Like many good ideas, the beginnings of this post started while I was mowing the lawn. One of my favorite book podcasts was sponsored by Penguin Random House Audio, which was advertising its suggestions for audio book club picks. Having just finished listening to the last month’s book club pick myself, I was intrigued by the idea. In fact, if I was to give a name to my reading life in 2016, it would be The Year I Embraced Audiobooks. (2015 was The Year I Discovered Podcasts, so I’m clearly right on the cutting edge of technology.) I have no plans to join an all-audio book club (yet?), but I have started considering the audio availability and quality when I make a book club selection. I find myself bringing up the narration when discussing books with others, and I love comparing my listening experience with those who have read the book in print. With that in mind, here are some ways to make the most of audiobooks in a book club setting:
Choose books that are enhanced by the narration. This can include books read by the author (especially for memoir or humor), books with an above-average audio production (like this version of The Chronicles of Narnia), or books that take place abroad. It seems superficial, but listening to a story in London as read by a British narrator is wonderful. I feel inordinately pleased with my ability to pronounce names and places, and the whole feel of the book is enhanced by the narrator’s accent.
Take care with books that jump around in time or between large numbers of characters. When we read The Night Circus for book club earlier this year, one or two of the members mentioned it was very difficult to follow the story on audio. I had the same thought with A God in Ruins. Although I really enjoyed the book and the narrator, I would really have liked to be able to flip back through the pages to compare dates and details. On the other hand, I was really concerned about how The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would translate to audio (what with consisting entirely of letters between over a dozen characters), but it was fabulous. Multiple voice actors contributed to the production, which made it fairly easy to keep the characters straight.
Listen to an excerpt. One of my favorite parts of any book club is when the discussion turns to the next month’s pick. I love hearing about the selection and getting a feel for what to expect from the book. Hearing a selection of the audiobook during the introduction would be amazing, as would listening to a favorite passage when the group gathers to discuss the book after reading.
Talk about the listening experience. Even if only a few book club members listened to the book, make it a point to ask what they thought. We had a lengthy discussion at book club last month about whether or not a murder mystery is scarier in print or on audio. While I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, I attribute my new-found interest in mysteries to my audiobook obsession. Some of my favorite books this year have been mysteries (like this one), so much so that I tried reading one the other day. I barely made it a few pages in before I abandoned the book for something else. Turns out, I’m a much bigger fan of listening to mysteries than I am of reading them myself.
For more ideas on incorporating audiobooks into your book club, check out the Penguin Random House Audio page here. The website includes everything from audio-specific discussion questions to a list of recommended titles for book club listening. I would love to hear if you’ve listened to a recent book club pick on audio. How did it change the experience or group discussion? Am I the only one who enjoys non-fiction so much more on audio? And why in the world did it never occur to me to listen to some of my required reading in school?!