Books at Bedtime and Audiobooks Again…

Just over a year ago I did a post that caused some quite interesting responses and debate. It was a post on audiobooks and one where I said that, for me personally, audiobooks felt like cheating. The debate ranged from people feeling the same (though people mainly emailed me this, it seemed they didn’t want to put it in print) as me, to people thinking I couldn’t be more wrong and even people taking umbrage and saying I was being discriminatory towards people with certain disabilities. The last bit I tried not to dwell on as anyone who knows me would know this wasn’t the case. I also said I would try more audiobooks out… and then didn’t really (well actually I tried some Agatha Raisins but more on those shortly).  I’d not thought about this much until BBC Radio 4 had ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ by Louisa Young as their Book at Bedtime.

For anyone who doesn’t know of it ‘Book at Bedtime’ is a show on Radio 4 each weekday evening which chooses a different book each fortnight to adapt into. ‘My Dear I Wanted To Tell You’ is a book that I have ummmed and ahhhed about reading because it has had some great praise but not ever quite seemed my thing (it’s a war book and sounds a bit like lots fo other war books if I am honest), however as Olivia Coleman was reading it – I love her acting, her comedy, her voice – I thought I would try it. I enjoyed it, I felt taken back to my childhood and the nights I would put a tape in my tape recorder to fall asleep to. Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘The Norman Conquests’ was a favourite. Yet I didn’t want to run out and buy the book, I think this is meant to be a small part of ‘Books at Bedtime’ the main being that it is, well, a book at your bedtime-ish!

This came up again when Will Wiles tweeted me the other night, when I was debating a book to actually read at bedtime last week, that his book ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ was going to be the latest Book at Bedtime choice and I should tune in. I thought about it and decided not to because I actually wanted to read the book. Hear me out before you all say ‘it is like reading a book’ because the main reason was that it would be an adaptation and if I listened and really liked it (which I have been told I would) I wouldn’t have quite had the full story, but I would know the end and might not therefore be inclined to read the entire book knowing the main spoiler. Interestingly when I listened to Agatha Raisin last year, I liked it a lot but it wasn’t the full unabridged stories and I felt a little cheated. But what about trying audiobooks again?

Fate kicked in at the weekend twofold. Firstly I realised I had ‘Nocturnes’ by Kazuo Ishiguro as an audiobook which I had no idea of (sorry Gemma at Faber as I think you gave this me, oops) and I also had the book so I could cull a book, awful reason but I was desperate, plus it was one about music and apparently this has the music in it. Then I spotted ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris on audiobook in the library and so I thought ‘I loved that book, I know it inside out, what could be a better audiobook to compare the listening-reading to reading-reading’ so I borrowed it and one more for good luck.


I now have about 65 hours of listening delight ahead. I think this mix of a book I know well, some short stories plus a non-fiction tome on a subject I love with Judith Flanders ‘The Invention of Murder; How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’ which sounds right up my street to try out. So I now have some hopefully wonderful ‘listening-reading’ experiences ahead. Gav has been trying to convert me on The Readers so deserves a mention as I probably wouldn’t have been quite so likely to go so whole heartedly into this experiment without his pestering. I will report back and let you know my findings.

In the meantime what are your thoughts on audiobooks and Book at Bedtime/adaptations on the radio? Are they like reading-reading a real book? What have been your favourite audiobooks and what made them so good?


Filed under Audiobooks, Book Thoughts

38 responses to “Books at Bedtime and Audiobooks Again…

  1. Jen

    Hi Simon, I listen to audiobooks most mornings and afternoons driving to and from work. I LOVE THEM! For the most part, I tend to listen to books I wouldn’t normally read. I have enjoyed each book that I have listened to. Maybe partly because it brings back memories of when I was a kid and my Mom would read to me. I hope you enjoy your audiobooks!

    • What do you mean by wouldnt normally read and whywould you listen to them instead? I mean that in an interested way not a critical one ha.

      I know what you mean about being read to though. I loved audio books as a kid.

