The best way to listen to an audiobook (so you enjoy it)

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Do you hate audiobooks? If so, you’re not alone. A lot of people do. 

But, then there are those people…the ones who thought they hated audiobooks until, one day, they didn’t anymore. They realized they liked audiobooks. Even loved them. Now, they’re always raving to you about their latest {amazing} listen.

So, what changed for them? And how can it change for YOU?

The best way to listen to an audiobook is to follow these steps:

  1. Pick a story you’re already familiar with.
  2. Start with 1x playback speed, and then increase it.
  3. Allow yourself to focus on those first few chapters.

If you start the audiobook right, then you greatly increase your chances of sinking into the story and loving every second. It’s really as easy as that. 

I’m going to explain each of these three steps in detail, but first, lemme ask this question…

Why do some people hate audiobooks?

Is it because they can’t concentrate, or they’re just not “auditory learners”? 

Mmmm…it’s possible, but I’d wager that it’s because they didn’t start off on the right foot when they pressed play.

If you’re one of those people who has a hard time getting into an audiobook, don’t despair. By starting an audiobook right, you can set yourself up for a super-satisfying reading experience. 

Why is the beginning of an audiobook so important?

The beginning of an audiobook is the most mentally taxing. Why? Because everything about the story is new to you, and you don’t (really) care about the book yet. These two thumbs-down factors make it very tempting to bail in those early chapters.

Characters, places, years, settings…it’s all getting thrown at you…and it’s a lot to remember. If the book has multiple POVs or it jumps back and forth through time, then whew! In a snap, you’re all jumbled. You stop listening and have no desire to continue. Or you conclude, this book is no good.

The beginning is also when you are least invested in the story, and it’s when you’re earnestly asking, “Do I care? Why should I?” It’s natural to ask this, but you have to give the book a fighting chance to make you care.

In short, you’ve got to push through the beginning.

As you progress through the book, THEN you don’t have to work so hard to remember who’s who and where’s where and what’s what. And, hopefully, by this time, you care about the characters and what happens to them enough to keep pressing play. THIS is the point when audiobook haters (magically) become audiobook lovers.

Starting right is huge. That’s why my tips focus on setting you up for success in that critical stage of beginning an audiobook.

Learning to love audiobooks can enrich your reading life SO much. Plus, listening on audio is a great way to get back into reading if you’ve been in a slump (or full-on hibernation). 

How to START listening to audiobooks

Here’s the best way to listen to an audiobook, according to me. These three steps will set you up for audio success.

1. Pick a story you’re already familiar with

You may be like, “Nuh-uh, I want a NEW story, not something I already know.” But hear me out.

Listening to a story you’re already familiar with is much easier than starting from zero with something brand new. 

I love to listen to a book after I’ve seen the screen adaptation. This works especially well with challenging classics. (It’s how I motivated myself to tackle Bleak House and Wives and Daughters.)

There are (literally) thousands of book-to-screen adaptations to choose from. Pick one that you loved watching, and listen to the book on audio.

You’ll be surprised by how easily you sink into the story—your poor ol’ brain doesn’t have to sort out characters, plot points, or themes. You already know all of that stuff. 

Remind yourself that you’re not reading for plot. You’re reading to experience the story—the full story as originally conceived. 

Don’t worry about getting bored. A familiar story has its perks! 

  • As characters come onstage, they do so as old friends (or enemies). 
  • When the timeline jumps ahead or falls into a flashback, you aren’t blindsided. 
  • Plot holes get filled. 
  • A character’s motivation is explained. 
  • The backstory that got clipped from the film is revealed.

Personally, I love listening to stories I know well. It’s wonderfully stress-free and calming. TRY IT.

(FYI: You can ditch step 1 after you become a more experienced listener.)

2. Start with 1x playback speed, and then increase it

I usually listen to the first few chapters of a new book on 1x speed, which is the original recording speed. It often sounds suuuuuuper sloooooow to me. But starting slow helps me better follow the setup at the beginning. 

I’ll say it again, the beginning is the most brain-popping part of the story because nothing is familiar, and your mind is working overtime to make sense of it all. Give your sweet self some grace, and start with 1x speed.

After I get my bearings in the book, I up the speed, listening at 1.4 to 1.6x.

