7 Tips to Effectively Listen to An Audiobook

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7 Tips to Effectively Listen to An Audiobook
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7 Tips to Effectively Listen to Audiobooks

Read more in less time.

I had always believed I would never have the attention span long enough to sit through an audiobook. I thought I would get distracted and lose track of the story; that audiobooks weren’t my thing.

This changed in 2019 when I gifted myself a Storytel subscription for my birthday. This was more like a knee-jerk reaction because I was on a self-imposed clothes-buying-ban and I already had a lot of unread paperbacks on my bookshelf. I didn’t know what else I could get for myself that would add value to my life, and hence, the subscription.

Fast forward to now: I am a huge fan of listening to audiobooks. I have one constantly running in my phone’s background — ready to be played at the slightest chance I get. I have listened to more than 30 audiobooks in the past year, and some of them have been genuinely life-changing.

If you are someone who believes audiobooks aren’t their thing, this article might change your mind. But, before we begin, here is a quick summary of how audiobooks changed my perspective towards reading-

  • The voice modulation and inflexions of a professional narrator make the author’s words come alive. It feels like you are watching a movie unfold in your mind’s eye.
  • You can differentiate the minor characters because each one of them has a different tone of voice.
  • You learn how to pronounce the names of people and places (this can mean a lot if you are a non-native English speaker like me).
  • Because audiobooks can be paused at any time, there is a feeling of liberty of not having to wait for the chapter to end before you can pause your reading.

There are more benefits. You will find them strewn all over this article. Here are seven tips you can apply to get the most out of an audiobook.

1. Get A Subscription

One of the primary reasons I hadn’t been able to stick to an audiobook for long was because I had been listening to the free audiobooks available on YouTube. Most of them have only one narrator throughout, and at some points, it feels apparent that they are merely reading out from a script, without putting in much effort into the narration.

This changed when I got my Storytel subscription. Here, the audiobooks were of such high quality, they made my head reel. Suddenly, my silences were filled with the most beautiful stories. I couldn’t get enough of them!

If you feel I am exaggerating, here’s a possible explanation. The first book I listened to was Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It has fifteen narrators — one for each of the characters. All of them have put in brilliant performances, making the book one hell of an experience. Of course, the plot is outstanding too, but the audio performances make the story more enthralling and gripping.

So, here is my suggestion. If you are looking to start out with audiobooks, don’t try those free versions on YouTube or Librivox (I don’t mean to say all the audiobooks on these platforms are inadequate. In my limited experience, the ones I have listened to on paid platforms tend to be of better quality.). Get a subscription of Audible, Storytel or Scribd.

You can get a free trial for 30 days on these apps and see the kind of quality they have for yourself.

2. Pick A Well-Reviewed Book

When you are starting out, it is natural to get disheartened if you cannot digest the first few chapters of the new book. So, before you pick out a book, here are some suggestions:

  • Choose a book that lies in your preferred genre of reading. If you are a fan of thrillers, don’t start with a romantic comedy. Stick to your comfort zone.
  • Start with a book you have always wanted to read. That way, your brain already has an idea of how badly you wanted to read this, so it would be easier to stay attentive throughout.
  • Before you start with a book, try a sample and see if the narrator’s style and accent match your taste. Sometimes, different subscription services have the same book with different narrators. Trying out a more extensive sample space never hurts.
  • Skim through the reviews of the audiobook before you start listening to it. Just because it is a good book, doesn’t necessarily mean it performs well as an audiobook.

3. Fiction vs Non-Fiction

I have observed that I can’t listen to a non-fiction audiobook. This is because whenever I come across something particularly important, I like to highlight and make notes. Though all audiobook apps have the option of “bookmarking” a segment, it isn’t the same as underlining and annotating in a physical book. There is very less chance that you will come back and listen to your bookmarks on an app, compared to coming back to a physical book (or an e-reader) and going through your highlights.

That is why I have stuck only to fiction for audiobooks of late. This was a conscious decision because I realised I wasn’t getting much out of non-fiction or self-help audiobooks when I was listening to them.

The best part about listening to fiction is that a good narrator uses a slightly different voice for each character. They change their pacing and volume according to the mood of the story. This draws you to the plot and makes you sit up, especially during moments of high tension.

If you are someone who isn’t a big fan of fiction, I have written an article that can maybe convince you-

How Reading Fiction Can Improve Your Life
If you have to choose between fiction and self-help, pick up the former. Here’s why

Use Goodreads as you go

One small hack that has greatly improved my audiobook experience is that whenever I come across a beautiful sentence or an insightful passage in an audiobook, I Google a few keywords along with the name of the book. This leads me straight to the Goodreads page for the book’s quotes.

