Road Trips Are Decidedly Un-Geeky But Audiobooks Can Help Change That

All right, so, people may have been wondering where I have been all week. Or maybe you haven’t but I like to pretend that you were. Last week, I had finals on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday and – in true law student fashion – I spent the preceeding week and that week learning a semester’s worth of law school. Then, I went back to see my parents for the holidays. For most people that’s pretty simple. You hop in the car or hop on a plane and in less than a day you’re home. I, however, had a three (should probably be four) day drive from Arizona to New York ahead of me.

Doing a solo roadtrip like that is rough.

There are no good radio stations between Phoenix and Amarillo – unless you’re a really big fan of mariachi, Christian rock, or Evangelical sermons. And, honestly, even when there are good radio stations you can only listen to the same sequence of twenty odd songs before you get tired of hearing them and known every word by heart. I didn’t think I would ever get tired of the Lumineers but after this road trip we’re on a bit of a break.

The same thing happens when you’re using your own iPod. You already know all that music so their’s no surprise. And if you try listening to Sirius Radio on a weekend they just repeat the same Top 50-100 count down when it comes to an end. Literally. It ends, they restart it. And the scenery in the Southwest, as beautiful as it is, never changes.

It’s worse, I think, for the nerds and geeks among us. I count myself in that number, obviously. As a people we generally get out kicks out of things like movies, television, video games, board games, reading books and comics, and our wide variety of hands-on hobbies. Unfortunately you just cannot run a detailed experiment in a car alone by yourself for three days. (I can barely control my cats in a car for that long. )

So what do we do?

I have struggled with this question for years. And I spent those years miserably listening to the same twenty songs on various Top 40 and country stations. I listened to entire albums on my iPod over and over again just willing the time to pass faster.

And then someone convinced me to give audiobooks another try.

I say ‘another’ because I had listened to a few audiobooks before but I had never really liked them. I like to read. I really like to read. And I read really fast. In the time that it takes to listen to an audiobook I could probably read a book or two. Maybe a book and a half. Of course, it depends just as much on the book as it does on the audiobook. Some of them are just bad. The production value is low, the narrator is not engaging, or the book itself is just too long. And some stories I’d just rather experience on paper.

But if there’s one way to make roadtrips geekier it is by picking the right sci-fi or fantasy novel to listen to on the way.

Pick the right audiobook.

Now, at a certain length, audiobooks in my opinion start to take on qualities similar to those droning Top 40 stations. My trip – in its entirety, is maybe thirty-six hours. I have found that instead of getting an audiobook that will last the full drive you should try and break it up with smaller ones. That way you won’t get too bored of listening to the same person reading for some two to three days.

That only works if you’ve got a really long trip ahead of you, of course. I feel like your average audiobook is probably around ten hours. Allison Hewitt is Trapped – which in print form is ab out 350 pages – runs at just over eleven hours. Meanwhile Game of Thrones at well over eight hundred pages runs close to thirty four hours in audiobook form. If you’re going on a shorter road trip, you can probably get away with listening to one average sized audiobook the whole way there. But if you’re going on an extended trip like I have, I don’t recommend trying to tackle a larger one all at once.

When trying to pick a book you really need only look at what you were going to read yourself anyway. These days most books with any decent amount of press will have an audiobook version. It might come out a bit after the print version but they do generally tend to have them. It is important to read reviews, though, I think. If the narrator bothered other listeners then it will probably bother you.

Mix things up.

What I recommend instead is that you pick two or three decent sized audiobooks running from maybe eight to twelve hours long. When one is finished you can move to the next and engage yourself all over again with a new narrator and a new story. Otherwise you’ll wind up spending twenty six hours listening to the terrible narrator for the Host audiobook and wanting to gouge your eyes out. (I know this from experience.) Or you run the risk of getting tired of a story you actually really enjoy. (Like I did with a Discovery of Witches!)

If you do pick out a longer audiobook, make sure to mix things up by listening to the radio every now and again or listening to your iPod. You don’t want to get bored with it.

A few other tips:

  1. Try finding audiobooks with a full cast. Those are some of the best because it’s not just one narrator. Allison Hewitt is Trapped is based on a woman hosting a blog during the zombie apocalypse. It’s mostly just her speaking but each commentor at the end of each post is read by a different person.  It give the illusion of listening to a show where you’ve got multiple characters you can relate to and enjoy. Similarly, World War Z‘s abridged audiobook is one of the best ever because each interviewee is cast against the interviewer – the fictional version of Max Brooks. Cast members include Mark Hamill and Alan Alda among others.
  2. Consider looking into audio dramas. Similar to audiobooks with a full cast, audio dramas and radio plays are not just limited to one narrator. The BBC releases a number of them and if you’re a Doctor Who fan you can check out the Big Finish. They also have releases from the worlds of Stargate, Judge Dredd, and more.
  3. Look into YA Books – if you are a fan of them. Most YA books tend to be between 250 and 350 pages long which puts them at an average of twelve hours long in audiobook format. You can get through a few of these on a long road trip. They are also pretty easy to understand and keep up with so you can focus more on driving that trying to figure out what words mean, etc.
  4. First person works well in audiobooks. Even if you usually aren’t a fan of first person narration, consider them for roadtrips. It’s less like listening to someone lecture about a story and more like having someone tell you their own, personal story.

If you manage to pick up the right audiobook – or audio play, etc.  – you’ll find your drive getting a whole hell of a lot geekier. And that is certainly for the better. Roadtrips are a huge time commitment and we could all find better ways to use that time. At least when you pick up a few audiobooks you can feel a sense of accomplishment at having gotten a few books off your reading list at the very least.

But what’s the monetary commitment?

Now, I know that audiobooks can be expensive. Some tomes will be released with a $80 sticker tag but most go down to between $25 and $40. That’s still a lot, though. Especially when most books cost around $10 and those of us who still like to have a real book in our hands can pick them up at a library to make them absolutely free (minus the cost of overdue fees when we, you know, forget about them under a pile of papers for a couple weeks).

Luckily, you can do the same with audiobooks. A lot of tech savvy libraries have audiobooks that they can lend out online. You can download them to your iPod, iPhone, etc. and access them for a limited time. You could also consider joining Audible – the Amazon pseudo subscription spin off site that focuses on audiobooks if you become a total audiobook convert. You get a number of perks depending on how much you pay and you get some 30% off all purchases which has to be nice.

Any recommendations?

Well, I have a few. I really enjoyed the books I have mentioned previously – except, you know, the ones I said I did not. The Dresden Files series deserves a honorable mention all it’s own because with James Marsters’s performance as Harry Dresden it is one of the best audiobook series. Other than those books though, I would recommend:

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • The Perks of Being a Wall Flower by Stephen Chbosky
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
  • The Hobbit – the BBC Full Cast Dramatization
  • Argo by Antonio Mendez

As a bonus, check out the Red Necklace for some ridiculous voices from Tom Hiddleston.

This is not an exhaustive list; I’ll update it and post additional updates as separate posts later on.

Have any recommendations of your own? Leave them in the comments!

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