  2. Sue N

    I love audiobooks . I listen mostly when I am driving (Leeds to Luton mostly) or when I am knitting. I only listen to unabridged books and am picky about the readers. I usually pick authors I know I like or books I have read and love. Sometimes I buy one because of the narrator. I bang on about Dorothy L Sayers a lot but I have both read and listed to all of hers – I must have listened to Guady Night an the Wimsey/Vane books that come after half a dozen times. Sometimes it is just time to listen to them again.

    I can heartily recomend the Terry Pratchett books read by Stephen Briggs, including the so call teenage Tiffany Aching books. They are laugh out loud funny and a real antidote to trying times.

    • The reader of the books is really important isnt it. Its weird you mention that actually as last night I was listening to Miriam Margoyles on a podcast and got taken back to listening to The Queen and I by Sue Townsend when I was a youngster. I now want it again.

  3. deborah

    Hi Simon
    They have to be unabridged audiobooks otherwise yes I wouldn’t count it as “reading” the book. However, if unabridged then what’s the problem? it is the words, all the words and as Eric Morecombe would appreciate, “all in the right order”. I love audiobooks as I also love knitting and having the words read to me means I can combine hobbies, similarly walking the dog. In my experience crime and thriller works v well with audio and everything, but everything, depends on the narrator. I am even searching on Audible via narrator now for my choices. Think of it, you could double your books read rate, or speed through your TBR by reading with your ears as well as your eyes!
    By the way I am loving The Readers. You have entered my lexicon (ooer) though – if people start annoying me I cry “just don’t go there, Gav!”

    • Hahahaha thats just really made me laugh about the Gav thing. On Mondays the ‘don’t breathe Gavin’ rears its ugly head again, to much laughter from both of us.

      I get what you mean about reading/listening to more books but I read far faster than I listen and I have been falling asleep with them on a lot – oops.

      • deborah

        That is why you need to learn to knit! if I am not knitting or dog walking then an audiobook is the fastest way to sleep. But an afternoon of knitting while being read to is just bliss. And you get a pair of socks, or a hat, at the end!

      • You aren’t the first person who has suggested I might like knitting.

  4. I walk a lot (both to work and in general) and audiobooks are the perfect accompaniment. But, since I do prefer to read most novels myself, I usually choose audiobooks that are either non-fiction or dramatic fiction that lends itself to audio (such as classic adventure stories like She or Treasure Island). I agree with Sue N. that the reader is very important and I only listen to unabridged works. I cannot listen to audiobooks when I drive unless it’s something I’ve already read and know well because otherwise I miss things.

    • Listening to ‘The Invention of Murder’ is working perfectly as its non fiction and so weirdly feels like listening to the radio, the things I have been discovering about the history of the police is wonderful, and its made me grab some other book books.

  5. I prefer to listen to books that I am unlikely to read, or else use audio versions to revisit old favourites. Most of those I do listen to are radio versions rather than commercial audiobooks. The Radio 4 readings are often a great way of getting a quick taste of books that are being widely talked about. Particularly if you are in the ‘wait for the paperback’ camp. As well as the quaintly-titled “Bedtime” slot to which you allude, there is also the non-fiction “Book of the Week” (09:45, 00:30 and for seven days on BBC Iplayer/UK Radio Player). You can always listen to the first part and then stop if you think you would prefer to read the whole thing.

    I understand where the “cheating” idea comes from, but surely the purpose of reading should be about the experience not just reaching the finishing line and ticking off another book? Whether one reads ‘real’ books or ebooks, or listens to abridged to unabriged audio versions, one is still engaging with a piece of writing, albeit in different ways. Each different medium has its advantages and situations for which it is best suited. There may not be any substitute for visiting great places, but that does not stop landscape photography being something worth enjoying in its own right. Similarly it is not necessarily the case that an audio version is always second best is.

    • The old favourite, or just favourite, that I have picked is Gillespie and I and I can see why you would like to listen to the familiar. Book of the Week being non fiction interests me. Again though, is it abridged?