Sample quote I “liked” on Goodreads while listening to my first audiobook (Screenshot: Author)

Goodreads has an option to “like” a quote. Once you do that, it will be stored in your profile, and you can come back and read whenever you wish.

Sure, this does not compare to underlining and highlighting in a physical book. But, in a way, isn’t it wonderful that all the passages you found useful would be stored in a place where you can go back any time and re-visit?

4. Listen While Doing A Chore You Don’t Enjoy

I hate cooking and keeping the house clean. Even though I know these chores are essential because I live alone, I get miserable while doing them. You must have heard about the theory that says if you cook while you aren’t in a good mood, the “negative energy” transfers to your food. Admittedly, this is bound to be bad for your physical and mental health.

I made it a point to listen to audiobooks while doing these chores and magically found myself in a better mood.

Of course, I still hated cooking and cleaning, but at least, there was a story going on in my head, and I didn’t have to be completely miserable.

So, here’s my suggestion: pick a chore you hate doing and listen to audiobooks while you are at this. This way-

  • Your mood won’t be affected thinking how much you hate what you are doing.
  • You will be able to concentrate better on the audiobook because your brain wants an escape.
  • You will find a magnificent way of multi-tasking, without actually investing too much time or effort.

Here are some examples of chores during which you can spend time listening to audiobooks: hanging clothes to dry, chopping vegetables, making the bed each morning, showering (as long as you keep the phone a safe distance away from the water’s reach).

5. Listen in Short Bursts

Don’t spend hours on end listening to an audiobook. Instead, listen to them in short bursts. This way, you won’t have the luxury to say you got bored. It is easy to concentrate on the narration for shorter periods without letting your attention drift.

As I mentioned earlier, audiobooks give you the liberty to pause anywhere you wish, without waiting for a scene or a chapter to end (Well, technically, even a physical book or an e-book gives you that liberty, but if you are like me, you probably feel obligated to finish a chapter before keeping the book down for the night).

When you listen in short bursts throughout the day, your mind keeps revolving around the story. It might sound counter-intuitive, but this helps you get more involved with the story.

6. Listen Before Going to Sleep

Listening to an audiobook before going to sleep is one of the most precious experiences I have ever treated myself to. That is the time of the day when you are exhausted, in need of a friend who can comfort you. Your books can come to your rescue then.

To read a physical book or an ebook, you will need to keep the lights turned on, but with an audiobook, that extra effort of having to turn off the lights before retiring is eliminated.

Lie in bed, take a few deep, calming breaths, and close your eyes. Let the audiobook play (all apps have a sleep timer — initially, set it to 15 minutes and adjust later according to your routine).

When you are relaxed and comfortable, it is easy to let the narrator’s voice wash over your body in calming waves, helping you visualise the story. It is a snug sensation, almost like listening to a lullaby.

Even on nights I had trouble sleeping, audiobooks have kept me company and lulled me to deep, dreamless sleep.

7. Listen Alongside A Physical Book

Reading and listening to a book at the same time is something every book lover should experience at least once in their life.

You see, I could write paragraphs about it, but my words would fail to convey how powerful and moving it can be to hold the book in your hands and hear the words being read out in your head by an excellent narrator.

When you read and listen at the same time, you will remember the book for a longer time. It will also help you be more mindful about which parts in the book are more relevant and which parts can be skimmed through.

The voice of different characters, the intensity in an intriguing scene, the heart-stopping climax — everything will be magnified ten-fold when you listen to the audiobook alongside your reading. And of course, the fact that you can highlight whichever parts you like the most in the physical book helps.

The Bottom Line

Here is a short summary of how you can get the most out of each audiobook you listen to:

  1. Get a subscription. Most free audiobooks aren’t worth the time invested in listening.
  2. Stick to your comfort genre. Listen to a sample and skim through the reviews before picking a book.
  3. Listen to fiction because non-fiction is digested better when underlined and highlighted.
  4. Listen while doing a chore you don’t enjoy to fill your grumpy silences with the magic of words.
  5. Listen in short bursts throughout the day. This way, you don’t have to focus on one thing for long, and your mind keeps revolving around the story even when you are not reading.
  6. Listen before going to sleep. It will help you relax even on your worst, most stressed-out nights.
  7. Read and listen at the same time.

Several of my reader friends underestimate the way audiobooks can change your life. Speaking from experience, they help you get immersed in the story in a way a physical book never can.

I hope you use the tips mentioned here and welcome the magic of audiobooks in your life. They are an experience no reader should miss out on.

Resources Mentioned in This Article

Some other articles you might find useful-

5 Tips to Get The Most Out of Each Book You Read
Unconventional ways to retain more information from books
What It Takes To Read 1 Book Every 4 Days
The habits that helped me read 81 books in one year

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