November 2, 2006

Are you tiresome enough to say that listening to audiobooks is not reading?

Stephen King on audiobooks. (That link may require an Entertainment Weekly subscription.)
Some critics — the always tiresome Harold Bloom among them — claim that listening to audiobooks isn't reading. I couldn't disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading....

The book purists argue for the sanctity of the page and the perfect communion of reader and writer, with no intermediary. They say that if there's something you don't understand in a book, you can always go back and read it again (these seem to be people so technologically challenged they've never heard of rewind, or can't find the back button on their CD players). Bloom has said that ''Deep reading really demands the inner ear...that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.'' Here is a man who has clearly never listened to a campfire story....

There's this, too: Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice. (Listen to a Tom Clancy novel on CD, and you will never, ever read another. You'll never be able to look at another one without gibbering.) I can't remember ever reading a piece of work and wondering how it would look up on the silver screen, but I always wonder how it will sound. Because, all apologies to Mr. Bloom, the spoken word is the acid test. They don't call it storytelling for nothing.
King lists a Top Ten and lavishes praise on the number 1 choice: Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," read by Ron Silver. I don't need any more convincing. I'm going right over to to buy it. And I'm going to check out Stephen King's new book, even though he doesn't mention it. It's gotten high critical praise, you know. I'm buying it. (It's read by Mare Winningham.)

I love audiobooks, and not just because sometimes I want to rest my eyes and sometimes I want or need to walk somewhere. I love the meaning and feeling the reader gives to the book. If you're wondering which audiobooks I've been listening to lately, here's my current set of books, my reading list, if I can say that:
"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson

"Don't Get Too Comfortable," David Rakoff

"Napoleon," Paul Johnson

"A Spot of Bother," Mark Haddon


Drethelin said...

as far as audiobooks go, my very favorite is probably bill bryson's a short history of nearly everything.

elliot said...

I just finished "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" on a flight to San Francisco.

I haven't laughed out loud so much since the last time I read a Bryson book.

Tom said...

I love audiobooks. They've replaced NPR in the car when I commute or drive long distances. (Michael Prichard is excellent reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe books.)

But I have to admit that I think of it as second-class to actually reading. I find myself being precise "I'm listening to such-and-such" rather than saying I'm reading it. It's not the same.

King is correct that audio is merciless to the author of bad prose, which we'll just skim when reading, but I don't feel as involved. This may not be the medium itself, but the fact that I never just sit down and listen to a book. I'm always walking or driving, and that takes considerable concentration that you would apply to the book when reading. (It's debatable whether audiobooks should be allowed while driving.)

George said...

"Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice."

Hell is a Stephen King audiobook.

Edward said...

I love audiobooks, and I have a huge collection. I also download them frequently from the internet.

Harold Bloom is kind of pathetic – a smart man, but one who exhausted his supply of original ideas quite a while ago. Nowadays, he mostly just repeats himself.

He also tends to confuse being a curmudgeon with providing useful, intelligent commentary.

Jake said...

Some readers use a different voice for every character in a Audible book. Then it becomes a radio play and is vastly more entertaining.

Portability is one of the major reasons I buy Audible books. I have 310 books on my tiny Ipod nano. Do you realize how much space 310 books would take up in a room?

BoneUSA said...

Ann -- how is the Rakoff book? I went and watched his appearance on the Daily Show after you recommended checking it out a while ago (at least I think it was you). Thought he very sharp. Does the book disappoint?

Chrees said...

Audiobooks don't do much for me, but I'm not going to disparage anyone that likes them. I think it has just been a function of trying to listen to them while commuting and getting too distracted.

I will say the exceptions have been listening to The Iliad and The Odyssey. Maybe because they were originally oral tales? I don't know, but I'm not going to worry about it too much and just enjoy...

Mark Hammond said...

Any books by David Sedaris, read by David Sedaris, are pure gold.

Finn Kristiansen said...

Yes I am tiresome enough.

Audiobooks are for people who can read, and who like to read. Those who can't manage to finish a book ought not to go near an audiobook, their minds thus unconditioned to concentrating, and not needing to drift further in that direction. Every nuance will be missed while they "read" their way to work, to the gym, and while cleaning.

