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Audiobook Bedtime Stories

August 14, 2016

Audiobooks are a huge part of my reading life; I rely on them in my bedtime ritual. Tuck myself into bed, and cue up the story being read to me as I turn off my brain for the day.

Because audiobooks are part of lulling my brain to sleep, I am picky about what makes a good audiobook. I seek out something gentle that makes me happy. Not sweet enough to be cloying, but not suspenseful or demanding of attention or intensity. Because a harrowing tale keeping me in suspense would defeat the sleepy purpose. Revisiting an old, familiar favorite works nicely for these. To drift away from the story as sleep creeps in.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve listened to anything by James Herriot. The country vet visiting farms of a bygone Yorkshire puts me right out, to dream of lovely green fields. (I suppose a joke about counting sheep wouldn’t be amiss here.) The audiobooks by Christopher Timothy are particularly nice, with his own accent and reading the different voices of characters.

17731046-_uy200_In a similar vein, The Irish Country Doctor books by Patrick Taylor are delightful, especially as read by John Keating, doing all the voices and accents. Doctors Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly and Barry Laverty run a medical practice in the village of Ballybucklebo in Northern Ireland. Keating’s read of O’Reilly’s gruff voice, and all the cast of characters from the Cork-born housekeeper, Mrs. Kincaid, to the scheming of Donal Donnelly, to the bluster of Councillor Bishop has become how I define the characters.

Don’t ask me why someone as squeamish about medical matters loves these rural doctor stories so much. More about the small town life than needles and guts, is one factor. And also, the sort of half-listening, half-asleep mindset cushions me against any medically descriptive parts. Medicine, yes, but bucolic and sepia-toned.

Thanks to the nifty ability to download audiobooks from the library directly to my phone, (yay, Overdrive) I can borrow digital audiobooks and replenish my supply of stories. Wish the lending period were longer than three weeks, as I’m listening in half-hour increments before dreamland, so a story stretched out across 7+ hours can take over a month to finish. And then the book zaps itself off my phone at the due date. With the story unfinished! (Once I figured out how to renew on the OverDrive app, this was less of a calamity.)

So yes, yay libraries and digital access, but this isn’t about that.

I happened to find a paper copy (hooray for retronyms!) of  An Irish Country Girl, one of Patrick Taylor’s books in the library, before I could get it as an audiobook. So I checked it out, reasoning that reading it first would be a good way to enjoy the soporific uses of the narrative as an audiobook being read to me at a later date.

And I discovered something: I like Patrick Taylor’s books much, much better when John Keating is reading them to me. It’s the characters, and their voices, and their accents. It’s the ritual of tucking myself into bed to listen to the nice flow of village life and brogues. Yes, I’m going to fall asleep, lose the thread of the story, and have to backtrack in the chapter the next night. It doesn’t matter. I enjoy the way the story unfolds as it is told to me each night. the way turns of phrase or snatches of dialogue unwind, the next day in my inner monologue like a song stuck in my head. I don’t even mind falling asleep and having the voices play through my dreams. (Sepia toned medical tales make for vaguely comforting dreams, unlike the times I’ve fallen asleep listening to Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. Nightmare fodder! Whee!)

Jacket image, Welcome to Nightvale novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey CranorSpeaking of Welcome to Nightvale, I just now finished the Welcome to Night Vale novel, even though I’ve had it sitting on my shelf as a paper book for months. I kept picking it up and putting it down, because it was disappointingly not like the podcast. I have to say, it took me an embarrassingly long time to decide that the way to fix this was to listen to the audiobook. And that tucking myself into bed to listen to it wasn’t the right call (falling asleep while listening to a surreal story is so disorienting!) But, thanks to some bus trips and subway rides, and finally just turning it on while I participated in the Readathon in October, I finished it!

My audiobook life is not all about village doctors. There are podcasts that fit this same niche: The Bowery Boys and Stuff You Missed in History Class are good, though I’ve gone back to listen to various episodes to catch details I slept through. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell me is impossible, because I keep giggling myself into wakefulness.

cgdoy01I found a few gems written and read by Stephen Fry as well, thanks to OverDrive. I’m on the hold queue for Stephen Fry Does The Knowledge, which promises to be in a very nice sweet spot between the odd trivia of my favorite podcasts, as Fry riffs on all the things London cabbies know, and a sonorous British voice lulling me to sleep.

Various encounters with reading and listening to Neil Gaiman have made it so that whenever I read his prose, I hear his voice in my head, narrating. Which makes the reading experience that much nicer. Like Stephen Fry, John Keating and Christopher Timothy, I strongly suspect I would listen to Neil Gaiman reading the phone book or 19th century property law, and fall asleep smiling.

I’ve also been listening my way through The Once and Future King by T.H. White, in about twenty minute increments. It’s an excellent story, for what I need an audiobook to be: interesting enough to distract my brain from the day, but  slow enough to wind me down. In a perfect world, I would find a version read by Stephen Fry, or John Keating, but any resonant British voice will do.

I apparently equate soothing myself to sleep with voices from the British Isles. Go figure. Maybe, in this vein, I should try The Lord of the Rings again, or The Chronicles of Narnia. Or even The Silmarillion. Read by the right Brit, I might just manage to ingest the whole story. Even if I sleep through it a bit.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 14, 2016 12:54 pm

    I recommend podcasts of NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Ten mjnutes of Terry Gross’ voice can put me out (forcing a re-listen….)

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