Reading with my ears

With this whole being pregnant thing going on, I’m exhausted all the time. Add in trying to get freelance writing work (impossible), preparing the nursery and learning everything about pregnancy and infants (daunting), and trying to secure a mortgage for our house (lots of paperwork), I haven’t had a lot of time to read books. I’ve read a few young adult books. I’ve managed to keep up on the Social Q’s section of the New York Times. I’ve watched 44 episodes of The West Wing. None of these activities are particularly intellectually stimulating. I want to improve myself, but every time I try to read quality writing (sorry young adult authors) my eyes glaze over.

When my sister-in-law visited over the Fourth of July she mentioned listening to her book group selections as audio books. She used the website Audible (, a service she subscribed to. I’m cheap and I still get a great discount on books where I work, so I wasn’t really willing to pay for audio books. I know that the ones we sell are expensive — they involve paid professional readers and substantial production and editing costs. The audio version of the average new book costs about $40. A new hardcover averages $27. Used audio books come in so rarely and are even more rarely a book I want to listen to. These factors mean I’ve never purchased an audio book. So my sister-in-law’s use of a subscription website to listen to books intrigued me.

I found quite a few websites with different subscription rates and benefits. But the free sites were more up my alley. LibriVox ( was the one I found most interesting. Some sites had kids books by one or two authors. Some had poetry, some were based on a certain genre, some had books “read” by computer. I hate the automated voice my health insurance requires me to “talk” to so I knew the computer generated content would not be for me. LibriVox stood out because everything is done by volunteers. It’s free because all of the books are in the public domain and the readers and proof-listeners volunteer their time.

This means that one book might be read by multiple different people, each lending their time and voice to a different chapter. While the proof-listeners can give feedback regarding reading style, mostly the books are edited for overlong pauses and repetition or stumbling over words. This means someone might have a strong accent or read faster than a listener may like. Deal with it, it’s free.

Most books published before 1923 in the U.S. are public domain here. Project Gutenberg has an extensive list of e-books that are in the public domain and LibriVox provides a link to the e-book text when you select an audio book. They also provide the Wikipedia links to the author and the book itself if it has one. My copy of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen downloaded in about seven seconds to iTunes. The books are also available in M4B format (whatever that is), a zip file, or as an RSS feed. Northanger Abbey also came with a cd case insert, a printable cd booklet, and downloadable album art.

There is only one reader for the version of Northanger Abbey I downloaded. Other versions might have more than one, but I think that for my first foray into audio books I’ll do best with one voice. So far she is steady and reads at a good pace. After a little research on how audio books are produced I know that an hour of audio takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to record. LibriVox also has a section where you can thank a reader for his or her work. I might send this reader a little note. If she gets me hooked on listening to books I’ll get a lot more done around the house. No more excuses like “I can’t wash the dishes I want to finish this chapter” or avoiding all of the yard work because reading and weeding don’t mix.

On second thought, maybe I don’t want to use audio books. Now my husband will expect me to vacuum and dust. Gross. Good thing I’m growing this baby, I can always plead exhaustion and lie down on the couch to listen to a good book while resting my eyes.

Kelly Hannon works in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

2 Responses to “Reading with my ears”
  1. Elizabeth Casterline says:

    Love the article, Kelly! As an avid reader and listener, let me welcome you inter the world of audio books! Don’t forget your library as a source, both online and in person. They even have little preloaded devices called Play Aways at most libraries that fit in your pocket, no need to load it onto your device.

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