Old Dad said...

Obviously listening to audio books is not reading. It's listening. Both experiences are valuable. But they are different.

Hearing a good actor read a book is a wonderful experience, but it's not the same thing as holding a copy of King Lear in your hand and contemplating, again and again, the words of the fool.

I like audio books, too. But let's try a thought experiment. You're on a desert island. The genie offers the complete works of Shakespeare on tape or the Oxford edition in print. I'd take the book all day long, but I'd hate like hell to lose the performance art.

MadisonMan said...

For people who get carsick reading (I raise my hand), audio books are really great. They're also great if you're alone in the car, although in that case I play a CD and sing at the top of my lungs.

Revenant said...

I don't care for audiobooks, myself, because I usually prefer to skim works of fiction unless I find them really engrossing. For non-fiction books the audio format isn't very good -- while you can, indeed, rewind a CD or an MP3, it is a heck of a lot easier to find the page or reference you're looking for by paging through a book than it is to find it by scanning back and forth in a sound file.

ignacio said...

Sorry if I differ with the majority here, but I don't like to be read to. I like to read. End of story.

Steve said...

Wow, that is pretty rich for Stephen King of all people to mock another author for half-baked metaphors and lousy word choice.

Sean said...

I agree with Steve and others: I've read both Stephen King and Tom Clancy and I hadn't noticed much difference in the writing quality. I presume it's Clancy's political beliefs that cause King to consider him a bad writer. What I don't know is whether King's political beliefs are the cause of his receiving high critical praise on his latest. It wouldn't surprise me, though.

Kathy said...

I don't like to be read to either, although I haven't tried the audiobooks (for that reason, really). But the homeschool curriculum we use emphasizes the importance of both reading great books and hearing great books, and also hearing stories told well. For me, the listening part is difficult, but I understand that it's a function of my concentration or lack thereof, and that it is a skill that can be developed and improved.

gj said...

Ulysses, read by Donal Donnelly was one of the great literary experiences of my life. As read by Donnelly, the book is suddenly not obscure but beautiful and rich.

Dave said...

Well this is interesting. I was about to comment that the concept of audiobooks didn't interest me because James Joyce wasn't set to audiobooks.

Reading the previous comment forces me to reassess that.

As for Bloom--yes, tiresome.

Velobiff said...

check out, two audio books a month for $25.00 over 25,000 to select from.

I love it

Aluwid said...

Ironically enough I was listening to Tom Clancy's "Executive Orders" audio-book today on my commute to/from work. I like his writing, perhaps I'm not being picky enough? The only frustrating thing is how jumpy the abridged version can be, but that isn't the authors fault.

For those that enjoy audio books and have a long drive to/from work I'd recommend checking out It's kind of like the Netflix for Audio CDs. I'm on the four books at a time plan. Given my long commute (1.5 to 2 hours each way) I burn through books really fast, but if it weren't for them I'd go crazy.

Dave said...

It may be true that nothing beats reading a book. But sometimes, like when walking to the Metro, sweeping leaves or driving long distances, there isn't much chance to sit down and read. So why not listen to a book?

I doubt I would have finished Martin Gilbert's ridiculously long bio of Winston Churchill any other way.

JDM said...

Actually, what I find amusing is while reading "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", one of King's Bachman Books, I was thinking what a great movie this would make.

And, in time, it was, though somewhat different to the book.

The only other book though I have had such a strong feeling about is George R R Martin's Fevre Dream - although I think that would be a 4-hour mini-series (I even picked the spot for the break between the two 2-hour episodes). There were some lovely visuals in that book.

I'm not a fan of audiobooks personally, although that stems from pure ignorance of the medium and a love of (real) books.

I will say that I do believe that reading a book, and having one read to you, are different things - I suppose someone else is providing a prism through which the book is viewed.

Zach said...

I like the concept of audio books, and I've listened to one or two on family car trips.

But the pacing is brutal. For me, silent reading is five to ten times as fast as an audio book, with better retension. My mind wanders terribly listening to an audio book, just because it comes out so slow.

