Friday 30 September 2016

Listen up for a pleasurable way to enjoy literature

Justine Carbery

Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30

Harry Potter
Harry Potter

Recently, during a long, sticky train journey through the Balkans, I rediscovered audio books. Previously I had taken CDs out of the library for my dad when his sight began to fail. I paid little heed, reckoning I was a long way off this mature preoccupation. But then I had to endure an eight-hour train journey in 42C heat, with no dining car or little trolley selling iced drinks in sight. It was so hot that the railway tracks melted and we had to crawl through the parched and glaring countryside with little entertainment.

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Everyone was too hot to speak, the energy required for such stimulation buried beneath the fug of sweaty indolence. That night, in the relative cool of a Serbian hotel, I downloaded my first audio book onto my iPhone.

The next day's journey on an airless bus with a smoking driver should have pushed me beyond my limits, the lack of air-conditioning driving my fellow travellers to melting point. But I plugged in and zoned out, chuckling away to myself. It was somewhat incongruous to be listening to Marian Keyes's The Woman who Stole my Life as we crawled through the hills of Bosnia, but wonderfully entertaining all the same. Our descent into Sarajevo was fraught with tension as ever more people clambered into the tiny bus, squeezing out the last of the air, filling the cauldron with unusual smells; earthy, heat-induced odours that clung to the seats, the roof, the very clothes we were wearing.

But I was oblivious, smiling like a dimwit, giggling and sometimes snorting with barely suppressed laughter. In what seemed like no time we stepped out onto the vibrant streets of that wonderful resilient capital. In contrast to my fellow travellers who seemed to have shrunk in the heat and stood like goldfish gasping for air, I was fresh as a daisy, refreshed and well-rested after my entertaining journey.

And so my love affair with audio books began. Next came David Nicholls's droll and insightful novel Us about a middle-aged married couple reassessing their relationship. JoJo Moyes's engrossing The Girl You left Behind followed. Now I'm about to download Patti Smith's Just Kids. Long walks, short runs, tedious bus journeys into town in rush-hour traffic have all been transformed by the ability to lose myself in the latest offering from the audio world.

With earphones in and the merest flick of a button, I am transported to another fictional world. As a busy mother and housewife, a lot of my time is spent on mundane tasks such as washing, hoovering, cooking, cleaning; all thankless, time-consuming tasks. With audio books, any activity that requires the use of your eyes and hands but not your ears is now potential reading time. How is this not every bookish person's dream come true? Audio books let you maximize your reading time, and enhance otherwise tedious activities.

Once upon a time you had to go to the library to get out an audio book, which usually consisted of tapes or CDs. They still exist, but newer technology makes listening even easier.

Now it is possible to download them onto your iPhone/iPad via Kindle/Amazon. Check out the Audible App in your phone's App or Play store. Or download them from iTunes. But isn't that expensive, I hear you ask? Believe it or not I have yet to pay for an audio book!

You can get the classics free on iTunes. Other sites give a month's trial period.

Others you have to pay for if you're looking for a particular book.

Most of the audio books I get come from my local library, without my ever having to visit. There's an App for that too. Download OneClickDigital and browse the thousands of titles available free from your library.

Try it, even those of you who protest that you still love the feel of paper, love the smell of opening a new book. All valid, of course, but listening to audio-books is an experience you should not miss, due in no small part to the wonderful narrators who bring the writing to life.

You will be enthralled by their phenomenal performances; Will Patton reading Stephen King, Stephen Fry declaiming Harry Potter, Meryl Streep's stunning rendition of Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary to name but a few.

And don't get me started on the benefits for children. Another time. Now I'm off to listen to a recent addition to my audio library: Outline by Rachel Cusk. Give audio a go. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday Independent

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