Books on Tape Changed My Life

When I was still living in Silicon Valley, my job was very stressful, and I could feel the stress fall on me during my drive to work, and it didn't let go during the drive home. The local radio stations bored me, so they didn't provide much distraction.

I discovered that audio books on tape at the local library gave me something interesting to listen to and think about, rather than worrying about work. In addition, I learned a lot of things from books I never would have gotten around to reading in printed form.

After moving to the country, I kept listening to recorded books from the library during chore time and while driving. It helps make the more tedious chore time enjoyable, whether we're talking about cleaning the house or fixing fences.

AudioBook Basics

Format: Tape, CD, or MP3 (iPod)

Traditionally, audiobooks come on casette tape, with 30-60 minutes per side. Many books are available both unabridged, where all the original content is still there, and abridged, where they have (in my opinion) been chopped down so ruthlessly that you might as well not listen to them. Some people like abridged audiobooks, but I have never seen the point.

Nowadays, audiobooks are also available on CD and as MP3 files that you can download over the Internet. The iPod is the most popular MP3 player. Some iPods have tiny internal hard disks, some of the newer ones have no moving parts, using up to one gigabyte of flash memory instead. Virtaully all of the non-iPod MP3 players use flash memory as well.

Buy, Rent, or Download

Public libraries generally have a large audiobook selection, though if you just browse the shelves you won't realize this. The more popular books are never on the shelves. There is a waiting list of people who have placed a "hold" on the book. You need to do this, too: use the catalog to find good titles and place holds on them. At my library, this is free.

You can also buy or rent audiobooks. Some bestselling titles are very reasonably priced, costing about the same as the hardcover edition, or a little more. Others are very expensive. Avoid abridged books unless you find full-length books tedious. This is unlikely if you're listening to the books as a captive audience, such as when commuting.

I've rented a few audiobooks that were too expensive for me to buy. For example, I rented some Elizabeth Peters mysteries from Recorded Books, Inc., using their Web page. The tapes arrived promptly and were in perfect condition. I had 30 days to listen to them, which was more than enough. Other audiobook sites offer this service, too.

My favorite method, though, is to download digital recordings from To play the audiobooks, I got an MP3 player that was smaller than a cassette tape and held several audiobooks. That was four years ago, and I'm still a member. The last time I looked, their plan costs $14.95 for one audiobook per month and $21.95 per month for two. This is less than the cost of renting audiobooks through the mail, and the books you get from are yours to keep. has an enormous number of titles, though they don't have everything you want. It's a great start, though.

Two Audiobooks for FREE from Audible

MP3 Players for Audiobooks

MP3 players are great. Apple's iPod is the most famous one, but there are a lot of other brands. Be sure you buy one that's compatible with, even if you aren't planning on joining the service right away. I use a Rio 500, which is obsolete but is something of a classic.

I don't like models with non-removable batteries, because they become totally dead once the battery runs down, until you take it home and put it in the charger for several hours. I use models with replaceable batteries, and recharge those. For example, the Rio 500 takes on AA battery, and I use rechargeable NiMH AA batteries. I can carry a spare battery if I'm going to be away from home.

Headphones for Audiobooks

Because I do a lot of work outdoors, my headphones and players take a beating, so I buy cheap ones rather than good ones. I mowed a Walkman with my tractor once!

When buying headphones, look in the specs section on the package for "Sensitivity." It should be at least 100 dB. Smaller headphones may not have adequate volume for listening to audiobooks.

For noisy chores, you can convert a pair of earmuff-style hearing protectors to headphone use in about a minute. Koss "The Plug" earplugs also cut out noise pretty well, but not as well as real hearing prtectors. I discuss this on one of my tractor pages.

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Koss "The Plug" Earplugs on eBay

MP3 Players on eBay

AudioBooks on eBay