The other day, my sister-in-law asked me if I’d heard anything about Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. I told her that a lot of people seemed to love it, but I hadn’t been able to get into it when I tried to read it back in October/November. While we chatted, I realized that I should try Piranesi again someday, this time via audio. After all, I spent years trying to read Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell without success, unable to get more than a page or two into the book until I downloaded the audiobook. Suddenly, the book that seemed so dull in print was instantly captivating. The audio was the key to the book’s lock for me. My reactions to the print and spoken versions couldn’t be more different.
That got me thinking about other books that fell into this category: beloved books that I never would have read without the audio version. There are quite a few of them. Besides Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, audio gave me:
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: I spent years trying to read this one, never making it beyond the first few pages. I didn’t like the tone of it, from my print reads. It took Jenny Sterlin’s narration to make the book come to life. After I listened to it, I proceeded to listen to it…um…more times in a row than I care to recount.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: While I loved the opening chapter, I gave up on the book the first time I met Gansey and his crew. The scene felt too young-angsty-boy-teen to me. Years later, I gave the book a second chance via audio. That scene still felt meh to me on first read (when I didn’t know the individuals well enough yet), but I liked the narration enough that I kept going. That allowed me to discover just how wonderful the series is!
Any book by Brandon Sanderson: After reading a wonderful NaNoWriMo pep talk by the author, I really wanted to read something he’d written. He was WAY out of my comfort zone, though. I knew that the only way I’d make it through would be to try via audio. I picked out Mistborn, and that audiobook opened me up to what is now my favorite author’s works.
The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy: I’d read Tess of the D’Urbervilles years before, and while I ultimately enjoyed my book club’s discussion of the novel, I’d found the book painfully pastoral to read. I hadn’t planned to read more Hardy, until I discovered Alan Rickman’s narration of this book. Not only did this audiobook make me fall in love with spoken novels more generally, but it made me fall in love with Hardy’s work and go on to read many more of his books (which I think are almost universally better via audio).
There are a lot more examples. I’ve read far more nonfiction over the last decade than I would have without audio. I’ve explored many genres outside my comfort zone this way. There are books I could only get my hands on via audio version. Audiobooks helped me to slow down and really experience books, as well as help me to hear an author’s voice when I’m struggling with it. Not every book is good this way. I listen to few classics or literary books via audio, for instance, and I’m super picky about narrators. But audio has opened worlds for me that I wouldn’t have had without it, and helped me find some of my favorite books – even among books I couldn’t get through in print. I’m sure more will follow. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll download Piranesi and discover that I love the book after all. I guess we’ll see.