NPR’s Snap Judgement


This post first appeared on the Sunday Times of Malta’s Culture Section.

How do you guys feel about listening to your book, rather than reading it?

I’ll be honest, I never got excited about the idea of audio books. Sure thing, it’s all about the story, I suppose.

But I confess to feeling confused about the whole sitting down and listening to a book thing. I mean, if I want to get the story without using up too many braincells, how about I just watch a film instead?

There is also the question of what to do while listening to said audio book that doesn’t make me feel as though I’m wasting time.

If I’m actually reading, some­how I feel that I’m using my time both gainfully and pleasurably. Certainly no guilt feelings attach­ed to reading!

If I’m listening to an audio book, on the other hand, I rather feel as though I should also be doing something else. It’s a shame, I suppose, and indicative of today’s lifestyle where we feel that unless we are actively doing something we are wasting time – but there you have it.

So what is it to be? Driving, working out, or maybe doing household chores? I prefer music in all scenarios, particularly the latter two. Which leaves audio books out in the cold somewhat.

Enter a particular podcast called Snap Judgement, which totally changed my mind. It’s an audio book, but then again it isn’t really. In fact, I prefer the Snap Judgement team’s description – storytelling with a beat.

The show is produced by NPR, by far my favourite suppliers of podcast material, and the way it works is like this:

Every week there is a specific theme and listeners send in the non-fiction narrative related to the theme.

The only condition is that the stories must be true (with a touch of poetic licence, of course), mostly because the idea is to offer ‘compelling personal stories’.

The show is produced by NPR, by far my favourite suppliers of podcast material

Those who want to contribute simply go on the website ( and submit their tale. The only snag is that you can’t just submit a written story – the Snap Judgement team takes a rather more multimedia approach to storytelling, so you will need to provide the writing, a recording of the narration and maybe upload a couple of related photos. In short, make it as intriguing as possible.

Halloween week was, as is to be expected, taken up by the scary stuff and the knowledge that this was all personal experience (albeit somewhat exaggerated) left more of an impact than your standard Hollywood fayre.

Now for the cherry on the cake – Snap Judgement is not just about the storytelling. The stories are interspersed with music mixes, hence the ‘storytelling with a beat’.

I’m not sure why, but I’m finding this 21st-century version of an audio book more intriguing than the traditional one. The fact that the stories cannot actually be read helps – I don’t feel like maybe the experience would be better if I were reading it first-hand, which is obviously the case if I were to listen to some classic (tried it with Edgar Allan Poe – it didn’t work).

Moreover, there is music and, while certainly not hardcore enough for a workout, it certainly works while I’m driving.

Want to listen to the show? All you need to do is find the NPR channel on your iTunes and subscribe to it. Alternatively, you can do it directly from the website.