The first program I installed, after an inordinate amount of spending in the classic rock section of I-Tunes, was the book dealer Audible.com. I had begun walking four miles per day, and I had a 30 minute commute to my office, so here were two hours in the day available for serious listening. Like most listeners, I guess, I went for popular titles, but I began to wonder if there were possibilities for theological or spiritual reflection.
When I signed on about seven years ago, the entire Audible library numbered 80,000 books. Once you subtracted the Stephen King titles, that was not a large selection. Christian/Catholic titles were few—and rather eccentric. The first Catholic title I purchased was an interesting but unlikely one: Curran versus Catholic University: A Study of Authority and Freedom in Conflict. I have always wondered how that work ended up in an Audible production, as it currently rates south of six million in Amazon sales. Later I added some lectures by the Evangelical theologian Karl Barth and a biography of Mother Angelica. As of today, in my 170+ purchased Audible books library exactly five are specifically Catholic/Christian titles
There are no doubt a number of useful “listens” for Catholic students and catechists in the Audible library, but mining them is tricky and time consuming unless you know exactly what you are looking for. The same problems we spoke of last weekend apply to Audible, that it, separating the wheat from the chaff. Just for the fun of it, I took my chances and hit the “browse” button to see what a cold search would bring up.
First of all, on the home page Audible does not list “religion” as one of its main categories. You have to hit the “more categories” selection, which takes you into an Alice in Wonderland array of nearly every aspect of human existence, real or projected. Scrolling considerably down that page I came to “Religion and Spirituality.” Home, you say? Not quite. This category is subdivided as well, so I scrolled down to two sections that appeared promising, “Religious Thought” and “Christianity.” Religious Thought contained 2698 entries as of today; Christianity reports 5719 titles. I used the type-in search entry for “Catholic,” and found about 120 entries. The first four were as follows: Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Catholic Catechism, and the Catholic Guide to Depression. I was a little depressed with this buckshot ensemble myself.
In the 7+ years of Audible membership, I have found the service to be highly informative and generally quite entertaining. For general listening purposes its library is quite good. I have worked out to Game Change, Too Big To Fail, Steve Jobs, The Caine Mutiny and The Guns of August, not to mention highly entertaining works about the Yugo, Google, and Facebook. One of my few novels came to me on Audible, Challenger Park, a story of a modern astronaut family in a Catholic setting (a great summer listen, to tell the truth.)
However, the Audible library, information data base, and format do not make it my first choice as a source of theological formation. I should say that Audible is not cheap; a subscription is currently $14.95/monthly, which entitles the member to one credit or one book. After that you pay market value, which I have found at times to be three times higher than Kindle. For a while this led me to purchase only “longer books,” but there is some kind of glitch in the download such that current IPods can only run 25 hours of a book, a troubling issue when some readings run 30-60 hours. The young techies at Apple seem perplexed by this.
The Audible purchase site provides little information on the vetting of authors and publishers. You can check a potential purchase over at Amazon, but this is troublesome and time consuming, and you still may not get the information you need. It is probably wiser to do your browsing on Amazon, which gives you the option to buy the title from Audible, if available. A bigger problem for those of you in “learning mode” is that recorded books in general do not work footnotes or bibliography into the oral text, and there is no way to recover this valuable information unless, as with Audible, you pay an extra $11 for “whispersync” service—the book goes to Kindle and Audible simultaneously. So, it would be very hard to use a book in a listening app for further catechizing ort when preparing class, for example, unless you have taken voluminous notes.
I have not had the opportunity to check other providers of narrated books in the Catholic market. I get advertisements for e-books almost daily, but the narrated books must be more costly to produce. I will continue to research the market. There is no shortage of devotional material available on Audible, but my sense is that you may save money by connecting with podcast services from legitimate and credible sources.