December 14, 2009

"I love audiobooks, in part because I’m lazy and in part because I’m not."

"Rather than sitting still and moving my eyes over a page, I like to roam around and do stuff—iron, say, or defrost my freezer. I take walks, I soak in the tub, I turn up the volume and vacuum."

Says David Sedaris, who goes on to list audiobooks he likes because of the perfect match between the reader and the material. I agree with Sedaris about the lazy/unlazy quality of listening to audiobooks and want to add what he can't say, which is that his own writing and reading are a brilliant match.

66 comments:

David said...

My wife prefers audio books to what I snobbishly call "the real thing." My phrasing does not seem to annoy her. She is quite serene. She prefers romance novels and biography. But when we are on a long road trip she always brings one or two audio books on history in order to keep my interest. She is a very excellent wife.

Ann Althouse said...

I can't believe David Sedaris doesn't have a frost-free refrigerator.

David said...

Yeah but he might not have a frost free freezer if he buys the used stuff. The old unfree freezers were like an archeological dig when we finally got around to defrosting them, each layer another year into the past.

Bissage said...

Yet another brilliant match was David Sedaris talking about his experiences cleaning other people’s apartments.

What a hoot!

howzerdo said...

If he can vacuum and listen to an audio book, his hearing is a lot better than mine. (Although with that din, it won't be for very long.)

Michael Hasenstab said...

I listen to audio books and read print books for the same reason that I rotate the tires on my car.

I want everything to wear evenly. Front tires, rear tires, eyes, and ears.

Scott M said...

Audio books are incredible, especially if you have a long, soul-crushing commute like I do.

The voice talent can ruin it, though. For me, it all depends on how they handle voices of characters of the opposite sex. Whether it's a man reading or a woman, if they try to hard, it seems to make the whole affair a bit corny.

The best audiobook I've ever heard is the one for Mel Brooks' son, Max, of his novel World War Z. Instead of a single voice talent, he got multiple because the book is, after all, merely a series of interviews. He did the interviewers voice himself and got the likes of Alan Alda, Henry Rollins, Mark Hamill (which I didn't know even after listening to the damned thing multiple times), and Carl Reiner just to name a few.

howzerdo said...

On second thought, I doubt he is doing anything besides taking walks and soaking in the tub (or sitting on the couch?). Fridge? Professor Althouse already pointed out. Vacuum? Too loud. Ironing? He doesn't take his shirts to the cleaners? Not that relaxing and listening are unworthy, of course.

Henry said...

This is why I listen to Red Sox games on the radio instead of watching them on TV.

class-factotum said...

I can't believe David Sedaris doesn't have a frost-free refrigerator

He lives in Paris, doesn't he? I'm surprised he has a freezer at all.

traditionalguy said...

The best audio books are those read by the author. Listening on the I-pod helps considerably during the Spin Class when the younger folks are absorbing the loud music as if it is wonderful. You do have to remember not to laugh out loud too often, which offends the other class members

froggyprager said...

I like them but have only listened to a few. It seems to take so much longer than to read the book. Has anyone done a comparison between the time it takes to listen vs read an average book for an average reader? Can you speed up the reading a bit?

vbspurs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

I liked both Davids' commentaries about audiobooks. The author and the commenter.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Like Froggyprager, I like audiobooks but I rarely listen to them. I recently took a 300 mile trip and decided to pop in Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side" to keep me entertained (no male in the car, I like sports). I remember appreciating the convenience, but I'll be durned if I can remember a single word of it now -- something which would never happen had I read the real book version.

Well, Kindle version. That's another thing.

Cheers,
Victoria

Triangle Man said...

This is why I listen to Red Sox games on the radio instead of watching them on TV.

If only we could read the games on tickertape.

Freeman Hunt said...

Back when I played video games, I used to listen to audiobooks while I played. Playing a video game was too much like just sitting around. Add in the audiobook and voila!; two things at once makes it all better. A co-worker commented that this was very "Type-A."

Scott M said...

