A Guide to Getting Started with Audiobooks

how to listen to audiobooks

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than thirty seconds, you know I love audiobooks.

I love that it makes me actually look forward to mindless tasks like dishes or vacuuming or folding laundry and if I ever get to drive anywhere by myself, it’s a special treat because I can listen to whatever I’m currently in the middle of.

Also, if you haven’t listened to an audiobook in a few decades, you’ll be amazed at how good the narration is these days (although, I’ve definitely been the person sitting at a stoplight with tears running down my face or laughing aloud even though I’m by myself).

Some books are even done with full casts, with each character read by a different actor, sound effects, and an original score. This is not your mother’s audiobook.

Because I mention them so frequently, I also get a lot of questions about audiobooks – the mechanics of where to get them, how to find ones, and when to listen.

how to listen to audiobooks

And since I never pass up a chance to talk about them, here’s my (very minuscule) wisdom!

how to get started listening to audiobooks

  1. Listening to audiobooks is a skill. When I started listening eight or nine years ago to audiobooks, I could only manage the most gripping and fun books. Non-fiction? No. Anything with more plot than a romantic comedy? Not likely. And that was from someone who spent 17 years being read to on a daily basis by my mom (she kept reading aloud with us all the way until I left home). So if you’ve tried something before and weren’t impressed by audiobooks, give it another shot. Start with something really delightful (or maybe something you’ve read in print), and work your way up to harder books if you’re so inclined, although you’ll never get judgement from me about listening to purely fluffy books. Either way, you likely don’t want to start with War and Peace. If you need recommendations, here are 25 of my all-time favorite audiobooks.
  2. So where do I find them? Every library system I’ve belonged to (I currently have ten library cards – one big perk of moving so much) has had a Libby account. How good the collection is varies from library to library, but I’ve never seen a BAD collection – I’ve always been able to find things to listen to and if there’s something you desperately want, you can ask them to buy it for Libby and they almost always will. Just do a Google search for your library’s name and Libby, and it’ll probably come right up. You can browse the collection, place holds, make a wishlist, or download them to your computer or device. Plus, all the books are FREE. If you have a smartphone (or an iPod Touch), it’s by far the easiest way to listen. You can download them straight to your phone and then listen to them wherever you go. This tutorial for using the Overdrive app will have you up and running in five minutes (I promise – it’s so easy). Audible is also a great place to get audiobooks, but they aren’t free (although you can get one on a free trial). I also find Audible a great place to browse audiobook options and then go request them on Libby.
  3. When Do I Listen? I listen when I’m doing mindless work (editing photos, doing a DIY project, taking pictures, etc), while I clean (so. . .almost never), if I’m cooking or doing the dishes, or when I’m driving alone.
  4. But I have kids. Right. So that does make it a little harder to squeeze in time when you can stick in your ear buds. I listen during quiet time while I’m working and my girls are safely tucked away in their rooms. I also listen if they’re occupied with their own playing while I’m doing dishes or laundry or getting ready in the morning. And I listen a lot in the evenings once they are in bed. I usually listen with earbuds (just the free ones that came with my iPhone) and so I can still hear them if they call for me or if there is a major argument over a puzzle or something equally distressing. When I get ready in the mornings or if they are in bed, I’ll just listen without headphones, which I prefer.
  5. I’ve Heard You Mention Double Speed. Are You Insane? One of the things I didn’t like about audiobooks originally was how slow the narrator talked. My mind would wander and I couldn’t stay focused. After a couple of years of audiobook listening, I tried double speed and my life was changed forever. For the first couple of minutes, it sounded like Donald Duck reading to me, but your brain is really quick to adjust to the faster speed. Give it five minutes and you’ll probably never go back (or start at 1.25 or 1.5 speed).

Any questions? Leave a comment and I’ll tell you way more than you want to know, probably – this is one of my very favorite topics.


How to get started listening to audiobooks. Where to find titles, when to listen, and lots of recommendations for great audiobooks!

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  1. I can't stand to listen to books at anything less than 1.5 anymore, and that's usually when I'm trying to make the book last a little longer because I failed to download another one. Depending on the narrator, I prefer 1.75 or 2.0. There are a few narrators that speak quickly, so I try not to feel bad about myself for not being able to handle double speed.

    I am so embarrassed that I only got brave enough to use Overdrive or download library books to my Kindle after we moved to Houston. The Houston digital catalog is AMAZING, so it was a good place to discover the wonder of free books. As one of my (many) librarian friends says, "You're already paying for the books with your taxes. Why pay twice?" I haven't bought a fun (i.e., not academic) book in almost a year.

    I love not feeling guilty about blasting through audio books anymore! I had an Audible subscription before and I was always thinking about whether or not a book was 'credit' worthy. If it was less than about 12 hours worth of narration, I would skip it. I get through so many more books than I used to because I constantly have something to listen to on my 30-45 minute commute, while I fold laundry (seriously, is this not the best?), do dishes, or otherwise putter around the house. I feel so much more accomplished.

    You have played no small part in helping me to discover all of these amazing resources, so thank you!

  2. I have only recently started listening to audiobooks, but I find it hard to listen at home not because of the kids but because my husband. Ha! He likes to talk to me as soon as I'm paying attention to something else. It did not occur to me to speed up the speech though – I'm doing this immediately (currently listening to Sarah Dessen Lock and Key, thanks to you).

  3. one thing that helped me a lot with the first audiobook i listened to (outliers by gladwell) was turning up the volume. i would listen in the car on my way to and from school and i'd find my mind wandering a lot. i turned up the volume, and it helped me focus on the book – which i loved. now i don't have to listen to it loudly because i've matured in my book-listening ability. (:

  4. These are all great tips! I had never listened to an audiobook until I started a 40 minute commute to work. The commute is MUCH more enjoyable now. My local library is also using Hoopla and OneClick Digital, in addition to Overdrive. Have you ever used these services before?

