I would never ever recommend Wild to anyone.
The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan
Please don’t hate me. And please hear me out.
I never read The Wheel of Time series growing up, though it seemed like it would be right up my alley. It was always on hold in the library, and back then even I knew that I shouldn’t buy a thousand-page-per-book multi-book series without reading it first. I’ve always been interested in reading it, but its size has always pushed it down my to-read list. So, I decided to listen to it instead.
I’ve made it through the first ten books, and I’m having a hard time getting the motivation to listen to the rest. The first few books were fun–a bit too much description for my taste, and long dialogue that seemed circular or that went nowhere at all, but fun nevertheless. But…then…
I’m burned out. The women exist to fall in love with Rand. Rand exists to have strange ailments (different in each book) as he supposedly goes insane (that’s not how insanity works), with symptoms that are convenient for plot. Mat exists to be someone’s plaything. Perrin exists to…I don’t know. To be a plot convenience. The Forsaken exist to be annoying.
And it just keeps going on and on and on and on and…you get the idea. A part of me wants to give Robert Jordan’s (may he rest in peace) editor a piece of my mind–generally, “Why in all that is good in the world did you just let him have the run of the place? You don’t want to burn your readers out! And why didn’t you tell him how plot structure works? Why in the world did you let him drag out finding that stupid bowl of the winds, and then using that bowl, for three or four books when that quest would have been more exciting in a single book? Why did you let him go into such annoying detail about every single stitch of clothing the women wore? Why didn’t you tell him that the only love story that would kind of work in real life is Nyneve’s and Lan’s, that falling in love for all the other characters doesn’t work like that? Why do the men get to go on grand adventures while the women wash dishes or play in carnivals or talk and talk and talk and talk?”
Okay, I’m done now.
Robert Jordan was excellent at writing action scenes. I listen purely to get to those moments, which feel like these big, epic battles, whether between huge armies or between two people. I enjoy those moments. But those moments are too few and far between. But even those have been lacking in the latest books. It’s like Robert Jordan wasn’t quite sure how to write a particular moment, but that it needed to happen, so he switched points of view to something unrelated. Then, when you return to the scene, that point of conflict was already resolved (for example, cleaning the male half of the Power). Why, Robert Jordan, why? You made me emotionally invested in this plot point, and then I don’t even get to see it! It’s like Sherlock Holmes explaining to Watson how it was all done, but Watson didn’t hear it becasue he wasn’t in the room.
I think I would have enjoyed The Wheel of Time more if I read it instead of listened to it. I was listening to the books at 1.75x the normal speed, and my mind was still wandering. With print, I can glaze over words and skip pages to get to the good stuff if I’m getting bored, but it’s hard to skip in an audiobook if you’re wearing lab gear and can’t touch your phone unless you go to a different room.
I was going to list some other audiobooks, but I’ve realized this post is already way too long. Maybe I’ll do another audiobook post in the future. For now, see ya later!