KiMBALL PETERSON

AUTHOR - LIFE HACKER- CREATIVITY EXPLORER

Reading in Your Genre - Listening to Audible

If you want to write thrillers, or any genre for that matter, I think it’s critical to read widely. With all the other things I like or need to do during the day and early evening, I find this difficult.

But I’ve found a solution that really works for me. By the time it’s 9 pm or so, I’m sick of looking at the written word, so I do my ‘reading’ homework by listening to the unabridged audio versions on Audible.

What I’ve discovered is that I pick up the nuances of the story and the descriptions much better by listening rather than reading where I have a bad habit of skimming. I’ve learned a lot about pacing and description by listening carefully. One amusing thing that I’ve noticed in audio books is the use of adverbs by the authors. Writing instructors tell you that using adverbs is anathema. Guess what? Many of the best thrillers are full of them. An adverb well used is just fine.

Depending on my mood, I may take notes as I listen. But usually I put on my headphones and focus on the story unhindered by distractions. With headphones on and the lights off, there’s nothing to disturb me from a full immersion into the writer’s world. If I fall asleep, the next time I start the book, I simply ‘rewind’ to the last chapter I completely remember, and begin from there.

Is my process ‘active’ reading? Probably not, but I enjoy it and it enables me to keep up with my favorite authors when I otherwise might be wasting time watching TV. If I run into an Audible book that I want to study in detail, then I’ll also order the Kindle edition and highlight and note accordingly.

When I’m on a walk, I also frequently listen to a book, but more often nonfiction because walking (or driving) takes me out of the story. I also have Amazon’s Alexa ‘read’ non-Audible books to me when I’m doing chores and the like.

One thing to keep in mind with Audible. A lousy narrator/voice actor will ruin an otherwise great book. A great reader will really enhance your experience.

So don’t look just at the book description and the reviews. Find out about the voice actor. I love the Audible versions of the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke. Actor Will Patton is the reader and he brings the Louisiana setting to life in a way than reading the series just doesn’t. I think Patton is the single best voice actor of all the books I’ve listened to, although now it’s a treat to hear actor Titus Welliver reading the Bosch books written by Micheal Connelly. Having Welliver read the series he stars in on TV brings the Bosch character to life. However, I’d never read a Reacher book if it were read by Tom Cruise who stars in the movies. If you’ve read the Reacher series, you know that Cruise doesn’t fit the writer’s vision of the Reacher character at all. The actual series character has been read by Dick Hill who does a credible job although he sounds a bit old in the more recent books. Update: since I wrote this, Hill has retired from voice acting. I’ve started the newest Reacher book that’s just been released, and I must say I miss the familiar voice. And worse yet, the new reader has done another series I listen to, so I keep thinking of that character rather than Reacher.

One problem compared to Kindle: you can’t make highlights or notes. But if I find something interesting that I don’t want to forget, I simply pause the book and ‘write’ a note on Evernote by dictating using a mobile version of Dragon Naturally Speaking. It automatically goes where I want it. It’s quick and gives me a searchable note. I listen to my books on an iPad and dictate on my iPhone Dragon app so I’m not going back and forth on the same device.

I know that listening rather than reading is heresy to some people, but I’m sticking to it because it’s proven its effectiveness to me over the course of listening to 196 titles in my Audible library going back to 2013. As a reference point, I have 942 books in my Kindle library going back to 2007. So I’m still reading more than listening.

Affordability? Audible books are expensive. I subscribe to a recurring plan so I get two highly discounted credits per month, and I wait for the monthly sale where you can buy three credits at a much reduced price. This brings the price down to about what you’d pay for a Kindle book.

Which books do I still buy in paper form? Reference books mostly. They don’t translate well to digital editions. Or anything else I need to refer to often.

It’s now 10 pm and time to listen to tonight’s Audible selection. I’ve finally gotten around to listening to Dan Brown’s most recent book.

Pro tip: depending on the app you use, it’s possible to speed up narration speed. This works best for non-fiction. I like to savor my novels.