MadisonMan said...

I will say this: I would rather be reading a blog than listening to one.

Christy said...

Reading vs listening is a function of the material. In the words of Arnold Bennet, "A good novel
rushes you forward like a skiff down a stream, and you arrive at the
end, perhaps breathless, but unexhausted. The best novels involve the least strain." And I would add, the best novels are perfect for listening.

I agree with chrees, I fell in love with The Iliad while listening and find myself turning to the written text regularly now. Atwood's The Penelopiad, with the chorus of hanged maids, was enhanced, I think, by listening. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas I read for a group discussion and found that my experience of the section written in dialect was vastly superior to the experience of those who read it. I didn't need several pages to get into the rhythm of the speech. For several that was their least favorite part of the novel. It was my favorite.

I confess to trouble listening to most non-fiction. It usually, alas, makes me think. By the time I've followed my own thoughts I'm lost in the text and refinding my place is a pain.

I download from the library system for free, btw.

bill said...

Don't have many, but I tend to buy audiobooks of texts I enjoy rereading. Sometimes being forced to go at the reader's pace and not being able to skip ahead brings out nuances in the book I'd forgotten about.

Just for the joy of listening to him, you can't go wrong with John Cleese reading "The Screwtape Letters."

LoafingOaf said...

Don't have many, but I tend to buy audiobooks of texts I enjoy rereading.

Yeah, I like to get audiobooks of my favorite novels. Most recently I listened to Joe Mantegna narrating Richard Price's Clockers and enjoyed his reading very much! And I also checked out the audiobook version of Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy, one of my very favorite novels. They included a version of the traditional song the novel takes its title from, "The Butcher Boy", as sung by the late, great singer Kirsty MacColl. It made me like the novel a lot more to hear this song instead of just reading the lyrics!

Maxine Weiss said...

Fans of audiobooks are denying themselves the chance at a well-developed imagination.

People that spend a lot of time, watching the movies of....instead of reading the actual novels....

People that listen to the novels...instead of using imagination..

I like to form my own impressions and imagination of what character's voices sound like. My own impressions, (not someone else's) of what a narrator sounds like---in my head.

I don't need things fed to me.

I like to come to my own conclusions of who a character is. A voice that doesn't seem to fit the character....takes away from what I've already imagined.

...Much the same way movies that are made out of novels are much less satisfying than my own imagination.

Not to mention too passive.

Freeman Hunt said...

One of my few pet peeves: People asserting that Stephen King is a bad writer. He's extremely good, and his talent towers over most other popular fiction writers.

Harsh Pencil said...

If you have kids (or just like Roald Dahl) I highly recommend James and the Giant Peach read by Jeremy Irons. His reading is just perfect.

HaloJonesFan said...

Freeman: The problem is that Stephen King doesn't use a ten-dollar word where a three-cent word will do. And due to his history, his books are typically shelved in the genre section instead of the literature section. Therefore he Cannot Be Considered A Serious Author.

The difference between Clancy and King is that King tells a good story simply, while Clancy writes novelisations of wargaming sessions.

JDM said...

Actually, I suppose a further comment might be worthwhile:

the first time you read a book, would it be listening to an audiobook or reading it that you would prefer to do?

Seems to me on the comments here people use often audiobooks to re-read old favourites.

kettle said...

Personally I'm not a big fan of audio books. This is mainly because I live in Tokyo, and don't own a car, and thus have no place where they might come in handy.

However, that's no reason to disparage the form. If I still lived in SoCal I'd be listening.

(Still, audio books probably are a bad idea for people with low literacy...)

Tristram said...

"Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice."

Hell is a Stephen King audiobook.

That is opinion, and IMHO a BS one. I have all the Dark Tower boks from Audible (~150 or so hours), and I thought they were wonderful. Stepehn King can tell a good story, and that translates to aufio very, very well.

I listen to many, many books. First, I find that jogging and driving (when I do 90% of my listening) are much more bearable.

Second, I find that hearing the books brings actaully increases my understanding of the book, becasue I do have to concentrate so well to follow. I mean, it is hard to skim/skip over sentences or words.

