Last January, the first day I got into the car to drive to my new job at the Book Shop, I flipped through the radio stations, finally settling on NPR. I listened to NPR all that week on the 25 minutes there and back, which was fine, but all the while I was wondering, what do people do in the car on a driving commute? You see, I’d never driven to work before. For the past 20 years, I’d always had a job to which I could take the bus or the train. And so, of course, I had always read a book on my commute. My jobs have always required a lot of reading, never more so than now. But I couldn’t read a book while driving—or could I?
Enter the audiobook. One of our first new partners at the Book Shop was Libro.fm, a company that allows customers to purchase audiobooks through independent bookstores. (Audible, the most popular audiobook provider, is owned by Amazon. Libro.fm operates on a very similar platform; you can get the same monthly subscription package or buy audiobooks individually, but the profits are split with your local bookstore.) I wanted to give Libro.fm a try myself and this was also a way I could “read” on my commute. I created an account, downloaded the app, and was ready to go.
It took me a little while to figure out which types of books I like to listen to. I found that listening to my first love, literary fiction, my attention tended to wander. It turns out I can better process a more lyrical description by looking at it on the page. I figured out that I needed a fast-moving plot to keep me focused on the story. Mysteries and thrillers or a good rom-com fit the bill. The cli-fi (an increasingly popular term for “climate fiction”) thriller Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer, followed by The Dry by Jane Harper, a mystery set on the coast of Australia, were two of the first that captured me and held on tight.
Speaking to other audiobook enthusiasts, I’ve come to learn just how much narration matters. Admittedly I have on occasion immediately turned an audiobook off after realizing how much I really don’t like listening to that particular narrator. But I didn’t realize how devoted some listeners are to particular readers, listening to whichever books they read regardless of story. Because I’m still getting to know which narrators I like, I’ve found the audio samples available for each title on the Libro.fm website particularly helpful. The voice acting performed on an audiobook is part of the joy of the experience.
I loved listening to Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, partly because it’s a captivating story set in an Indigenous community I knew little about, and partly because of the spectacular narration by Isabella Star LeBlanc, who integrates Ojibwe words and phrases beautifully and seamlessly. Similarly Saskia Maarleveld narrated Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy, admirably. It’s a novel about an Australian woman reintroducing the wolf to the Scottish highlands and Maarleveld’s various accents and voices worked so well to convey the drama of the story.
To get started on Libro.fm, find our storefront at libro.fm/bookshopbeverly. I’m currently listening to Apples Never Fall by Lianne Moriarty, narrated by Caroline Lee, which has me looking forward to my commute each day. Let me finish by saying that I’m aware there’s a debate raging as to whether or not audiobooks count as reading. Friends, I promise you, it all counts.