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Poll: Worst Audiobooks?


The Silmarillion - Not recommended on audio

Last night during my dinner at work I tried to take a stab at Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which we’ll discuss a good deal of during Tolkien Month in September. It was as hard as ever, but for some reason the thought that kept jumping into my head was, “Oh man this would be so awful on audio.”

I won’t go into that much except to say that there would be way too many things to pay attention to in an audio narrative. Picture yourself trying to memorize a voice sonorously droning on about an elaborate family tree/Bible/succession of Kings/history up the wazoo all on the fly as you tried not to get hit by all the idiotic drivers on the road.

Good luck with that.

But the idea of books that would make the worst audiobooks made me smile. I spent the rest of the evening making a list of the books I thought would be the most poorly suited for listening. They’re not all bad books, but I know that I would not get much out of them on audio. And yes, some on the list were simply bad books regardless of format.

So that’s today’s challenge. What are the worst potential audiobooks you can think of? Of course, if you’ve listened to some really bad ones that actually exist, feel free to list those as well. I listened to about 10 minutes of Maxx Barry’s otherwise decent Company before getting so annoyed with the reader that I couldn’t continue.

For me:

  • Just about any college textbook
  • Leviticus
  • The Old Farmer’s Alamanac
  • Infinite Jest (there’s just too much going on to not be able to turn the pages back–or forward–and recheck things)
  • Wealth Of Nations
  • The DSM IV
  • The Faerie Queen
  • Any book that only contains pictures
  • Watchmen and most graphic novels
  • House Of Leaves (Just not sure how they could do it when it’s not in the purer narrative sections of the Navidson Record or Johnny Truant’s story)
  • The Fruits of Solitude (Maxims and aphorisms, not audio-friendly in large doses)
  • Call It Sleep (I just hate this book)

Okay, I’ll leave it there. Stretch the annoyed parts of your imagination and fill in this wretched list with other dismal suspects.


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  • Becky Wolsk August 18, 2011, 12:06 pm

    My 2 least favorite audiobooks were “I’m Hear to Win” by Chris McCormack and “Ultra-Marathon Man” by Dean Karnazes. I chose them because I hoped they’d be as inspirational and enlightening as Born to Run. Instead, both books grated on my nerves. First, the authors don’t share much specific advice. They’re so self-congratulatory, and try to leaven the self-congratulation with un-funny and insincere self-deprecation. The narrators sounded twerpy and know-it-allish, which just made the experience worse. Now that I think about it, maybe the audiobook publisher chose twerpy narrators to subtly make fun of McCormack’s and Karnazes’s blowhard texts. Hmm. In which case, those would be great audiobook experiences. Cheers, Becky (AKA @GoalsGamified on twitter)

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2011, 9:54 am

      Becky, I’m reading a book about a famous running coach called Bowerman and The Men of Oregon. I think you’d enjoy it if you enjoyed BTR.

  • Jez Davis August 18, 2011, 12:15 pm

    Whilst driving to work for several weeks I listened to Martin Shaw reading ‘The Silmarillion’ and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. Once you get over the vagaries of pronunciation (e.g. Iluvatar being voiced “il-oo-vat-r” rather than “il-oo-vat-ah” as I’d always imagined) it was no more difficult than hacking one’s way through the book. I think I’d go so far as to even recommend it, certainly for passing the time whilst driving. It beats concentrating on the road and avoiding pedestrians anyway.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 18, 2011, 4:01 pm

      Jez, you really surprised me. I hadn’t done my homework and wouldn’t have guessed that Silmarillion was even available in audio. As far as difficulty, I think the book reads like a gigantic list, and that’s just not what I’d want to listen to, although I will concede that it would beat most driving-related activities.

  • Patrick M. Tracy August 18, 2011, 3:59 pm

    I imagine that elements of the Illiad would be terribly mind-numbing, as Homer goes over the warriors present, and how many horses, slaves, ships, etc., they brought with them, and where they came from, with those stock descriptors like “Sandy Pylos”.

    I suppose that the parts of Moby Dick that get deeply in to the day-to-day fun of boiling tallow and cutting up whale blubber would probably get tough.

    You never really know how much you skim until you listen to a book you thought you enjoyed and realize that you actually want to strangle all the main characters, (or the author, even better), for the stultifying excess of meaningless dialogue. I won’t name names, but a certain fantasy series involving a blade that is factual may fall into this category.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2011, 9:55 am

      Oh yeah, those gigantic catalogs would be riveting!

  • Sunny August 19, 2011, 8:41 am

    I tried to listen to the Sound and the Fury on audio. That was a big mistake.

    I know several years ago, I tried to listen to Microserfs, as read by Matthew Perry and it was god awful. It really illustrates the point that sometimes actors don’t make the best readers. You can’t even find that on audible.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2011, 9:56 am

      Good call on that Copeland book. I have Microserfs on my shelf somewhere. Didn’t hate it, but I can’t imagine it on audio.

      And the Sound And The Fury? A book I love, that I’m glad I don’t have to try to follow in the truck.

  • Sarah August 19, 2011, 9:24 am

    I think that any nature/hiking guide book would also be terrible to listen to. I can’t imagine trying to figure out where a particular trail was after only listening to directions…

    Other than that, I’d say something like Beowulf, Troilus and Criseyde and other Middle English texts would be very hard to follow, even for someone really familiar with the language. Sometimes, the only way I could follow what was going on when I read them was recognizing the visual similarities of modern english words.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2011, 9:56 am

      I never would have thought of a guide book. I think you might win today.

  • Casey Brazeal (North and Clark) August 19, 2011, 4:09 pm

    Sometimes I try to listen to something that is dense and I don’t have the resolve to sit down and read (Brother’s Karamazov most recently). This is totally the wrong strategy. Audio books are easy and fun in a number of ways, but they aren’t a great way to eat your literary vegetables.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2011, 8:48 am

      Audio was the only way I ever got through Anna Karenina.

      • Casey (North and Clark) August 20, 2011, 1:43 pm

        Did you like it that way or did it just kind of wash over you? I found myself engaged for moments and then drifting out of interest.

  • Carl Worth August 23, 2011, 6:08 pm

    As for The Sound and The Fury, I happen to have just listened to that as an audiobook last month, (before ever looking at the actual text). The reader did a phenomenal interpretation of the text, particularly in part 2 where there are so many rapid-fire changes of character/voice with no punctuation to clue the reader in. I loved it in audio.

    Of course, I had a very different experience than if I had read the text, but when reviewing the text later I decided that the experience of listening to a good interpretation made the text more accessible than if I had tried reading it.

    It’s definitely a unique book, and not one where I would have wanted the job of performing the recording.

    I wonder if I listened to the same recording that Sunny attempted.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 24, 2011, 1:00 pm

      i bet that’s quite a production. Now I think I’m actually interested in giving it a listen. Before I started listening to audiobooks I had never considered what amazing performances were possible. The Hobbit was the first one where I was really floored by how talented and versatile the reader was.

      • Carl Worth August 24, 2011, 4:03 pm

        I you do decide try it out, the audiobook I listened to was performed by Grover Gardner.