After many, many long car trips home to visit the family and then three years of working from my car, I have developed a set of firm criteria for evaluating audiobooks.  Some you can rule out by carefully reading the covers, but others will leave out key details (I hate audiobooks that don’t list recording length on the case, though now a smartphone can save you with some quick googling) or have surprise pitfalls (the VOICES! Eek).

  1. Length – Audiobooks should be between 8 and 16 hours long. If it the book is shorter than that, it will end too soon and you’ll be stranded on a work trip through the middle of nowhere with only spotty local radio to rely on. Not good. If it’s longer, I get sick of it. Even though I don’t mind physically reading long books, something about listening to a 20+ hour book makes me very antsy for the whole thing to be DONE.
  2. Reader – Oh dear. A good book can go terribly wrong with a bad reader. I once picked up a David Baldacci book on CD based on a recommendation, and it was AWFUL. Really, melodramatically awful. I couldn’t imagine WHY anyone would recommend it. When we talked about the book later, I realized my opinion of the whole story was swayed by the over-the-top, noir mystery voice the reader used. The other risk that you can’t assess from looking at the case? Voices. Oh dear, the voices. If it isn’t a children’s book, don’t use “voices.” Most readers use inflection or mild voice changes to indicate changing speakers, but for the love of all things audio, don’t use goofy voices. I returned a book after listening for just 15 minutes once because I just couldn’t handle it. Unfortunately I can’t warn you away from its crazyland voices because I’ve forgotten the title and can’t remember enough details to sufficiently conjure it up via google or my library’s website. (Poor people in shacks? A wake in the first chapter? New England? And did I mention the goofy voices on the audiobook?)
  3. Mood – Do you know how hard it is to jump out of your car and sell-sell-sell when you’re crying over a book? Yep. I discovered this the hard way thanks to Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking. The story is beautifully written, but thanks to this heartbreaker I check all book descriptions for phrases like “learning to live after the death of ___,” “dealing with the pain of ___,” or “zombie apocalypse.” What? Zombies don’t make you emotional? 😉

I often check out books on CD that I wouldn’t normally read (this means YOU, Baldacci and Giffin), but I find that  fast-paced mysteries or fluffy, fun tales can really make a car trip fly by, even if they don’t turn you into a fan of the author.

Now finding an audiobook that both the Hubs and I want to listen to? That’s another story…