And oddly, as I pass certain places, I tend to recall particularly memorable portions of books.

I also have a soft for for author read books. One of my favrite audible books was 'Miles Gone By' written and read by William F. Buckly. I am not at all certain I would have understood the essays nearly as wel without hearing his inflection (and the sardonic humor was much, much more obvious when you could here the voice...)

jult52 said...

I just read "Napoleon" by Johnson and found it very interesting. Please post your remarks about it after you've finished it.

knoxgirl said...

Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace read by Elizabeth McGovern is my fave.

I am dumbfounded by Stephen King criticizing ANYONE'S writing. His writing is unbearable, and I'm not too much of a snob about that stuff.

Tibore said...

Sorry, everyone, but I'm with Ignacio, Harold Bloom, Maxine, and others here who don't try to confuse reading with being read to. I personally cannot stand audio books, and I've given them multiple shots. Having someone else read the story to you destroys the cadence of the sentences by imposing a narrator's flow to the material, and also messes up the voices and inflections a reader gives to dialogue in his or her own head. Audiobooks end up feeling pendantic and plodding, not to mention rather monotonous, since I've yet to hear one with different voice actors reading different character's parts.

Reading a story to an audience does have it's place, but we shouldn't try to say it takes the place of reading. It might inform you about the characters, let you know the dialogue, and give you the plot of the story, but it's fundamentally a different experience.

mango said...

I don't like audiobooks for the same reason as Zach mentioned -- they take forever. I read very quickly and I like to finish books in one sitting. There are very few places I go and things I do where I can't take a book. (I've read in the shower since I was very young.)

If I'm going to listen to a story, I prefer listening to a good verbal storyteller like Garrison Keillor than to a book.

howzerdo said...

I'd rather read - but the audio book of Angela's Ashes (which was read by the author) was great.

Fatmouse said...

That is opinion, and IMHO a BS one. I have all the Dark Tower boks from Audible (~150 or so hours), and I thought they were wonderful.

No, that's incorrect. It's been scientifically proven that the last three Dark Tower books made the world a worse place by 7%.

Fer chrissakes, it's like King was writing fanfiction of his own work...

Richard Dolan said...

I haven't listened to audiobooks much, but I've been reading books to my two daughters for years. The oldest, now in 6th grade, still likes to be read to, and I enjoy it very much. The two school books we're reading together now are Of Mice and Men, and the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Steinbeck would work just as well if she read it to herself but is certainly not diminished in any way by being read out loud. Gilgamesh, especially, improves by being read out loud. She had trouble understanding it when she was just reading it to herself, but the different voices, the cadences and repetitions, came alive when I read it to her. When she gets around to reading the Iliad or the Odyssey, I'm sure those works, and poetry generally, will work better by being heard as they are being read.

My younger daughter, in 2nd grade, likes the Harry Potter books. They're fine as far as they go, and the story certainly engages the mind of a 2nd grader. But reading them out loud doesn't add much. They're too slight to be worth the time or trouble, and you can get everything they have to offer from a quick skim. Having read three to her already, I would be delighted if she wanted to move on.

That's my reaction to Steven King and Tom Clancy as well. Both can provide a conventional "good read," and neither is very demanding on the reader or worth the effort to read closely. Listening to someone read their books while commuting or walking might be worth while if the audio cut out a lot of the fluff and just stuck to the main storyline.

As for the potshots at Harold Bloom, they sound like the sort of thing someone who hasn't read much of his criticism might say. Even apart from his major works on Shakespeare, his more popular stuff is full of sharp insights and comparisons -- Cormac McCarthy and Herman Melville, Chekhov and Flannery O'Connor, etc. In the comments in this thread, Old Dad (I may have more than literary taste in common with him) gets Bloom's larger point exactly right: like any really good work, Shakespeare on the page is full of great, often subtle, stuff that a performance or oral reading moves too fast to capture. Performance adds its own dimension that reading silently also leaves out, but literature of any quality needs a close reading. Like a few others on this thread, while I'm happy to read to my kids, I prefer to read than be read to.

ignacio said...