      I think you are right with your thoughts on ‘cheating’ yet it still feels like it a little when I am doing it at the moment, though I am really enjoying it. I am slowly but surely being convinced… for now… I think.

  6. I like audiobooks, however I am easily distracted and unless I am out hiking or washing up I just can’t concentrate and end up missing bits. I’m currently listening to Perdido Street Station by China Mieville and loving it. I do generally prefer to read it for myself, though.

    I wish I’d listened to Care of Wooden Floors as I’d like to know what they cut to adapt it. I loved that book and it felt as if every word built the overriding tension for the finale. Also, Wiles’ writing is so intricate, I wonder if that would be lost in a reading.

    • I have found the distraction thing a slight problem (and falling asleep hahaha) so I have been going back a lot, this has been fine with non fiction but it might annoy me in fiction. I haven’t tried too much fiction yet.

      I have Care of Wooden Floors, it arrived this morning, so will possibly start it tomorrow – all on your recommendation.

  7. I love audiobooks, although I do sometimes feel too that it might be abit of ‘cheating’ as compared to actual reading. But then again, I only listen to unabridged versions so that feels as close to reading the actual book as it gets. I find it really helpful in getting more ‘reading’ squeezed in, especially while driving and at the gym. And it’s also good when I’m feeling tired and do not wish to strain my eyes, but still be able to ‘read’ through listening to an audiobook. Having the right narrator is crucial to the experience. If the voice isn’t rightly suited, then I’d rather not go through with it, but either wait for the right voice, or read the actual book.
    I had great pleasure in listening to The Woman In Black and We Have Always Lived In This Castle, both were very atmospherically well done. Jonathan Cecil narrating P.G. Wodehouse’s writings is another favourite. And for some books, listening to them after having actually read them, truly enhances the experience of the book, as is the case with Sarah Waters’ books read by Juanita McMahon.

    • Oooh I would quite like to listen to The Woman in Black, though I am off to see the film soon so that might be overkill. I like the idea of listening books you have read for the familiar feel.

      Reading and listening could work!

  8. I don’t think they are the same as reading a book, not to diminish them, I just think they are a completely different experience. I love a good radio show so I’ve nothing against listening to an audio book, certain people just have one of those voices that make you stop and absorb (I actually think my Dad should do it, bedtime stories as a child were immense – that is pretty much an audio book).

  9. Erika W.

    I am a constant reader of unabridged audio books and they are as much a part of my life as reading. Times: bedtime because I wear a respirator and cannot read myself to sleep any longer, sewing, knitting and occasionally cooking.

    Being a very quick reader, listening has slowed me down enough to appreciate certain books more (“The Scarlet Letter” was a particular case here) It has also emphasized tedious and sloppy writing–sometimes in surprising authors. I remember one book in which a character could not enter a room or start to speak without folding his or her arms.

    Yes, the reader is extremely important. It is not always a good idea when it it the author doing so.

    • You see in the cases of those people who can’t read a physical book for whatever reason these are brilliant and I don’t despute that at all. I wouldnt want anyone thinking I was being funny about that in anyway Erika.

      I like the fact it makes you pay a lot more attention… until you get destracted.

  10. Ann P

    I agree that audio books are great when driving, especially on long motorway journeys. I read and enjoyed My Dear I Wanted To Tell You last week and then listened to the last episode on the radio. I realise that it has to be cut to fit in but was quite horrified to find that one of the characters seemed to be missing – possibly that story line had been completed before and I know it isn’t fair to judge on one episode but it seemed like a different book to me.

    • Oooh missing characters that would definitely throw me. In fact I remember after reaidng and adoring The Shuttle by Frances Hodson Burnett I was slightly, but only slightly, miffed when I found out Persephone had cut a few hundred pages and a character. I will read the unabridged one eventually.

  11. The only audiobooks I’ve tried out are the ones for The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. They just happen to be book (that I’ve read) by my favourite author and narrated by a favourite actor. I can’t think of any others I’ve tried. I’m liable to doze of if listening to something, so much prefer to read from a page.

