Jan 14

This week, a special episode answering all of your questions about audiobooks! Thanks to all of our listeners who submitted questions. I hope our answers make sense!

We tackle such tough questions as:

  • Do audiobooks “count” as actually having read the book? (Michael and I disagree on abridged audios, though).
  • How do you decide what you’re going to read and what you’re going to listen to?
  • What do we think of “performed” accents in audiobooks?
  • Is it possible to like a book better on audio than in print?
  • How do the number of listening hours relate to the number of pages in a book?
  • Can we play snippets of audiobooks on the podcast when we talk about our Audiobooks.com audiobook of the week? (Short answer: no, but we always link to a sample in the show notes for each podcast episode).
  • Who are the best fiction audiobook readers?
  • How are footnotes included in audiobooks?
  • How do you listen to audiobooks when other people are around?

Specific audiobooks that we mention in this episode:


audiobooksAudiobook of the week (35:24)

The Swerve The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, read by Edoardo Ballerini,  is my pick for this week’s Audiobooks.com Audiobook of the Week.

Special thanks to Audiobooks.com for sponsoring this episode of Books on the Nightstand.

Audiobooks.com allows you to listen to over 40,000 audiobooks, instantly, wherever you are, and the first one is free. Download or stream any book directly to your Apple or Android device. Sign up for a free 7-day trial and free audiobook download by going to www.audiobooks.com/freebook

  • Susie

    Timely topic. Thanks to BOTNS I have listened to two audiobooks in the last couple of months. Can’t wait to listen to this when I go to exercise tonight! Oh and I think listening to The Rosie Project (a BOTNS suggestion and also my January book club selection) actually enhanced the story for me.

  • Michelle

    As I have a 45 minute commute one way to work, I have become an avid fan of audiobooks. I find that I tend to listen to the books that are longer in length and ones that I would normally not read or books that are recommended to me. I’m a fan of Scott Brick as an audiobook narrator. He narrates a lot of books from different genres.

  • macisbest2

    Cant wait for the discussion about “The Goldfinch” This is the longest book I have listened to from audible.com and I have to say that I have a lot of mixed emotions about the book and the narrator.

  • One thing I really enjoy about audiobooks is the way they slow me down and force me to listen to every word. I have a tendency to skim if I’m enjoying the plot of a book and want to find out what happens next. I’ve found that in listening to the Alexander McCall-Smith #1 Ladies Detective Agency books, especially, that I get a lot more enjoyment out of the listening because I hear the lovely descriptions of the landscapes of Botswana. I also found a great deal of enjoyment in the Harry Potter audiobooks because of the funny words and how they were pronounced. I’m assuming the reader for those books spent some time with the author, learning how those crazy, made-up words sounded.

  • matthewdicks

    Just heard the podcast. It’s true that there are wireless headphones on my head almost all the time (including now), and it’s true that I have found myself teaching, speaking, storytelling, stepping into the shower and going to bed with them on. And yes, it’s a little rude to have them on all the time. But two important things:

    1. My wife understands.
    2. I’m willing to be a little rude if it means I get to hear more stories.

    I listen ALL THE TIME. Walking, chores, driving, brushing my teeth, mowing the lawn, correcting papers. Oftentimes I’m listening to a book while reading something on the Internet.

    I can’t remember anything that I see. I have no visual memory at all. Elysha claims that I would be hard pressed to pick her out of a lineup of brunettes. Not true, but not far from the truth.

    But I remember everything I hear. And I can listen to audio while doing almost anything and lose almost nothing in the translation. I’ve been caught watching TV and listening to a book at the same time.

    But Ann’s right. It’s a little rude. Certain members of Elysha’s family hate the fact that I walk around with earphones perched atop my head, even if they are off my ears. But in the pursuit of reading and books, it’s a price I’m willing to pay.

    • Steven

      My wife understands as well–that’s very important.

  • Dogeared Copy/Tanya

    I have so much I would have loved to have been able to contribute to this podcast; but I will restrain myself to responding to a couple of the non-subjective points:

    At one point, the Audiobooks Publishers Association did a survey and discovered that most people were willing to listen to an audiobook that was about 8 hours long. That is considered the average and by default, anything less than 8 hours long is considered short and, anything longer than 8 hours is considered long. In the early days of the industry, many audiobook publishers abridged the books down to the 8 hour mark; BUT it turns out that U.S. listeners prefer unabridged instead and so abridgments are fewer and farther between. n.b. – The UK supports a stronger market for abridged audiobooks than the U.S. though that is changing too.

    Also, the length of an audiobook has no correlation to page count, but on word count, density of the material and the narrator’s pace.