Norman Mailer performed a section of "Ancient Evenings" wonderfully. The quality of his performance might quite mislead one about the tedium of the actual book.

Ann Beattie made parts of her novel "Love, Always" seem quite witty. When I talked to her later she mentioned that she had read the book aloud to her friends. This I believe made her think it was funnier than it in fact was.

Gordon Lish was a great performer, as are Chuck Palahniuk and T.C. Boyle. But the books may (or may not) remain quite inert on the page.

A writer whose name I won't mention has a very strong Brooklyn accent -- and he loves to do readings. He always gets drunk, hoping for groupies. But when I read his books it spoils them if I hear him in my head.

Gore Vidal has a sonorous voice, rich with all kinds of nuance and irony you'll rarely find in his prose. His readings are smash-hits.

James Ellroy is a horrible reader of his own work, though I doubt he thinks so -- because he has evolved a comedic shtick during the Q&A that leaves the happy audience with the tough-guy impression they are after....though he can't actually READ his own novels aloud.

Ursula LeGuin will do Robby the Robot voices and other such time-tested crowd-pleasers....which seem to me however to drastically lower the intellectual tone (such as it is).

Reading aloud to husband or wife or child or aging sick relative, or to the blind -- fine. That can be great for everyone involved. But the best reading experience involves actually reading...with your own eyes.

Meanwhile, if you really want to understand the 19th century, read Balzac, Flaubert, "Green Henry" by Gottfried Keller, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Melville and Mark Twain. Fiction is truth.

Just so, you'll get to the bottom of the 20th century better through its fiction than by exclusively reading sanctioned histories -- which somehow having a way of becoming dated, even when well done. See how even biographies of Rimbaud have to be redone every 20 or 30 years. Eric Hobsbawm has been called the greatest istorian of the 20th century, and there's no doubt he's informative and fun to read. But the entire enterprise looks a little dicey in retrospect; Hobsbawm is one of those British communists who still thinks Stalin almost got it right.

Robert Musil and Marcel Proust, Hermann Broch, Cesare Pavese, "Cross of Iron," Yukio Mishima, Saul Bellow -- there have been an awful lot of entertaining, great novelists in the last hundred years. (Very few of the best ones got the Nobel Prize, but that's something to be gone into elsewhere.)

Stephen King is letting his vanity get to him. Quantity rarely corresponds with quality, or the Big Mac would be the best-tasting food in the world.

They started best-seller lists in the late 19th century. Going back and puzzling over the forgotten names can be quite instructive.

Hey, "The Mysteries of Paris" by Eugene Sue was the best-known, best-selling novel of the entire 19th century. Try to find a single copy now.

It had a British imitator, "The Mysteries of London," which vastly outsold Charles Dickens despite all of his book tours and all the tears he shed over the death of little Dorrit or whoever.

G.W.R. Reynolds. The famous scene with the walnut-shells with beetles in them taped over the little girl's eyes. The minister staring through the keyhole at the "beauteous bosoms." How soon we forget.

But just check the 1950s, the 60s. "Forever Amber." "Peyton Place." It's actually very hard to get hold of most of the titles by Mickey Spillane. It's a cult thing now, like Ed Wood. He sold millions and millions of books.

Really, try to collect Mickey Spillane. It's harder than you think.

bill said...

I'm bit surprised by all the either/or arguments (well, not really, these are blog comments). There are valid arguments for not personally liking audiobooks, but then y'all lose me by then stating this makes listening worse than reading. Seriously, people; get a grip. Oral story-telling has been around a year or two longer than the printed page, it isn't exactly an interloper.

Why can't both experiences be valid? Just to pick out a couple of representational quotes: Fans of audiobooks are denying themselves the chance at a well-developed imagination and Having someone else read the story to you destroys the cadence of the sentences by imposing a narrator's flow to the material, and also messes up the voices and inflections a reader gives to dialogue in his or her own head.

Damn you Thomas Edison and your phonograph conspiracy. So why listen to a singer when you can read the lyric sheet? Why watch a play when you can read the script? All those instruments and special effects mucking up the voices in my head. Frankily, I'm getting the sense there's too many people listening to the voices in their heads and they could use a second opinion.

ignacio said...

the very definition of kitsch is "the twice-shed tear."