@Freeman

You were playing the wrong games then :)

I can't think of a game I would enjoy that allowed enough attention to be diverted to something like an audiobook. Besides, in the really, really good games nowadays, you're screwed if you can't hear what your mates or commanders are telling you.

chuck b. said...

While David Sedaris may be a good speaker, I understand that most writers are not and one should look for audiobooks read by actors, not writers. That's just what I've heard. I've never listened to an audio book.

vbspurs said...

In fairness, the Red Sox announcer on the radio, Joe Castiglione, is excellent. It is from him that I first heard "wicked" used as a superlative adjective for anything -- now commonplace in Massachussetts.

(Contrast him to the bozo who does the play by plays for the Yankees. "AHHHHHHHH YANKEES WIN!", blech)

vbspurs said...

Playing a video game was too much like just sitting around. Add in the audiobook and voila!;

This multi-tasking habit very typical of women -- especially when doing something with men around -- drives my father crazy, as well as did my boyfriend(s). I know they can multitask, so I don't understand the irritation.

I think they imagine women folding the laundry and cooking dinner whilst watching soap operas. In other words, it's not SERIOUS.

Cheers,
Victoria

Joseph said...

I can't believe David Sedaris doesn't have a frost-free refrigerator.

He probably does have a frost-free fridge. He's pretty open about admitting the loose relationship of his stories to the actual facts of his life.

class-factotum said...

It seems to take so much longer than to read the book.

I only listen to audiobooks while I am doing something else, like driving on the highway under good conditions. But if I want to read a book just to read a book, I want to read, because I read so much faster than I hear.

I do listen to podcasts of talk radio while I am at the gym because I hate the music they play during aerobics so much. Listening to a discussion of local politics distracts me from exercise and gets my heart rate up almost as much as the class does.

Freeman Hunt said...

@Scott

The game was Everquest. I rarely played team-type games because I felt too frivolously tied to the computer.

Freeman Hunt said...

Yes, audiobooks are perfect for long trips in the car.

LarsPorsena said...

"While David Sedaris may be a good speaker, I understand that most writers are not and one should look for audiobooks read by actors, not writers. That's just what I've heard. I've never listened to an audio book."

You are correct. Sedaris is the exception not the rule. Most authors are miserable and do a disservice to their works. I have some long commutes and would go quite mad if not for audio books.
If the book is nonfiction, I usually have the hard copy for reading and reference when not on the road.

Scott M said...

@Freeman

I didn’t really start messing with online gaming until I started radio. Not going to work until 3pm and getting off around midnight makes for long, boring nights. This was 1998ish, so online gaming was really picking up. Ultima has to be given some props but EQ really was the granddaddy of them all.

Years later, pushing 40 with four kids, my two relaxing enjoyments, woodworking and gaming, are pushed to a couple of restricted hours in the evening. Since I can’t make a whole bunch of noise in the shop at night, gaming it is…mostly because contemporary television is mostly crap. Refried crap most of the time. I only have time for one game these days…but it’s a doozy.

Freeman Hunt said...

Audiobooks are also great for workouts.

Henry said...

@Triangle Man - It's just hard to unspool the ticker tape and hold pliers at the same time.

@vbspurs - Exactly. The bozo is John Sterling. Perhaps the worst radio guy I've ever heard.

Baseball, because of the pacing and sequencing of the action, is ideal for radio. Football and basketball are much better on television.

k*thy said...

I've tried audio books on a couple drives and I'm kind of luke warm to them. Something else gets my attention then I lose the book...game over.

Though, the idea of something new on the treadmill would be a nice change.

rcocean said...

Nothing beats an audiobook of great literature/philosophy read by someone with a good voice. I can savor every well written word.

I have a lot of Walter Zimmerman B-O-T - he's fantastic.

OTOH, mediocre writing is unbearable when spoken, I enjoyed reading "Catch 22" but I first tried to listen to it as a Book on Tape and found it unendurable. The repetition is funny when read but when spoken is boring.

