Audiobooks and Critical Listening: Shockwave by John Sandford

Do audiobooks count for my Goodreads reading goal? I feel like they should.

Future Father-in-law gave me a few audiobooks on CD for Christmas this year, and it took me a while to pop one into my car’s stereo. I was hesitant about this for a couple of reasons:

  1. Reading is an immersive experience for me. While I love listening to music or podcasts in the car or at work, I tend to zone in and out as my thoughts wander or as I focus on what’s in front of me. This isn’t exactly an immersion-friendly habit when it comes to audiobooks.
  2. The audiobooks he gave me are all suspense-thrillers; the types of authors whose novels you consistently see on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, and who seem to put out a new novel concerning their detective/cop/government agent every single year. I’ve never been into these types of books. Future Father-in-law had previously loaned me Crossfire by James Patterson (which was made into a film starring Tyler Perry). I read maybe 70 pages into it and just couldn’t really get interested. I’m used to reading dense histories or in-depth epic fantasies, and my reading list is already extensive. I just couldn’t justify reading a novel I was not that interested in when there were so many others waiting patiently on my bookshelf.

Anyway, I felt bad for not wanting to read the two or three novels FFiL gave me, because I know he was hoping we could connect on them. But he found another way. He travels frequently for work and listens to audiobooks on CD to pass the time.

This past Christmas, he gave me three of these audiobook CD compilations that he had listened to, all of which are in this mass-market, suspense-thriller genre. After putting it off for a couple months, I finally chose one of the audiobooks to listen to on my 30-45 minute commute to and from work.

Suspense/Thrillers for the Masses

Turns out I loved it — the experience, anyway. Driving is the perfect pastime for an audiobook, especially one of this genre.

I listened to Shockwave by John Sandford, one of the aforementioned suspense/thriller authors who has a catalog of novels to his name. Shockwave mostly follows Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers as he investigates an unusual series of bombings and finds himself in a small Minnesota town to track down the perpetrators. Virgil is a middle-aged cop with a surfer-boy look (which inspires many jokes from the locals he deals with), a dry sense of humor, and a knack for reading people.

He is interesting in the way that you might find the guy sitting near you at the bar interesting. You might not want to see him outside the bar, but he’s got some damn good stories to tell and enough personality to be affable and entertaining.

The observant, dialogue-heavy narrative doesn’t bother much with Virgil’s background as a detective (either because its covered in other books or it’s gradually uncovered throughout the series), but it’s clear that he is not the forensic type. Virgil prefers tracking down leads, asking questions, and conducting stake-outs to examining fingerprints or analyzing blood-spatter marks.

This makes him easy to connect with. It also makes the story fairly engaging to play along with. The most surprising realization for me from listening to this story was not that I enjoyed, but just how much I enjoyed listening to it. Rather than pouring over the text, re-reading passages trying to pick out the little details, I was free to let my mind wander, often asking the same questions that Virgil himself asked his witnesses and informants.

As cliche as it sounds, I felt like I was taking part in the case. By the time I reached the midway point of the story, I was developing my own theories of who the bomber might be while listening to Virgil develop his own. I don’t know that I would have engaged on that level with the plot if I had been reading it. At least, I think it’s more difficult to read and think about what you’re reading in real time. Reading requires more reflection. Listening gives you the space to react and analyze instantly.

I enjoyed the story, but I also enjoyed the experience of the story. And now I have some good conversation material the next time I see Future Father-in-Law. I have two more audiobooks from FFiL’s collection, and I’m looking forward to diving in. In fact, I have a long drive ahead of me tonight. It’s win-win.

And for the record, I’m totally counting audiobooks as part of my GoodReads reading list. The rules be damned!

Steve D

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