By Hira Imran
Recently, I found myself struggling to get through Dune by Frank Herbert. Not having much experience with heavy, world-based science fiction novels, my initial excitement to read all about the desert planet of Arrakis quickly turned into confusion and constant backtracking. I couldn’t grasp the context as easily as I had hoped, or even begin to imagine how some of the words and names were meant to be pronounced. There were times I couldn’t tell between sarcasm and shame or happiness and indifference. I asked a good friend of mine who loves the series how they had managed to get through it. A very adamant tone reached me from the other end: “You need to get your hands on the audiobook.”
My initial reaction was complete and utter rejection. An audiobook? Were they joking? I’d always been a loyal supporter of physical books and the charm they possess. The best part of the reading experience, to me, was the beautiful smell of old paper and binding glue; the thin, crinkly paper skimming between my fingers. I wanted the “full” experience and nothing less. I could never listen to an audiobook, especially not for a book this long! But I was desperate. I snuck in a quick Google search and suspiciously listened to the first five minutes of the recording. Not even 30 seconds went by and I was struck dumb. It was like listening to a solved Rubik’s cube or hearing a word puzzle being unscrambled. There were small streams of ambient music and different people voicing different characters, making for a book experience I had never even considered a possibility. I fell in love immediately and finished the 21-hour audiobook in less than a week.
I learned so painfully late in life that audiobooks are creative, thoughtful, (usually) one-person performances. A wonderful example of this is the audiobook for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, read by Cathleen McCarron. McCarron drastically changes her voice for different characters: an English accent for the protagonist, an impeccable Scottish accent for her peers, and an eerie, chill-inducing voice for Eleanor’s deranged mother. When the recording was over, I realized I would not have enjoyed the book as much if I had read it on my own. At that moment, I looked down and found myself unashamedly at the helm of the audiobook boat.
Memoirs narrated by the authors themselves have been among my most impactful audiobook experiences, like Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Chanel Miller is the survivor of the heartbreaking Brock Turner case that dominated the news in 2015. Miller went by “Emily Doe” at the time to remain anonymous. In Know My Name, she comes forward with her story and her identity, and to top it off, she narrates the audiobook herself. Listening to someone tell their own story imbues a deeper sense of power and intimacy you simply cannot feel when reading on your own. Whether it’s to better grasp pronunciations, listen to a mini movie while you clean the house, or hear someone tell you their personal story, audiobooks rarely fail to deliver.