Recently, our library received a donation of several audiobooks for teens, and that gave me an idea for another Teen Advisory Group project.
My plan was that we would listen to sections of several different books as a group and see what my teens thought of them. I planned to discuss their thoughts on audiobooks in general, where and why people enjoyed audiobooks, and what qualities were important in a great audiobook reader. What I didn’t realize is that most of my teens had never listened to an audiobook before.
Now, that’s not to say that they’re not fans of spoken-word entertainment. My group has several podcast fans, and they’re especially vocal about their love for Welcome to Night Vale, which also happens to be one of MY favorite podcasts. And I’m not just saying that because of the Lovecraftian setting, the weird characters, or the fact that the librarians play such a large (okay, EVIL) role in the town.
But getting back to my original point, when it came to audiobooks, my teens had little to no experience with them. Now, that’s not to say that they didn’t have any preconceived notions about audiobooks. When I first suggested this project to my TAG, their opinions ranged from “they’re for old people” to “they’re contributing to the dumbing down of America.”
So … okay. This was going to be an uphill battle.
I started by getting out our CD player and playing the first few chapters of several different audiobooks. We tried different books with different moods, with male and female narrators. By the time our meeting ended, my teens were most impressed by Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott and The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, for entirely different reasons.
I’d picked Living Dead Girl because it’s one of my favorite young adult novels, and because the compelling story unfolds at a slow and mysterious pace. My teens listened quietly (and sometimes uncomfortably) as the narrator explained the difference in her world between “This is how things look” and “This is how things are.” After listening to several chapters of this story, they described the experience as slow, crazy, and freaky.
I’d picked The Spectacular Now primarily because I wanted my teens to be able to compare the experience of listening to a male narrator, but I didn’t know anything at all about the book. What I quickly learned was that this was a sarcastic and funny story, and the voice of the reader MacLeod Andrews really brought out that humor. Now, when I first glanced over his bio on the back of the audiobook case, it said that he was living in New York City and had performed in numerous stage productions. So I mentioned that to my teens, hit “PLAY,” and within the first minute they started saying, “Ugh, he has an accent!” I double-checked the case to discover a key phrase I’d missed, “However, he will always call Louisville, KY home.” Hmmmmm. So they listened, and listened, and laughed, and listened, and kept laughing. And ten minutes later when I stopped the CD and asked them what they thought, they said that it was funny, that they enjoyed it, AND that the reader’s accent had helped bring the story to life!
So, did I make audiobook converts out of my teens? Not exactly. But I think I managed to get my foot in the door. When I asked if any of them would consider listening to audiobooks in the future, I was met with a chorus of probablys and maybes. But since my strongest audiobook opponent (who’d said that audiobooks would contribute to the dumbing down of America the week before) was the one who asked if she could take Living Dead Girl home with her after the program, I think that definitely counts in the progress department.
Check out Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott in print and download as an audiobook
Check out The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp in print and download as an audiobook
And be sure to check out even more audiobooks for teens at NYPL!