JorgXMcKie said...

Well, I think some fiction writing more closely resembles 'story telling' in the oral tradition and some doesn't. I suspect the former works better in audio than the latter.

That being said, there are some performers I'd 'listen to even if they were reading the phonebook' and some books I don't want to 'hear'. YMMV

On road trips, my wife and I listen to some audio books, but it usually works better for her. She dips in and out of books, wants large blocks of time to read, and reads in general more slowly than I.

I read very quickly and in short bursts. (I can read a paqe or two, lay the book down, come back in three days and know exactly where I am in the story. She can't.

I thus tend to fall into the category of people who don't listen to audio books. For me, only a few fit the mode (unless read by someone whose voice fascinates me --John Cleese or Sean Connery would fall into that category, and even then ...) and most of those pass too slowly when read.

All in all though, I think audiobooks are one of the better inventions of the past few decades.

Tibore said...

"So why listen to a singer when you can read the lyric sheet? Why watch a play when you can read the script?"

Due respect, those are entirely different things Bill. A book doesn't set out the key it's in, nor does it say you have to be reading this in, say, 12/4 timing for it to make sense. Plus, there are other elements to a song, such as the parts contributed by instruments (except, of course, in a capella songs). Plus, part of the experience of music is to appreciate the musician’s unique interpretations of the works.

Also: A play is supposed to include visual elements to enhance the story. It's intended to be viewed, not merely read. The script is not the final product, any more than the lyric sheet or sheet music is the final product of music. Both are tools towards the final products. But books are the end result of the artist's work. They are the final product.

Look, I'm not damming all the oral storytelling tradition - I still have a love for the Tall Tale tradition I was exposed to in elementary school, and that's mostly oral. What I’m saying is that audiobooks are not the same experience, and to be frank, they've not been executed anywhere near as well as they should be. Like I said: "Reading a story to an audience does have its place, but we shouldn't try to say it takes the place of reading. It might inform you about the characters, let you know the dialogue, and give you the plot of the story, but it's fundamentally a different experience".

I accept that some books out there probably come off perfectly fine when read aloud. But honestly, most don't. The personal experience I've had with books I've read, then listened to as audiobooks (and vice versa: Listened to, then read) have to me shown that too many audiobooks simply are nowhere near the same experience as reading the originals for yourself. I love good storytelling, regardless of the method used in delivery. But I can't stand audiobooks for the reasons I stated before: It imposes a word flow and cadence that isn't necessarily yours, yet doesn't give you the total alternate-vision immersion that a movie based on a book would. The only partial filling of the blanks while leaving the rest to the imagination is jarring to me; I'd either rather read the original, or see a completely executed vision of it (re: Lord of the Rings trilogy) than have something in-between where the envisioning is only partially handled for me. I loved reading the LOTR books, I loved watching the movies, I don't pretend either is the same type of experience. One leaves everything to the imagination, the other paints a complete picture of it and lets you immerse yourself in a different way. Having the LOTR's read to you?... well, that's a neither fish-nor-fowl case with me. The in-betweenness of the experience is off-putting.

Keep in mind that part of my argument is execution. I admit, there are sections from the LOTR books I'd love to hear performed. But they must be performed, not merely read in that drugged, trance-inducing way that too many audiobook readers tend to use.

There is nothing - nothing - wrong with oral storytelling. But its modern execution in audiobooks simply leaves too much to be desired.

Elizabeth said...

gj, Donal Donnelly is a great reader. I've enjoyed his work on other books, so I'll try his reading of Ulysses on your recommendation.

I love both paper and audio. I often get an audio copy of a book I've already read, just to hear it come alive in the voice of a good reader. I learned to read, like many children I suppose, by listening to my mother read to me and following along. My father told me stories, silly ones he'd make up as he went along, before bedtime. I love stories, in pretty much every format.

ignacio said...

What if you could Beatles' songs if they were sung by someone else? If that was your first exposure, and the singer was Dean Martin or Johnny Cash or Madonna, or Metallica -- well, you might find it hard to ever hear the song for yourself without that extra layer in between.

