choosing the right audiobook

Welcome to the second part of the HOW TO AUDIOBOOK series. If this is the first post you’ve come across be sure to also read Part 1: Where to buy and borrow audiobooks.

As a kid I loved the series Adventures in Odyssey, and listened to episodes on cassette tapes before bed. Family road trips often included a stack of “books on tape” to listen to on the drive. And, as audiobooks have become more popular and easily available, I have loved integrating them into my daily life and commute.

However, I know that this is not the case for all readers, so I have taken my experience (aka a lot of trial and error) listening to audiobooks and come up with some helpful guidelines. I also address the issues I most often hear people have with audiobooks. This post will hopefully help you better choose the audiobooks that are right for you.

the fatal mistake when choosing an audiobook

One massive mistake that people make when selecting audiobooks is that they try to listen to whatever book is next on their TBR list. Listening to an Audiobook is a completely different experience than sitting down with a book and reading, therefore you need to approach selecting audiobooks differently. How you normally choose what to read probably won’t serve you well when selecting an audiobook. Much in the same way that we learn what kind of books we like, it takes time and practice to learn what kind of audiobooks we like as well.


  1. When and where are you going to listen to this book?

    If you are on the beach, soaking up the sun, without a care, except to listen to your audiobook, then you want to pick a very different book then if you are going to listen to it while working on another task.

  2. Why do you want to listen to this rather than read it?

    If you don’t have a good answer to this question that might be a sign that you shouldn’t listen to this Audiobook. Listening to an audiobooks is different than reading the physical book. This means that not every book will be a good audiobook and not every kind of audiobook will be the right one for you.

  3. Do you enjoy the narrator’s voice?

    This is a legitimate question, and something that you shouldn’t ignore. If you find the narrators voice irritating or hard to listen to this will likely taint your impression of the book. Additionally, a narrator who reads too quickly might make it impossible to keep up with the book’s topics or plot, and a slow narration can make it hard to stay engaged and interested. (Most apps do give you the ability to increase or decrease the speed of the audiobook.)

3 types of audiobooks to Avoid

  1. Too Intense:

    If your goal is to listen to an audiobook while completing other tasks, then it is important that you can passively listen to the story or subject matter. Books with complex plots, many characters, or tedious details can be impossible to keep up with.

    I have listened to these kinds of books before and found myself standing at the sink, water running, staring at the wall completely engrossed in the story, having completely abandoned my dirty dishes.  

  2. Too Intellectual:

    Books that cover deep or more academic subject matters can be incompatible with the audiobook format, depending of course on how you best learn.

    There have been books that I have started on audio only to realize that I was getting lost in the new terms or elaborate ideas and that I wanted to annotate. Switching to a hard copy of the book was much better format for me.

  3. Too Long:

    Especially when borrowing from the library, it is important to ask “can I realistically listen to 14 hours of audiobook before this title is due?”

don’t fear Technology Overload

Some people feel timid or cautious about bringing more technology into their lives. I understand wanting to avoid downloading more apps and giving yourself another reason to reach for, or be reliant on, your phone. However, I have found that audiobooks help me disengage from the screen and do the things I wish I did more often.  

When a book is engaging I find myself looking for things to do to as an excuse to keep listening. Sometimes this sends me to my to-do list of household chores or to a new set of watercolors. I find this valuable.

Creating a habit of listening to audiobooks can easily translate into a habit of sitting down and reading a book. In my experience, the more I read the more I want to read, and this includes audiobooks. It is possible that listening to audiobooks can be the first step in cultivating a reading habit or a desire to read.

listening to audiobooks is not “cheating”

Many people truly believe and insist that listening to an audiobook is “cheating” or doesn’t really count as reading. (If you believe that is true, read THIS). The truth is, audiobooks and “regular” books are not the same, but one is not superior to the other.

Audiobooks are accessible to people in a way that books and reading might not be, and there is no merit in shaming the act of listening to an audiobook or those who choose to consume material that way. Audiobooks have a lot of value and potential that you can’t get from a traditional reading experience. For more on this be sure to read 11 Reasons I Love Audiobooks.