After I get my bearings in the book, I up the speed, listening at 1.4 to 1.6x. You should increase it, too. Know why? Here’s why:

  • You’ll move through the story faster, which’ll decrease the likelihood that you get bored and quit.
  • The slow cadence of the narration won’t put you to sleep. (It happens!)

Some people can listen at up to 2x or faster. But beware: Increase the speed too much, and you increase your chances of losing the narrative thread. (All it takes is one distracted minute, and you’re totally lost.)

Bonus: Upping the speed reduces the total time it takes to listen to the book. Top-quality audiobook players will automatically recalculate the playback time when you change the speed.

3. Allow yourself to focus on those first few chapters

Once again: The beginning is the part of the book that requires the most effort on your part. Give the book a fair chance to grab your attention. Do this by reducing background “noise” during this critical part of the story.

I love listening to audiobooks when I’m doing chores or driving. Every now and then, though, I realize that a brand-new recipe I’m cooking or the unfamiliar streets that I’m driving have overtaken all my mental faculties, and I’ve stopped listening to the book altogether. 

So, I try to START a new audiobook when I’m doing something mindless and can give the story my (nearly) undivided attention. I know that this has made the difference between me loving vs. abandoning an audiobook.

Doo-dads that’ll help you to get started with audiobooks

For some people, the best way to listen to an audiobook is with wireless earbuds. I never understood why anyone would buy wireless earbuds until I got a pair (these ones). They are insanely convenient. The sound is literally inside my ear, so I never have to worry about missing a syllable, and I don’t have to physically carry my phone around with me as long as I stay within range.

Don’t forget that you can play your audiobook through Amazon Alexa, Echo, or whatever smart home device you use. That way, the narration fills the air around you and gives you that fantastic feeling of being “totally immersed” in the book.

When you’ve got to stop your audiobook over and over again (because life is too loud, or your phone is charging) it can be hard to sink into the story. Wireless earbuds and smart home devices help reduce stops, which can go a long way toward your listening satisfaction.

You may also want to have a hard copy of the book on hand. This helps in two ways:

  1. You can make notes and highlight passages you don’t want to forget. (Most audiobook players support bookmarking, but it’s not super-helpful IMO.)
  2. You can visually see the book’s organization and skim (or skip) chapters you’re not interested in. I do this with nonfiction.
  3. You can read the print copy when you’re not listening and finish the book faster. This helps with really long audiobooks.

After you’re comfortably settled into the audiobook, listen however you want

Once you’re rolling with your audiobook, these three rules no longer apply. You’re free! 

Up the playback speed to 3.0 if you want. Listen wherever and however you please. Find your own happy place in audio heaven.

(By the way, here are a few sweet spots online where you can listen to audiobooks for free.)

That brings me to one last (important) question…

What to DO while listening to an audiobook?

I love to be productive, so I often listen to audiobooks while I’m folding laundry, doing dishes, watering the garden, cooking dinner, or performing any manner of chore-like action.

When I worked outside the house, I listened on my commute. Road trips. Even your daily run or walk is perfect listening time. Audiobooks can add a lot of joy to mundane activities and routines.

But—secretly—I adore listening to an audiobook while also doing something totally unproductive and relaxing.

I love to listen to an audiobook while knitting. Or crocheting. The rhythmic motion of my hands with the flow of the narrator’s voice…oh, baby, oh. 

What’s your favorite handsy hobby? Here are a few calm, quiet things you can do while listening to an audiobook:

  • Puzzles
  • Coloring
  • Needlepoint
  • Card-making
  • Scrapbooking
  • Paint by number
  • Beading
  • Sketching

If you’re more of an outdoorsy gal, then there’s always gardening or a good ol’ fashioned walk in the park with your dog.

Or go for pure, unadulterated R&R: Listen while you sink into a bubble bath or soak your feet in some scented Epsom salt.

Don’t underestimate how good reading books can be for your mental and spiritual health.

Congrats! Now you know how to get started with audiobooks—the “right” way. 😉

Now, YOU tell me. How do you feel about audiobooks? What’s your best advice for an awesome listening experience? Were you an audio-hater once upon a time?

Need a book rec?

Here’s my list of compulsively readable books to start your audio journey.

More along these lines…

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