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I am a huge fan of audio books. I remember being a child listening to the read-along cassette tapes from the library (the ones that would come in a little plastic bag with snaps at the top). I have such fond memories of flipping through Owl at Home and Frog and Toad are Friends with my klunky cassette player whirring along next to me.

As I got older and grew too old for read-along books I sort of forgot they existed. Except for a gift of The Hobbit on cassette tape when I was around 12, I barely listened to any for most of my teen years. I still read ravenously, even progressing to the upstairs “grown up” part of the library where they kept all the classics. Then one day, as a college student, I suddenly stumbled upon the library’s secret (so it seemed) stash of hundreds of audio books on CD. I’d been going to this library my whole life and never knew about them. It was like finding a hidden treasure. I was suddenly able to read twice as many books as before because I could read while driving (not advisable with print books), walking the dog, cleaning, whatever.

Now, I never go on a long drive without a book to listen to, and often have one to listen to during my daily commute as well (currently: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas).

Simon Jones recording
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
There is something extra wonderful about a good audio book. Audio books are lent a life of their own by the reader. It’s true, for a great audio book you do need to start with a good book. But a good reader can truly lend a new dimension to a book while a bad reader can make it unbearable.

Some might say listening to an audio book doesn't count as reading, but I think it really depends on what you are aiming to get out of your books. Listening to a book opens up some new opportunities. It means that you can “read” more than you otherwise might be able to, because you can do it while driving, cleaning, doing laundry, exercising, etc. Though you aren't reading the words, you still expand your imagination, improve your attention span, learn new things, discover new worlds, and identify with characters perhaps even more than you might if you were reading the words silently. Audio books can also encourage people who aren't so great at reading (dyslexic people for instance) to still “read” and expand their imaginations.

I would never suggest that audio books replace print books. There is a wealth to be gained from reading words on paper, especially for young people:  learning to recognize correct spelling (seriously, so many people need this), learning to imagine character voices and attitudes based on description, learning to sound out unfamiliar words,  improving your comprehension speed, etc. But I think that audio books should definitely have a place in everyone’s life alongside normal reading.

My favorites and recommendations:

The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud, read by Simon Jones – I have never had any other book where I would recommend someone with a choice listen to the audio book INSTEAD OF reading the book, but Simon Jones is just amazing. He IS Bartimaeus. I’m currently listening to the trilogy for the third time.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, read by Lenny Henry. Though I love Gaiman, I wasn't a big fan of American Gods, and probably by extension wouldn't have been a fan of Anansi Boys had I not heard it brilliantly brought to life by Lenny Henry. I've listened to this one twice, and probably will again.

Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne, read by a full cast including Judi Dench, Geoffrey Palmer, and Stephen Fry. This should be required listening for anyone who needs to lower their blood pressure. One if the loveliest books, read by some of Britain's best actors.

Where to get audio books for free

Audio books are really expensive to buy (and rightly so), however there are a lot of options for audio book lovers who aren't financially well endowed (poor people,like me).

Library – Seems like a no-brainer but I think many people don’t realize that most libraries have an audio book section. You may be surprised if you start looking into your library’s collection, many often have not only a large CD selection, but more and more are offering digital collections to their communities and you may be able to listen online. If you are in the US you can find your local library here - - All the books on this site are in the public domain, so you won’t find any new releases, but there is still an impressive range available – all free. All the readings are done by volunteers - there is no screening process since each reader is doing it out of the goodness of their heart and their love of books. This can lead to varying quality in the readings.

I have a love/hate relationship with Librivox. I have listened to some truly good readings and also some truly truly awful readings. One woman ended every sentence with rising inflection, as if it were a question. Another guy read every sentence like it was a radio announcement. Impossible to listen to and frustrating as well, because they were ruining good books. Still, I encourage you to check it out, because for every bad reader there are several good ones. You can download Librivox books from their website, or from their channel in the iTunes store.

Spotify - Another free option is Spotify. I haven’t looked to extensively into this but I have found a few free books there. I am never sitting still long enough to listen on my computer, however, so I haven’t checked out the quality of what is available.

Have any other sources for free books? Email me and I’ll check them out!


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