Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Heard any good books lately?

If you listen to audiobooks, how do you find they compare to old-fashioned reading, as far as absorbing the content? What are the pros and cons of each? If you don’t listen to audiobooks, why not?

by Dietrich Kalteis

Comprehension between reading and listening to a novel seems to be on a par. The story comes to life either way, but given a choice, I’d rather settle down in a favorite chair and read the novel. I’m not as likely to sit at home and listen to an audiobook, but they are great when I’m on the road or doing something where I can’t physically read a book. 

There was that time I was driving on the 401 and passing another car on a straightaway. My fellow motorist had the cruise control set, doing the speed limit while holding a novel open against the steering wheel. It must have been one of those books you just can’t put down. For me, listening to an audiobook while traveling at highway speeds would be the better way to go. Maybe I suck at multitasking, but to my mind playing an audiobook rather than reading while in motion means I’ll get more enjoyment out of the novel, and I’m far more likely to arrive at my destination.

Choosing between an audiobook or a book also depends on the type of book and the subject matter. If it’s heavy reading, I might want to reread parts or even take notes, which makes sitting with the book and giving it my full attention a better choice.

I heard somebody say audiobooks were a kind of cheat, figuring the listener gets some undeserved reward for listening instead of putting in the work of reading the book. I’ve never thought of reading as work, and I don’t think I deserve a gold star because there’s some extra step in decoding the written word.

When I’m on a flight or train trip, sitting back and listening to an audiobook or reading an ebook are better choices than lugging along printed copies, which tend to make the suitcase feel like it’s filled with cinderblocks.

The first thing that hooks me when I’m reading a novel is the author’s voice, and when I’m listening to an audiobook it’s the narrator’s voice reading the author’s words. If the narrator’s voice matches the rhythm of the author’s written words then it’s fantastic. Over the years I’ve listened to most of Elmore Leonard’s audiobooks, and nobody did a better job narrating them than Frank Muller. His voice was perfect for the rhythm of Elmore’s stories. And I loved Robert Forster reading Mr. Paradise. Just another perfect match.

When I read a novel I imagine the characters, I get transported somewhere else, the story builds in my mind, and the whole thing comes to life. Getting lost in a good book is like watching the film in my head. So, when somebody narrates the story, his or her voice replaces my own, so they have be the right articulator and nail the story’s pace and cadence.

Actors tend to make great audiobook narrators — all that voice training and getting into character — they just knows what to bring to the party. Just listen to Samuel L. Jackson reading Adam Mansbach’s children’s book for adults Go the Fuck to Sleep, or check out William Golding’s The Spire, read by Benedict Cumberbatch. Or Kathryn Stockett’s The Help narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spenser and Cassandra Campbell. Or Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman read by Reese Witherspoon. 

And comedians reading their own books make a great argument for the audiobook. Just check out Kevin Hart reading I Can’t Make This Up. Or if you’re a Lewis Black fan, check out the audiobook of Me of Little Faith. Then there’s George Carlin reading his book Brain Droppings, or Joan Rivers reading Diary of a Mad Diva. All hilarious and all well done.

So, it’s not so much about choosing between reading the book or listening to the audiobook. It depends on when and where and who’s doing the narrating. For me, there’s definitely a time and place for both.


Paul D. Marks said...

You make me almost want to listen to some books instead of reading them, Dieter. But as I mentioned in my comment to Robin, I can't stay focused so I pretty much stick to the old-fashioned way of doing it. Kind of like that guy on the road with the cruise control and the book propped on the wheel. Only I haven't done that either. Oh well, he's more talented than us. I wonder if he's killed anyone yet...

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Me too, Paul. I'll take a curling up with a book in a comfy chair over propping the book on the steering wheel any day.

RJ Harlick said...

After reading your post, Dietrich, and the many pro comments I received on my blog and on facebook yesterday, I could be tempted to at least try an audio book. I spend almost an hour driving to my cabin. Normally I listen to music, but perhaps I should try a good audio book. Let's see what Jim and Danny have to say.

Unknown said...

Wow, all those you've listed, you're a veteran listener. Thanks for the recommendations. A new question arises from all this and my own experience: maybe audio and humour are best suited. Those are the parts that I tune in to most. Or maybe it's just me.