  12. I don’t care for audio books much as the reader’s voice never ever seems to fit the narrative for me. I recently listened to WOman’s Hour when they serialised Tenant of Wildfell Hall which I love, and thought they did it very well but that was a dramatisation, not a reading so enjoyed it. Also if it is a book I love or have enjoyed I dislike the abridgement. I have tried listening to them in the car when driving but find them terribly distracting so gave up on that. I have to say I am in the Nays rather than the Yeas on this one

    • Elaine, your point about dramatisation is another one I hadn’t thought of but hits the nail on the head. I don’t mind those and plays because I know they are an adaptation and will invariably have read the book before if I choose to tune in.

  13. Stephanie

    Audiobooks are a valid means of engaging with an author. An audiobook takes longer to listen to than it does to read and is well suited to the car for those with a daily commute or a long drive ahead of them. If you lose your concentration through some distraction whilst driving, you can step back through a section or two to replay it quite easily. With your reference to the Louisa Young novel, ‘My dear, I wanted to tell you’, this book is also narrated by Dan Stevens, he of both Downton Abbey and the 2012 Man Booker Award, the latter as a judge. I understood he won an Audiobook award for his reading of this novel so it’s interesting that the BBC4 programme has used an abridged version and an alternative reader.

    I find that I will ‘trial’ an author with an audiobook more readily than I will with a paper version as I am a captive audience in the car and want to use this time to read ‘with my ears’.

    • I only just discovered Dan Stevens was a Booker judge this year which I found interesting. I didnt agree with his views on Carol Birch’s book last year, I loved the passion that he had discussing the shortlist on the Review Show last year.

      I loved Olivia Coleman telling the tale, interesting in the full version they chose a man.

  14. Very interesting – and you’ve left me wondering why I hardly ever listen to an audiobook. I’ve only once listened to an audiobook in the car – and I got completely lost because I was enjoying it so much that I was driving on automatic pilot and forgot where I was going…

    Books on the radio are a different thing altogether though – I’ve often bought a book just because I caught part of it on Radio 4. Hmm.

  15. Mimannee

    Hi Simon,
    I wondered whether listening to books was cheating a little while back, but now I’ve started to listen to more audiobooks, I’ve decided that it’s not cheating, just a different way of reading.
    I listened to ‘I capture the castle’ a little while back, and it was such a delight! It was read by Jenny Agutter, and I don’t think I would have had quite as much enjoyment out of the book had it not been for her lovely narrating.
    I tend to listen to audio books when I’m on the move, as I don’t seem to have any time to sit down and given them a listen. I’ve recently decided to try out non-fiction on audio, as I can’t seem to motivate myself to sit down and read anyhting to the end which isn’t a ficitonal tale and there are a few history books I’m interested in reading one way or another.

    • I can go with it being a different way of reading. I have thought about trying out Charles Dickens on audio, yet again I feel I am cheating in some way so it won’t be the way I try out Charles Dickens for the first time.

  16. I also used to think it was sort of cheating, but now proudly add them to the list of “books read”. They require the same (or more) time and brain investment 🙂

    The narrator is a deal breaker for me and I tend to prefer professional actors. I’ve recently posted about my favorite narrators ( They usually bring added-value to the reading experience. Examples: Jeremy Irons reading Lolita and Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter.

    • Thanks for the list Alex, thats great. I do think the narrators of these is very important. I wonder if you can search for audiobooks by narrator anywhere? That would be such a good tool. I would be looking for Olivia Coleman and Tamsin Greig first up.

  17. I listen to book at bedtime all through my teen years ,nowdays listen to radio four extra from time to time as the have so great vintage sci fi and it is a genre I never read it makes a change ,all the best stu

  18. For the record,
    1) on Book at Bedtime you’re lucky to get 35-40 per cent of an average-length novel.
    2) There’s no connection between an audiobook, which is produced by the publisher, and Book at Bedtime, which is a BBC programme
    3) it is the combination of book, reader and production which wins the Galaxy award, not just the reader. . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s