Audiobooks Aboard

The lack of storage space on the boat has encouraged me to adopt audiobooks as my preferred format. I can listen while washing the dishes, riding the ferry, sewing, driving, varnishing, or working on any number of other tasks. Publishers are investing heavily in this rapidly growing format, and quality has improved significantly as a result. I have recently encountered familiar voices like Levar Burton, Tom Hanks, and John Hodgman reading to me, and many audiobooks are produced with multiple readers for clarity of voice.

A Few Tips 
Until a few years ago, my experiences with audiobooks involved cassettes or CDs and long car trips. Now technology allows me to keep dozens in my pocket all the time.

Increasing the playback speed forces me to focus. At normal speed, my mind wanders, but at 1.25x or 1.5x, I must listen actively to maintain the thread of the narrative. Wayne listens at 2x speed, which sounds like an impenetrable wall of words to me. Listed run times are at normal speed; your mileage may vary.

My taste in audiobooks diverts a bit from my paper preferences. In print, I love complex, literary novels woven with multiple narratives and sprawling casts, but I have trouble tracking the numerous characters and nonlinear plots when listening to these books. I save these for long, focus-friendly car trips or flights. My daily listening leans toward more straightforward tales.

Noise-cancelling earphones drown out the thrum of ferry engines, bus rumbles, and conversations, and they help me maintain focus and defend against interruption when reading in public.

As I mentioned before, the reader's voice makes a big difference. On rare occasion, the voice grates on me. You will be spending a lot of time with the reader, so take advantage of the free samples before you commit!
We both use the app and recommend that you do too. Unlike Audible (does Jeff Bezos need more of your money? No, he does not.), the files are DRM-free, so you own what you buy. When we sail away, all of our audiobooks will join us, no internet connection required. is a small, Seattle-based company that supports independent bookstores around the country. Your local independent bookstore is very likely an affiliate too - check the state-by-state list here. My account supports Third Place Books, and Wayne's supports Liberty Bay Books (soon to be Ballast Point Books!).

Disclosure: The links in this post go to If you start a new membership ($14.99/month, first month free, cancel any time) through the link, I'll earn a free audiobook. Any member can refer friends this way, just like at my credit union.

I have used the libro app for about two years, and I love it. I gave my dad a membership for his birthday, and he is reading more than ever. Wayne signed up in November and has been very pleased thus far. He even gifted a membership to a friend after the first month. If you want to switch from another provider, check out the switch promotion here.

Don't Forget Your Library
Your local library may also have audiobooks available for digital download. Nothing beats free! This is also a great way to try before you buy.

My favorite listens of 2019

Three fun books by Becky Chambers
My science fiction tastes trend more Douglas Adams (funny and weird) than Philip K. Dick (serious and conceptual), and I usually only read one or two books in this genre in any given year. If you don't read much sci-fi, but maybe your book club wants to branch out a bit, Becky Chambers might be a good fit. In her first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers builds a complex world full of new species, interesting moral dilemmas, a bit of humor, and interplanetary tunnels. I am usually disappointed by the second book in a series because the creative heavy lifting is done by the end of book one, and book two just provides a series of events set it that world. In A Closed and Common OrbitChambers expands her universe, introducing new characters and plenty more food for thought. I also enjoyed her stand-alone novella To Be Taught, If Fortunatewhich follows the crew of a space ship launched from Earth to explore unknown worlds. 

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Narrated by a young boy growing up among small-time criminals in rural Australia, this unconventional coming-of-age tale combines local politics, dysfunctional families, prison life, and teen angst. The protagonist tries his hardest to understand the world around him and longs to be a crime reporter when he grows up, like his idol, Caitlin Spies. His beloved babysitter, a notorious felon, encourages him to write letters to prisoners to bring a bit of the outside into their lives. His brother, August, excels in school but does not speak, communicating through cryptic messages indecipherable to anyone outside the family.

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott
This debut collection of personal essays is thoughtful, funny, and thoroughly enjoyable. Its author works at Parnassus Books in Nashville alongside the author of the next book on my list, Ann Patchett. For a taste of Philpott's style, check out one of the articles on her website or just go straight to the turtles.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
If you liked Ann Patchett's last book, Commonwealth, you will probably like The Dutch House. It's another tale of the ebb and flow of families, this time centered around two siblings and the sprawling house of their youth. As parents, step-sisters, wives, and children come and go from their lives, Danny and Maeve return to gaze at the Dutch house even after they have been banished. Tom Hanks reads the audiobook, and it could not possibly be better. It feels as though Ann Patchett wrote this book with Hanks in mind.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
This charming novel turned out to have more depth than I expected, and I learned a lot about beer and brewing along the way. The audio book is a delight, speckled with charming Minnesotan accents, a decades-long family rift, a dash of larceny, and the third-best pie in the state.

The Night Swimmers by Peter Rock
A summer tryst with an older woman leaves a young man longing to return to a time and place that will never be. An inexplicable incident in the lake leads him to pine for something that he cannot explain and lends perspective to his time there with his children. Mildly eerie, unexplained scenarios are a hallmark of Peter Rock's writing. If you haven't read him, check out My Abandonment, based on a true story set in Portland, Oregon. Then read When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge, another excellent novel inspired by the same series of events. 

The daughter of a Detroit numbers runner tells her mother's story and her own. From her family's part of the Great Migration to her reckoning with divulging family secrets, Davis unravels her mother's life and death through the lens of her own experience. She also gives the associated history of lotteries in the United States, which I found fascinating.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
A devoted single mother in her senior year of high school, Emoni longs to pursue her passion for food through a new culinary arts class at her school. While everyone agrees that her cooking is something special, her chef-instructor insists that she stick to the recipes follow the rules, and she bristles. Balancing a part-time job, school, and motherhood, she also wants to take some of the load off her grandmother, who struggles to pay the bills and keep Emoni in school. Acevedo won two major awards for her debut, The Poet X, which I plan to read based on my enjoyment of this one.

Acid for the Children by Flea & Patti Smith
This memoir from the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers covers Flea's childhood in Australia, a move to New York in grade school, and coming of age in L.A.. Lots of drugs, punk bands, and early musical influences, plus commentary on sobriety, finding a spritual path, and starting a music school. I was never a big Chili Peppers fan, but their music was certainly on the soundtrack of my college experience. I enjoyed this audiobook immensely and look forward to a second volume covering the rest of the story.



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