And the reader can ruin it. I love Raymond Chandler but Elliot Gould is awful and completely wrong as "Marlowe".

Michael Hasenstab said...

I enjoy listening to Mr. Baseball, the wonderful Bob Uecker, call Milwaukee Brewer baseball games while I'm driving. Even during years when I don't much care for the Brewers' lousy playing, listening to Uecker is a delight. His dry wit and side jokes are a treasure.

The Marcel Marceau audiobook, on the other hand, was infuriating. it caused me to take my car to the dealer three times with a complaint about the CD player not functioning.

bagoh20 said...

Of course, in fact, I'm so info addicted that I often listen to the radio while watching TV and reading on the internet simultaneously. The sound of silence has become very uncomfortable, as has sitting without reading something,... anything.

I remember being the hospital for about 10 days once and nearly going mad when my reading material ran out and I began reading the signs around the room over and over until I knew all their entire texts by heart. It was torture.

But, I am nearly a nonfiction bigot. I have a hard time reading fiction, despite the fact that I have fell in love with nearly every fiction novel I ever read. I still have trouble choosing one. The real world and it's history just seem inexhaustible and the idea of learning thing's that are not factual seems like a waste. I know that misses the point of fiction, but It's a mental block I need to overcome. Maybe this Christmas break I'll give it a go again.

Audio books would help, but it's not the same. It's too easy to ignore audio and miss a lot.'

To answer someones question, yes, you can speed up the audio, on my Ipod anyway.

knox said...

The best audiobook I've ever listened to was "Alias Grace" read by Elizabeth McGovern. She had, to my ear, perfectly mastered the accent.

Scott M, we tried to listen to World War Z on a car trip and found some of the accents to hard to understand with the road noise. Enjoyed the book, though.

knox said...

Elliot Gould as Philip Marlowe???? (To be fair, Elliot Gould as anything makes me queasy.)

traditionalguy said...

Bagoh20...Try Focusing and centering your mind. Multitasking is easier for some than others, but for me forming a memory takes some time and repetition. Foe me, replaying an audiobook several times over a few months always reveals that more was there.

prairie wind said...

Stephen Fry reads the Harry Potter books? I have listened to Jim Dale read them, and can't imagine better.

We started taking audiobooks on road trips to keep the kids entertained and have been happy to see/hear that there are a large number of kids' books that are great to listen to. The Tucket series from Gary Paulson is the first one to come to mind...oh! and Crispin by Avi. We have many favorites.

I liked Blair Brown reading Anne Tyler novels.

Audiobooks keep me on the treadmill or the weight machine longer.

ricpic said...

...I often listen to the radio while watching TV and reading on the internet simultaneously.

I'd say this is more the rule than the exception.

Peano said...

My great escape is the 19th century Brits: Austen, Bronte, Thackeray, Hardy, Dickens, etc. I find that audio versions give a whole new dimension to great writing. But I've been utterly spoiled by by one narrator, Flo Gibson. She is, to my mind, unbeatable.

Scott M said...

@knox

I know what you mean about the accents. I don't think I've ever listened to it without earphones though. You have to admit they went the extra mile for authenticity's sake.

The single best audiobook, in terms of the talent and passion of the voice talent, was L. Ron Hubbard's Battlefield Earth read by Roddy McDowall. He nailed every single different voice, both human and not, female or not. And he's got the sort of Jeff Goldbloom quality that allows for excitement while being subtle...if that makes any sense.

kynefski said...

The book makes a difference. The first audiobook I bought was Matt Dillon reading On the Road. No offense to Dillon, but that book cannot be narrated as fast as it's meant to be read. Frustrating. The last audiobook I bought was Tom Hollander reading A Clockwork Orange, a story that begs for a (humble) narrator.

vbspurs said...

Baseball, because of the pacing and sequencing of the action, is ideal for radio. Football and basketball are much better on television.

Good point. Soccer is also good on the radio, and can be made to sound thrilling even when the pace isn't so. Not coincidentally, the best sportscasters ever have been for the games of baseball and soccer.

