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The 5-Second Attention Span Makes Audiobooks A Challenge

October 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I was talking to somebody today about audiobooks.  Unabridged audiobooks strike me as a fantastic way to pass the time during long road trips, or while doing housework, or yardwork, or just about anything.  One of my favorite things to listen to on long drives is the original BBC radio production of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  But I've listened to that many many times and know parts of it by heart.  So it's easy and fun to listen to.

My problem, as I've grown older, is that I seem to have developed a 5-second attention span.  (I blame the internet.  And television.  And everything that was invented after 1935.)  It's not such a problem with paper books, probably because I'm long accustomed to flipping back and forth between pages.  But this has led to some retraining efforts as I take audiobooks for a spin.

Unless I'm careful to avoid distractions, my forays into audiobooks usually go like this.

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Book 1.  Chapter 1: A--

ZOMG there's a huge woodpecker clinging right to that tree.  Look at that.  Hey, red!  Hey, Woody Woodpecker! 

Oops.  *rewinds*

The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Book 1.  Chapter 1: A Long Expected Party.  When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced--

ZOMG that dog has the puffiest tail I've ever seen.  What a silly looking dog.  Poor thing.  I wonder if the other dogs make fun of it.  I hope he isn't lonely.  That reminds me, I need to write a letter to-- oops.  Oh, yeah.  *rewinds*

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party--

Wow.  That's really old.  What year would it be if I reached 111 years?  Let's see...  Oops.  Oh, yeah. *rewinds*

--be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of of special significance, there--


And so it goes.


Alex Brown October 19, 2011 at 10:22 pm
That's EXACTLY why I can't listen to audiobooks. I keep checking them out of the library, spending an hour transferring them to iTunes, rearranging my iPod so there's room for all 800 discs, then getting about 5 minutes into it and switching to music. And that's just at home. I can't listen to audiobooks while I'm driving because that interrupts my daydreaming/not paying any attention time.
Adrienne October 20, 2011 at 2:58 am
He attacked everything in life with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, and it was often difficult to tell which was which. - Douglas Adams. I am extraordinarily incompetent at listening to audiobooks. I fall asleep if I'm in a comfortable position, or get distracted if I'm not. Even matching socks will override the part of my brain that's meant to pay attention to The Time Traveler's Wife, aka, the only audiobook I finished to completion, which took me approximately all the weeks. But hey, the laundry was done.
bkdunn October 20, 2011 at 6:12 am
Dude, it's LOTR: you can woodpecker watch through a few chapters, it's not going to hurt anything...
DMS October 20, 2011 at 7:39 am
Have you listened to Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe? I haven't in years, but I suddenly want to. For no reason, in my head, she sits right next to the Guide radio plays. Oh, and the internet tells me there's more than just the one I've heard a few dozen times.
Melinda October 20, 2011 at 8:30 am
This was hilarious, and so true. I love you. The only audio book where this didn't happen to me was Harry Potter book 7 because I was so eager to hear how it came out. And then I hit the camping, and camping, and camping, and I went back to the hardcover book so I could skim.
Kristie October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am
Ha! That's pretty much exactly what LOTR was like for me when I rented them from Recorded Books a whole bunch of years ago. That was money not spent well. I had to pretty much train myself to be able to listen to audiobooks. It seemed like such a great way to spend that hour and a half of commuting time each day, but I'm also the easily distracted sort (I'm sure you remember Chemistry..."Ooo, pretty flame!"). What ended up helping me was listening to podcasts (which I still do, but I've cut back to a select few). Some that I like are really short, and some not so much, but since they don't really have much of a plot to keep track of or all that many characters, I find them to be kind of like training wheels. Not that I can listen to audiobooks just anytime now. There are definitely days when I know all I'll be doing is hitting the 30-second-back button on the Audible app, so I might as well listen to music instead of looking like I'm trying to text while driving.
Randi October 20, 2011 at 11:33 am
Forget the audio books and try radio dramas like Hitch Hickers! I've found them to be much more entertaining. You can find the 1930 dramas and Atlanta Radio Drama has done several Si-Fi, but I don't know if they are available for download. Star Wars is great with expanded scenes, but by the time you get to Return of the Jedi they got lazy. The 12 hour LOTR is good (with Ian Holm as Frodo), but as they run out of material toward the end of hour nine, they keep inserting more elfin musical interludes which I found a little grating.
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