In 2005, I checked out a battered cardboard box of CDs from my local library. Over the next week on my long commute into the city, I listened to an abridged version of The Woman Next Door by Barbara Delinsky.
It was my first audiobook, and my first Barbara Delinsky.
It wouldn’t be my last of either.
I fell in love with audiobooks, though at this time they were mostly called Books on Tape. You could listen to them only on multi-volume cassette tape or CD sets. It’s possible you could’ve downloaded them onto your iPod at this time—I didn’t have one, and don’t remember. But the iPhone was still two years away, and the idea of Audible—or downloading anything without wires to a device—was still mostly the stuff of science fiction novels.
Physical audiobooks were expensive compared to paper books—still are—but my local library was full of free ones.
I listened to every CD collection that interested me in the library, and then I moved onto the cassette tapes. My car didn’t have a tape deck, so I bought a portable cassette player, and I would just set it on the passenger seat and play the tapes without using my car’s stereo system.
What I would’ve given for Bluetooth back then (if I’d had any idea what it was!)
For me, genre fiction has always been the best audio experience. I don’t want a complicated novel with a long list of characters where I might need to flip back and check who’s who. I also don’t want meaty nonfiction where I might want to write something down or look something up.
While everyone else grumbled about their commutes, my secret was that I was having a blast.
I remember handing my badge to the parking lot attendant with tears streaming down my face while listening to the end of Nicholas Sparks’ True Believer. I hunted human criminals with Eve Dallas in J.D. Robb’s In Death series, and supernatural ones with MacKayla Lane in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. I practically lived under Stephen King’s dome with Barbie and Julia, a novel so long it required 30 discs. (And still my favorite audiobook.)
I was so surprised by a scene in Sandra Brown’s Play Dirty that I scraped the side of my car against a concrete jersey barrier while crossing the old Hulton Bridge. (If there’s one scene I wish I would’ve written, it was the heroine biting the hero’s thumb in Play Dirty—a master class in how to build sexual tension in a romance novel.)
I’ve listened to every leg of Jack Reacher’s journey, a good chunk of Sandra Brown’s backlist, and a wheelbarrow full of personal non-fiction essays, my favorites by Lisa Scottoline and her daughter Francesca Serritella.
I can still remember exactly where I was driving when Scottoline read aloud that her mother, a long-running character in her life and the essays, died.
I felt like I’d lost a friend.
The local library couldn’t keep up with my pace. I joined a service called Book Lender that was basically like the original Netflix, but for audiobooks. They’d mail me a physical audiobook, and when I was finished I’d send it back and they’d mail the next one in my queue.
It was expensive—$30 a month—but I’ve rarely spent money that gave me more satisfaction.
According to my reading log, my high-water mark of audiobooks was 2008, when I listened to 38 audiobooks. I regularly listened to 30+ books a year from 2008-2014.
Then I got a new job with a severely shortened commute. Instead of driving an hour plus each way, I was out of the house and at my desk in under twenty minutes.
It was great—more time, less money spent on gas, less wear and tear on the car—but had one huge unintended consequence—a drastic reduction in my audiobook listening.
I cancelled the service. I couldn’t get through enough books to justify it. And I began losing interest in the books, as a 15 minute chunk of listening just wasn’t enough to get into the story.
Then I found podcasts, which were better for short chunks of time.
I tried listening to audiobooks while exercising and taking walks, but it wasn’t quite the same. For me, audiobooks are somehow all tied up with driving.
Then the pandemic hit, and my anemic commute came to a complete stop. In 2021, I listened to a mere five audiobooks. Five!
I use Audible now, and the process for listening has never been easier, the selection never vaster. And yet I’m listening less than ever.
If ever do return to the office, or ever again have a punishing commute, at least I’ll have a huge backlog of audiobooks to look forward to.
Way back in the 1990s, I got hold of a 2-cassette tape edition of Isaac Asimov’s *Foundation*–an abridged version. That was my first audiobook and my last one for a long time. It wasn’t until 2013 that I tried audiobooks again and became hooked. Looking back at the 8 years I commuted between Studio City and Santa Monica, California every day for work, I regret not getting into audiobooks sooner. Think of all of the reading I could have gotten done in the average of 2 hours in the car each day!
Incidentally, although my first audiobook was abridged, I’ve come to loathe the idea of abridged books. When I am searching Audible, I have searches that deliberately exclude abridgements. I just don’t see the point.
By the way, we must be on the same wavelength today, since [my post today](https://jamierubin.net/2022/03/13/audiobook-economics/) was also about audiobooks (although I wrote my post on March 7.)
I did see that your post was on audiobooks and had the same thought – that great minds must indeed think alike. Though we certainly took the topic on from two completely different angles.
And I agree with you 100%….I don’t even know why abridged audiobooks exist, especially for novels. It actually drove me so nuts wondering what I had missed, that I ended up checking the hardback of the Delinsky book out of the library to see what I had missed.
I’m on the lookout always for abridged and avoid it like the plague!
That’s weird. My comment didn’t appear.
Strange, as I saw it in my notifications – it was about the dangers of driving while trying to listen! And I agree, I can’t always do it – if I’m going somewhere I’ve never been, I have to concentrate.
But I had a cure for cancer, the formula for cold fusion, and a roadmap for peace in Ukraine in there too!
Ah well, somebody else will have to handle all that.
‘I was so surprised by a scene in Sandra Brown’s Play Dirty that I scraped the side of my car against a concrete jersey barrier while crossing the old Hulton Bridge.’
This is what we in the biz call a pull quote, and I’d hope to see it on future editions of this book…
I still love that book. The plot is completely bonkers but Brown tells it so well that I buy every word of it.
Just keep your eyes and thoughts on the road; that’s always put me off listening to books in the car. I need all my attention on the windscreen and what’s happening on the other side of it…
Good advice. I can’t listen to them on a road trip the way some people. I can only do it when I’m on a well-traveled road to a place where I know the way.
Very sensible. I’d hate to be pulled over by the rozzers after causing an accident, and still have a Barbara Cartland novel blasting out of the car speakers, it would be a real giveaway about my state of mind…