Someone mentioned tickers and scores. Remember that old broadcasters used to read ticker tape play-by-plays, and some enterprising radio guys (like Ronald Reagan) used to confabulate an entire game simply on what he read on the ticker tape.

Cheers,
Victoria

AllenS said...

Michael Hasenstab said...
"I enjoy listening to Mr. Baseball, the wonderful Bob Uecker, call Milwaukee Brewer baseball games while I'm driving."

Ain't that the truth. Me too. He seems to always have good play by play people with him, like Jim Powell who was replaced by Cory Provus. Since I've updated to DirecTV, I still have the radio on while I watch the game, and mute the television announcers. Not that they aren't good, but The Ueck, and his humor can't be beat.

theMom said...

One cannot raise a family and listen to audio books. Too many interruptions. When in the few moments each afternoon I sit down with my cup of joe and read a bit, I can just put the bookmark on the paragraph at which I'm interrupted and get back to it easily. Too much pausing with an audio book.

Paul said...

I get most of my reading done in the car these days, listening to audiobooks. I know you can download them but I still take them out of the library, partly because it encourages me to delve into something that I wouldn't have thought I'd go for. I always borrow three at a time in case I can't stand the reader.

Some books are better to listen to than they are to read. I know several people who were put off by Cormac McCarthy's idiosyncratic punctuation and grammar in "The Road," but that doesn't matter when you're listening to it.

Books that rely on the presentation of a lot of facts, or that involve lots of names (Russian novels) are hard to follow. I couldn't follow Faulkner on audio because of the complexity of his sentence structure.

Funny someone mentioned they hated the audio-book of "Catch 22"--I thought it was one of the best. Someone else said they can't remember anything about a book after hearing it rather than reading it; we must process information differently because that is contrary to my experience.

knox said...

Prairie, I'd love to hear more of your recommendations for kid's books on audio, if you have any more.

gbarto said...

David Sedaris is better on CD than the printed page. And I loved him recounting old family stories with sister Amy playing the youngest brother.

The other author worth having on CD is Douglas Adams. Since he'd already produced much of his stuff on the radio, he had a better idea than a lot of writers seem to of what to do in the studio.

Shanna said...

Audiobooks are also great for workouts.

I like them for workouts sometimes, but for some reason they never seen to line up in order on my MP3 player, and I end up having to bop around. And onetime I downloaded a book on tape that was all on one file, and I kept hitting the wrong button and switching to the next thing in line and that was so irritating that I never heard the end of the book.

Mostly though, I don’t’ like to hear people talk for long periods of time. I do books on tape on long trips sometimes, but I tend to get sick of them and have to switch over to radio every hour or two.

Deborah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leland said...

I'm actually writing this while waiting for a new book to get loaded on my iPhone. (wv: phate... really)

I have a long commute and enjoy audiobooks for that reason. I used to listen to the news, but I found it to be frustratingly slow. Someone asked about the speed of reading a book vs listening to a book. I don't know the answer, but I know I can read a newstory online in half the time it takes a radio station to tease it.

Music is ok for some commutes, but not the daily one, and in traffic. I tend to notice just how many songs get played while I'm waiting in traffic. For an audiobook, I tend to enjoy getting an extra chapter when I have traffic.

Denny, Alaska said...

Download a book to your iPod, pop the earphones on, chill. Life doesn't get any better.

Something for everyone to keep in mind: audiobooks are a boon to those of us with limited/no vision.

Marcia said...

Jane Austen read by Juliet Stephenson is the perfect fit.

vbspurs said...

Someone in the book industry told me once that David Sedaris was a national treasure. I have several Kindle books by him, but have yet to read one of them.

If anyone can suggest it, which one should I start with?

vbspurs said...

wv: Zkank. Tiger's Slovenian ho.

bagoh20 said...

Is listening to an audio book still considered "reading". Isn't there another word for it yet?