    The general rule about accents in audiobooks is that the characters do not speak in accents unless they are out of their native country; but this has many, many, many exceptions and is up to the discretion of the audiobook producer. Simon Vance had Lisbeth speak Anglicized Swedish throughout The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (U.S. editions); but Saul Reichlin (UK editions) had Lisbeth speak heavily accented Swedish when she was in the Caribbean; And again, Mark Bramhall, when narrating The Hypnotist, (by Lars Kepler) used his American voice, but used Swedish pronunciations.

    Footnotes are included if the footnote can be incorporated into the text, are interesting and do not interfere with the narrative. One reason that you may think that the footnote has not been included is because the narrator did it well. The number of the footnote is never included. If the footnote is a wild tangent, boring or overly referential (e.g. “Ibid, page 40”) then the footnote is not included. In Beat the Reaper (by Josh Bazell,) Robert Petkoff included the footnotes; but in much of non-fiction, the footnotes are deleted in the audio. Extra material, like recipes, special charts and illustrations can be included in an accompanying pdf file and depends on whether the audiobook publisher can obtain permissions (another set of rights, like music) from the print publisher.

    P.S. – I love Simon Vance and Grover Gardner has narrators too! 😉

  • Steven

    Podcasts are something that I do in gulps: I love binge listening. I especially love to listen to the audiobooks of classics that I want to read but never have. Madame Bovary and Charles Dickens fell into this category. Sometimes, too, the audiobook was the only way to keep up with the recommendations, especially from your podcast. Although the cost of audiobooks is expensive, I’ve been able to get around this with an app called OVERDRIVE. My first audiobook experience was with Jim Dale, the narrator of the Harry Potter series, which he made come alive. He used different voices or inflections that were amazing. However, that experience spoiled me as I compared others to him. I prefer readers like Simon Vance, whom you mentioned, as well as Rosalyn Landor and John Lee, who read Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Someone had a question about footnotes, and I did have an experience reading Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (read by the author I think). He read the footnotes, and I must confess that while I enjoyed the extra information, I found the reading of them distracting and would prefer to have read the footnotes on the page. I like footnotes too. My apologies for going on…I meant this to be more helpful and more succinct.

    • Dog Eared Copy/Tanya

      The commercial edition of Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read was actually narrated by Grover Gardner. If I recall correctly, it actually was Grover Gardner himself who decided to include them, as without them, the narrative lost its point and its intrinsic style! and; the audiobook publisher agreed with him. Oh well, not every book works for everybody! 🙂

  • An1081

    Great show. I’m currently reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which has lots and lots of endnotes. I find it terribly annoying to have to go back and forth between the text and the endnotes. It would be interesting to see how this has been done in the audiobook (as I understand from one of the comments below that they may or may not be incorporated into the reading).

  • Jessica

    What a great episode! I have often felt like listening to audiobooks is cheating but you have helped me overcome that haha. I tend to choose books that are under 10 hours because I don’t drive too much and I find I get antsy if it takes me over 2 weeks to finish it. Also, I choose books that I feel like I’ll never get to in print form for whatever reason, which is usually young adult fiction. Thanks for another interesting topic!

  • Rosario

    Im currently listening to One Summer, by Bill Bryson, narrated by Bryson himself, and that has quite a few footnotes. The way Bryson does it is to simply go “Footnote” at the appropriate place and just read it out. I’m fine with that approach, although I wish he’d also say “End footnote”, as it’s hard to know when he’s gone back to the main rext.

  • Emma

    I’m listening to The Goldfinch now and can recommend it on audio. I have gotten frustrated in the constant tangents of this book, and it’s nice to have someone speaking it too me. I’ve asked myself several times if it would keep my attention if I had to hold the big fat book in my hands. I tend to scan when I’m getting bored, so I think listening to this book means I’m actually getting all the plot points.

  • Mary Galvin

    In regard to footnotes, Going Clear by Lawrence Wright used them extensively. The narrator noted that a footnote was beginning, read the footnote, and said end footnote. It was perfect.

    • Toni Clark

      Yes, i’ve heard footnotes done this way too in audiobooks.

  • Augusta Hawkins

    I love audiobooks, so I really loved this episode. But I have to disagree with you about books read by the author. There are certainly some who are terrible readers, but I do like the idea that we are hearing the story as intended by the author, without the filter of third person’s interpretation. And some authors do a superb job. For example, anything Neil Gaiman reads is a treat. And I just finished Fantastic Tales of Ray Bradbury, a collection of short stories selected and read by the author, with each story prefaced with his thoughts about it. He’s not the most accomplished performer, but hearing him read his own work, giving it the inflection and emotion that he intended, was much better than a polished performance by a professional who had no emotional connection with it.

    In any case, you can always find the book on Audible and listen to a sample first, to get a sense of the reader’s competence. I’ve done that when trying to decide between several versions of a classic, like Pride and Prejudice.

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