  5. I love audiobooks, but I often find my mind starts to wander, so it's best for me to stick with non-fiction or a re-read. And for whatever reason, if I'm doing something that requires any kind of thought, I just can't seem to pay attention to the book and keep having to go back 30 seconds or so. Any tips for this? Also, how do you listen in your car, do you have bluetooth? I don't (sob), and feel like if I did I'd have so many more opportunities to listen.

    1. I use an auxiliary cord to plug my phone into the car stereo, but frankly, most of the time, I just crank up the volume and set it in the cup holder for a little amplification and don't even bother with connecting it to the stereo.

  6. I already sent you an email about this, but given today's post, I'll repeat myself: Thank you so much for getting me hooked on audiobooks!!! Ever since I started listening to audiobooks last September while driving/picking up my daughter to/from daycare, I must have listened to at least 30 books, the majority of which were your recommendations! I absolutely LOVED Unbroken read by Richard Gilmore (he'll always be Richard Gilmore to me!) I couldn't stop listening to it! And Wednesday Wars was so good that I ended up listening to Okay for Now as well. Nurtureshock got me completely obsessed with nonfiction on child development and contributed to my incessant need to spew data based on scientific evidence while talking to my husband about how we should discipline our toddler. Princess Academy done by a full cast got me hooked on Shannon Hale (I finally got my hands on Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters…so far, I like it better than Palace of Stone, but not as much as Goose Girl and Book of Thousand Days). Anyways, as you can see, I take your recommendations very seriously! 😉

    1. Richard Gilmore read The Boys in the Boat too. It was absolutely terrific! (And had some nice echoes of the Olympics & Zamperini)

  7. I'm a podcast person myself – books seem to take so long when I'm used to half-hour to hour long shows! (And I listen to those shows at 1.5 speed so they're even shorter!)

    I checked out several of the audiobooks you recommended for preschoolers, though, and my five-year-old is LOVING the Boxcar children. I didn't realize I'd left Overdrive on 1.4x from the last time I'd listened to a book and, by the time I did, she thought it was perfect and wouldn't let me change it.

  8. I'm a new fan of audiobooks, too! I listen to them while walking to work (1h a day) and doing my cardio (half an hour of stationary bicycle) – wow, this makes me sound so much more active than I am – and on my laundry/tidying up/cooking day at home. Yesterday I spent hours doing chores, and I was just amazed at how fun it was, because I was listening to an awesome book. (It was the first Outlander!) On the less-fun side, if books are bad, they seem much worse on audiobooks, since you're stuck with them for so long 😉

  9. Well this is timely. I've never listened to audiobooks but since we're headed on a 12 hour road trip this weekend, I'm pretty sure we need to try them out so I don't have to keep the kiddos entertained the whole way. Shockingly, Chandler doesn't have Overdrive (I'll have to see what they use instead) but Tempe does and I've got a card there. Score!

  10. Fellow audiobook lover here, as you know. I've been listening to audiobooks consistently since I was a teenager. I don't think I've ever not been listening to a book for more than a few months. Also, I've been using Overdrive since the dark ages when no one had smart phones and you had to download the audiobooks onto your computer. It was hugely exciting when they finally got the "transfer to iPod" button worked out, and you were no longer tied to your computer. And obviously it's way better now with the smart phone apps.

  11. I know that you recommend Cheaper by the Dozen and I have been loving audiobooks lately. My mind used to wander, but now I really prefer to do audiobooks. I am wondering if you think that Cheaper by the Dozen is a must read or if the audio version is okay. I know that sometimes a bad audio version can ruin a book. Thank you!

  12. Ha, I actually did read part of War and Peace via audiobook! I praying that the DC public library system never finds out I moved because I'm totally still taking advantage of their digital library catalog. Good suggestion about asking a library to purchase a book; I'll have to do that next time there's something I really want to read but can't get access to.

  13. I've had an hour-each-way commute for the last 10 years. At the beginning I resisted audiobooks, but did exactly as #1 suggested…. A lot of Robert Ludlum & Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum. Since I've found your blog I've added much more nonfiction (Love Malcom Gladwell!). I just tried 1.25 speed and it is amazing!! I'm excited to try 2x when I can run outside again- if the pollen count ever goes down! Thank you for all the wonderful hints & book suggestions!!

  14. I started listening to audiobooks after reading your blog and I have to thank you! You introduced me to Overdrive and I love it so much I recommend it to anyone who will listen to me 😉 I'm looking forward to introducing audiobooks to my 6 year old this summer. Thank you, thank you for your information and recommendations!

  15. I love this! I've been wanting to get more into audiobooks since I've been in the first quarter of Unbroken for over a month now and there never seems to be a good time to pick it up and start reading it again! I'm going to have to switch to audiobooks if I ever hope to finish 1 book this year!

  16. I'd be interested to hear your tried-and-true tips for reading books aloud to your kids of all ages. Picturing your mom reading aloud to teenagers sounds fun!

  17. I just have to say. Yes yes yes. This is not a substantive post but just a commiseration. Haha. I listen at 1.75-2x when I run and pretty much any other time I have open. It's so great. I read pretty fast and so audiobooks are fun–so many details I always glossed over to get to the main plot. (Ps all the light we cannot see? Can we just say what an amazingly crafted story? As well as a breath of fresh air for WW2 novels?)

  18. And oh yes.. I'm glad someone else uses overdrive as much as I do. I also get the epub file sent to my kindle when I want to read instead of listen. I love technology. Instantaneous book lending? Yes please!

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