I'm sure WV will suggest one any minute, but I would offer "heared". It has a kind of Althouse hillbilly groove to it. "I heared me a novel by some dirty hippy from San Fran Sisco while I was a ridin my tractor on the back forty."

Doug Sundseth said...

howzerdo: "If he can vacuum and listen to an audio book, his hearing is a lot better than mine. (Although with that din, it won't be for very long.)"

I can't speak for Sedaris, but I listen to audiobooks when mowing the lawn, which is similar. I highly recommend noise-canceling headphones for noisy environments.

prariewind: "I have listened to Jim Dale read them, and can't imagine better."

I despise Dale's readings, mostly because he does such a disservice to young female characters.

prairie wind said...

Doug, you are right about Jim Dale and the HP girls--I was never quite satisfied with his reading of those characters. Maybe I'll have to find the Stephen Fry version.

knox:
Our kids have enjoyed anything by Gary Paulson, though most of them are not great literature. His Tucket series is one of my favorites, though - a boy's coming of age on the Oregon Trail.

Avi's Crispin is historical fiction; takes place at the time of England's peasant rebellion. I loved the introduction of the idea of individual freedom in that.

We've all loved Thunder Cave, by roland smith--boy's adventure in Kenya. The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsberg, and The Westing Game by Ellen Rasking. Harriet the Spy...the kids loved this one much more than I did.

More historical fiction: The Ballad of Lucy Whipple by Karen Cushman - California Gold Rush; No Place to Call Home by Cynthia DeFelice - hobos in the Great Depression.

I'm sure there are more (and of course, the HP stories are hugely enjoyable) but these are the ones that we all remember.

knox said...

Gosh thanks for all that! Much, much appreciated. I assumed there would be very few kid's books even available on audio.

Christy said...

Knox, what about Terry Pratchett for kids? Nation - coming of age novel with a boy hero and a girl who rescues herself, but together they do even better. The Wee Free Men - 9 year old Tiffany rescues her baby brother from the elves with the help of 10-inch tall cussing, fighting redheads tattooed in blue. Sounds lame but I truly love this novel and the two sequels. They are teaching/parenting books disguised as adventure. I know the Knox Co library (if that's where you are) has them available for download.

Cut It said...

Sedaris lives in a small village in France--in Normandy I believe. So frost-free fridge? Possible.

vbspurs--I'd start with Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Henry said...

@Knox -- Probably too late, but here are some recent selections we've used for car trips:

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Abel's Island by William Steig
The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo
The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

A great kid's story teller and song writer is Bill Harley. The Town Around the Bend is brilliant.

My kids also like the ubiquitous Magic Treehouse books. Those, the adults tune out.

A good public library should have a selection.

prairie wind said...

You mean...listen to someone else read Despereaux instead of reading it aloud yourself? Where's the fun in that?

My kids have never been the slightest bit interested in the Little House series. For someone like me, who loved the Little House books and still daydreams about scenes from The Long Winter, that's just a huge disappointment.

knox said...

Thanks, everyone for the recommendations! Can't wait to put them to use!

Maureen said...

"Defrost the refrigerator" = "clean the refrigerator" for my mom. Probably for Sedaris, too.

I mean, we still "dial" telephone numbers on touchtone cellphones or even on fax machine consoles, and nobody thinks that's odd or a lie.

English mystery novels are the best audiobooks. English actors, English pronunciations of weird names, and you get to spend more time in that world than a mere hour or two.

Stuff that gets physically boring to move your eyes across, like the huge blocky paragraphs of long Latinate sentences that you find in philosophy or patristics, can be much more interesting to hear.

But yes, a fast reader can probably read a novel at least five times faster than he can hear it read.

ProfessorWagstaff said...

Elliott Gould! have you really heard him read Raymond Chandler? He has an amazing voice and captures the essense of Phillip Marlowe perfectly.

ifonly said...

I love classics and recently found JAGAMAGA www.jagamaga-audiobooks.com
Currently listening to Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy on my mobile phone

Jenny from Newcastle