Ernst Fischer defined kitsch as "the twice-shed tear"....because the work has already been interpreted before it gets to you. There is only ONE way to respond -- because the response has already been imposed. It's hard then to rebel.

Someone reading the book to me will inevitably impose their emotional vision, just as Metallica or Dean Martin would inevitably impose their vision of "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "In My Life."

When I was a child and read "The Lord of the Rings" I LIKED IT that I couldn't understand every last little thing. I liked the idea that the world is a mysterious place.

Having William Shatner or someone tell me how to feel would have been death to my own curiosity.

Just so, reading Proust at 20 is completely different from reading him at 40. Yet both experiences are entertaining and intense.

David53 said...

My job compelled me to drive 7000 miles during the last two months visiting exciting towns in Texas like Roscoe, Buna, Iraan, and Texhoma.

Without audiobooks and in particular I would probably fall asleep at the wheel and kill myself.

At home or while flying I always read and never listen to audiobooks. Audiobooks are a special treat for those of us who drive extensively.

"Life of Pi" was a very good listen but I have a hard time imagining Ms Althouse reading it.

Elizabeth said...

ignacio, you've made some good points. I'm taking them seriously, but I'm also not persuaded that audio books actually impose an interpretation on me. But I'm a longtime reader; I can see making the case that kids really ought to learn how to dive in and create a scene, hear their own voices, and even struggle with the text and get things a little mixed up. I wouldn't replace text with audio; I just like both. Learning to read well might be an important thing before diving into audio books. I don't know, but the points you raise indicate that.

I tend to enjoy works read by the authors, like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell. And I frequently will both read and listen to a book. Sometimes I have a copy of a book and a recording, and I'll pick up in the text when I get home (I tend to listen in my car), then fast-forward on the iPod to where I left off in the text.

Ernie Fazio said...

Long car trips, when the FM goes to major static and the preachers are on every audible channel, is the time to break out the audio books. Personal favorite: Sarah Vowell reading her "Assasination Vacation." True Sarah's voice is an acquired taste, but if you loved her on "This American Life," you will adore her on AV.

TabithaRuth said...

I listened to P.G. Wodehouse on a plane and was shaking with silent laighter. I was glad the other passengers didn't tie me up with belts for being a lunatic.

I like to read, I like to listen depends on the day. But even my wild imagination couldn't get those brit-twit Wodehouse accents right, what?

lohwoman said...

An audiobook is the ideal accompaniment to walking for exercise, particularly if you cover the same route day after day. Because the library selection is small and clustered together, I find myself checking out tapes and CDs of books I would never notice otherwise. Simon Winchester's book about the San Francisco earthquake, for instance, or a western by Elmer Kelton. Five of us enjoyed The Killer Angels when we traveled to Springfield, Gettysburg and Arlington this summer. It enriched the vacation. And Elmore Leonard's "The Hot Kid" is sensational in audio.

I do find myself sidetracked by a narrator's pronunciations and sometimes a point is raised that sends the mind off somewhere. Meanwhile the Walkman keeps on going.

ignacio said...

I admit that I'm prejudiced. I don't really see anything wrong with making use of audiobooks in the way some here describe.

Internet Ronin said...

Although I have never listened to any book but one (a few Agatha Christie short stories read by Joan Hickson), I find those who have nothing better to do than lecture others about how it isn't appropriate about as insecure as those who insist the experience is identical to silently reading a book. It is not. Whether one method is better than the other depends entirely on your own personal preference and, as has been pointed out here, location (as in driving a car for great lengths of time). Isn't it wonderful we all have a choice? We should celebrate that idea.

"Whatever floats your boat" is my motto on most subjects like this one. Like to listen to listen to audiobooks? Great! Like to read books? Great! Like both? Great!


Jarod said...

Some authors I would never "read" but are revelations in audio format. In this category I place William Faulkner and Marcel Proust.
I used to read a couple of hundred books a year but burnt out reading. I now only read a book if it is in audio format. I try to walk for an hour a day and can get in quite a lot of reading listening while I walk.