Some Thoughts on Audiobooks; or, Throwing Words into the Void


The best thing that ever happened to my reading life was my purchase of an Audible membership.

Before I go any further, let me say that nobody is paying me to write this.  This is not an advertisement.

When I was in college, a point of emphasis was how every person has a different method of learning.  Some people learn with their eyes–reading, watching videos, studying diagrams.  Other prefer to learn by listening, or practicing problems with their hands.

I thought I was a visual learner until I started listening to books.  I used to read through a book every month or so.  I was doing well if I could read forty or fifty pages in a sitting–my mind would wander, my eyes would get tired, and I would often get stuck on the individual words instead of focusing on the meaning behind them.

I remember a conversation I once had with my uncle, an avid reader.  He asked me how many pages I read a night.  At the time I was working through Whittaker Chambers’ Witness, which involved wading through pages of trial transcripts.  I answered that I read seven or eight pages a night.  Then I turned the question on him.  He looked away, offered a small shrug, and said, “One or two hundred.”

That was when I knew I needed to step up my game.

Since I started listening to books, I’ve find myself finishing a book every week.  This has been going on for most of a year and I have never felt a greater love of reading than I do now.

And for those of you who argue that listening to a book is not the same as reading…well, let me just pose a question: Which is more important, the words or the meaning behind them?  If you agree it’s the meaning behind them that matters, then how much of a difference does it make if the narrator characterizes a line of dialogue differently than you would have?

Small potatoes, if you ask me.

That said, narrators can make or break a reading experience.  (Or a listening experience, if you prefer.)  My favorite narrator so far is Robert Forster, who narrated the Russian science fiction classic Roadside Picnic (a great read).  I particularly enjoyed how he accelerated the pace at exciting points, then slowed when the story grew more thoughtful.

On the other side of the fence, I have listened to narrators who mispronounced words, whined in character voices, and read with no sense of personal interpretation.  Some people might prefer a narrator who influences the reading as little as possible, but I’m not one of them.  No matter how the narrator speaks, he wields a heavy influence on the listener’s interpretation of the story, so I figure he might as well do his best.

Anyway, this post was supposed to be a review of Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo, which I’ll get to next.  If you listen to audiobooks, good for you!  I hope one of my reviews might lead you to a story you’ll enjoy.  (If I keep up with the reviews.  I have heard it said that the most important trait in a writer is discipline, and I can’t find any reason to disagree.)  If you don’t listen to audiobooks, I hope this post will make you consider giving it a try.

In the words of Larry Donner, “That’s it and that’s all.”


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