How to Start Listening to Audiobooks
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Audiobooks are a fantastic way to experience great literature, expand your horizons, and make the most of your free time.
They offer a new dimension to the reading experience and can transform an otherwise dull or repetitive activity like commuting, cleaning, or cooking into enjoyable ones.
If you’re a new audiobook listener, this post is for you. Here are some audiobook tips to help you get started and make the most out of your listening experience.
Choose Your Listening Time
The great thing about audiobooks is that you can often fit them into activities you’re already doing–you don’t have to carve out additional time in your already-busy day.
Think about times during your day when you can listen to audiobooks without distractions.
This could be while commuting to work, exercising, folding laundry, or cooking at the end of the day. You can even listen while doing your makeup or brushing your teeth.
I find summer to be the perfect time to start listening to audiobooks, especially if you’re spending more time outside doing yard work or taking walks.
Those are among my favorite times to listen, and my audiobook listening time goes up dramatically in the summer.
Choose Books that Hold Your Attention
You may find that your audiobook reading style differs a bit from your print reading style. In print, I tend to go for heavier, more character-driven literary books, but I gravitate to lighter, plot-driven audiobooks.
This may also have to do with my learning style, which is more visual than auditory–my memory is better when I see something in print. Romance and fast-paced mysteries work well for me, because the plots and characters are easy to track.
Now that I’ve had more practice listening–meaning I’ve trained my attention–I do enjoy literary audiobooks, but they’re still not my go-to.
I also tend to enjoy audiobook memoirs on audio, and I rarely read them in print–I’ve found that I like listening to someone tell me the story of their lives–bonus if the author narrates.
Start with Shorter or Easier Books
If you’re brand new to audiobooks, you may want to start with shorter or easier books so you can build your attention span and adapt to a new format of reading.
Consider trying middle grade or young adult novels, which may be shorter. They also tend to be a little easier to follow, if that’s a challenge for you.
Don’t be fooled by the age designation on these; there are some truly amazing middle grade and YA novels that I love as an adult reader. Here are a few:
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
- Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed
- Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
- Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Stay Engaged While Listening
Pause your listening anytime you find yourself distracted, so you don’t miss out key moments. Using headphones with an easily accessible pause button makes this easy.
Most apps offer the option to jump backward 15 seconds or so (sometimes you can customize this). I frequently hit that button multiple times if I need to hear something again, or when I need to reorient myself in the book when I start it up again after a break.
Headphones in general help keep me more immersed in a story. My favorites are bone-conduction headphones because I can listen while out and about while still being fully aware of my surroundings. I feel much safer listening while walking (admittedly, a large dog that doesn’t like people helps, too).
One of my favorite tricks when listening while walking: turn OFF your audiobook for the last 10 minutes or so of your walk. Walking has so many benefits, including increased creativity.
Finishing my walk without any input means that my mind is still on the audiobook I’ve been listening to. I have some of my most meaningful reflections in those few minutes at the end of my walks.
Another tip to ensure you’re engaged: make sure you don’t pick up your phone and start reading–something so many of us do automatically throughout the day.
Emails, social media, text messages–they all grab our attention and it’s so easy to find you’ve lost several minutes of a book while you were reading. Just pause your audio anytime you get distracted by something else on your phone.
Experiment with Narration Styles
When choosing an audiobook, consider the narrator’s voice, tone, and speed of narration. Listen to samples before buying or borrowing to get a sense of the narrator’s style.
Keep in mind that if you find the regular pace of the narration too slow, you may want to speed it up. I usually start at 1.5 speed and adjust from there.
Also consider that some audiobooks have multiple narrators. You may want to try a full-cast audiobook (such as Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid) or one that just has a few narrators for key characters (try romance novel Forget Me Not by Julie Soto or the literary novel One Two Three by Laurie Frankel, which has a different narrator for each of the triplets in the book.
Everyone has different preferences; I tend not to love full-cast, because I lose track of who is speaking when so many different actors are jumping in, but I do like audiobooks that have 2-3 narrators.
Keep a Reading Journal
Making brief notes on the books I listen to helps me so much, particularly because of that visual vs. auditory learning style I mentioned.
I like to make notes on the story, my thoughts, emotions, and sometimes quotes. This can be harder to do if I’m out walking or doing chores, but in general I just try to remember the things that kept me immersed in the book, again because I like to assist my auditory memory with writing and visual prompts.
Also, make note of any narrators you find particularly engaging (or not so engaging); I now have a few favorite narrators and will listen to almost any book they lend their voice to.
Need a reading journal? Here are some great options:
Listen to a Variety of Genres:
As I mentioned above, your listening style may be different from your print reading style, so don’t be afraid to try something entirely out of your wheelhouse.
I have success with romance and mysteries on audio, but I do also read those in print. Genres that are mostly audio-only for me are memoirs, essay collections, and nonfiction in general.
I’ve also picked up a few sci-fi novels on audio, something I almost never do in print. I even have a few classics in mind to try on audio, because I tend not to pick them up at all in print.
One of the great advantages of audiobooks is that they allow you to experience new genres and literature types that may not have interested you previously.
It’s worth trying a variety of genres, from classics and political memoirs, to thrillers and fantasy, to see what you might enjoy.
Multitask while Listening
I love to put on an audiobook while I do household chores (laundry, yardwork, decluttering, even cooking), while driving, while walking, while working out (lifting weights works best for me–I’m less successful at listening while running or doing other cardio workouts).
A great audiobook makes all of these activities more enjoyable, and I tend to stick with them longer.
Audiobooks can also be a lifesaver for travel; I listen while running errands, sure, but playing a great audiobook on a long road trip can keep everyone in the car entertained.
If you’re on a plane, try putting in your headphones, closing your eyes, and listening to a story. Air travel these days can be awful, and immersing yourself in a great audiobook is sure to make it better.
Read Along with the Print Version
One interesting listening approach is to listen to the audiobook while following along with the print version. This is the opposite of the multi-tasking approach, but it can work well if you’re having trouble focusing or if you’re trying to learn something.
Reading while listening can give you the best of both auditory and visual processing. I haven’t done this a lot, but I plan to try it with a classic and possibly some nonfiction books that I particularly want to learn from.
Where to Get Audiobooks
The Best Audiobooks to Start Listening Today
These reading lists have my favorite audiobooks across multiple genres. Check back as you need recommendations–I’ll continue adding to these lists!
- Fast-Paced Contemporary Fiction Audiobooks
- Must-Listen Historical Fiction Audiobooks
- Twisty Mystery and Thriller Audiobooks
- Immersive Literary Fiction Audiobooks
- Riveting Audiobook Memoirs to Add to Your Listening Queue
- The Best Romance Audiobooks to Get Your Heart Racing
- Smart-but-Light Audiobooks for Easy Summer Listening