Audiobooks: Some Thoughts

I‘ve been thinking a lot about Audiobooks lately. Other than the Disney ‘Books on Tape’ that I read/listened to as a child–you know, when you hear the ‘chime‘, please turn the page–I have not truly appreciated audiobooks.

On my South San Francisco to Seattle journey, I decided to ear-read Angela’s Ashes. While I thought Frank McCourt was the perfect narrator–cuz seriously how could you be a bad narrator for the story of your life?–I didn’t enjoy the audio verison as much as I enjoyed reading the print version. I swore audiobooks weren’t for me.

I definately need more wall decorations.

Recently I saw an Audiobook challenge, which made me think of my friend Emily. Emily is one of those people who I want to envy. Yes, I want to envy her; she has many qualities I wish to emulate. However, she is such a genuine, vivacious person that I can’t envy her. Plus, we are a sitcom of epic comedic proportions when together.

Stonewords by Pam Conrad

Once upon a time her and I bonded over the fact that we thought the name Zoe should be pronounced like ‘toe’ versus ‘toe-ie’. We had both read the book Stonewords: A Ghost Story, whose main character was named Zoe…

…Anyways, Emily re-introduced me to audiobooks. She has listened to some crazyridiculous American History books and also the Harry Potter series and, I’m sure, manymanymany more.

Even more recently Stephen, who has given me permission to describe him however I see fit, has developed a taste for ear-reading. Now, before anyone accuses me as a one-hit-recommeder I must explain something about myself. I love Robin McKinley. L. O. V. E. Therefore, if anyone asks me to recommend a book, I immediately enter their personality into a brain-matrix and spit out the most compatible Robin McKinley book. (And yes, sometimes this doesn’t work and I have to select a different primary end-point, or in other words, author).

Sunshine fit the profile for Christy of A Good Stopping Point. (For Christy’s review of Sunshine Click Here). It also fit Stephen. After iTunes-gifting the book to him, I decided to try audiobooking for a second time, and also purchased the novel for myself.

And I have some thoughts on audiobooks.

First and foremost. It is important for audiopublishers to chose a suitable narrator. The narrator for Sunshine sounds entirely too old. Internet verification shows I am correct, the reader is well over 50. The main character in the novel is in her twenties, but if the audio narrator sounds at least 15-20 years older, how can the audio narrative itself be suitable and satisfactory? It can’t. Not really.

The chosen speaker also used ridiculous voices for both the vampires and the male characters. Why have ‘voices’ at all? My arguement would be that ‘voices’ aren’t important so long as the inflection of the narrator is appropriate for the situation. And I should know…I have credentials. My 5-year-old little brother thinks I am the best story-reader in the family. That’s high praise my friends, trust me.

One frustrating thing about the Sunshine audiobook is that the narrator does not pause when appropriate. Drama and suspense require pause. Changes in cadence are also important for processing jokes and sarcasm (which run high in Sunshine).

I like how this picture makes my face resemble a lightening bolt

And perhaps most importantly, the Ear-Reader has to be of a suitable disposition. I would argue that I am NOT a person adapted for listening to audiobooks. Primarily visual, I have a hard time with modes of communication that rely on auditory means. I was quite the Circus Freak Show as a phone-hating, shopping-hating teenage girl. It takes 100% of my concentration to talk on the phone, which is something my ADD-addled brain does not readily concende…If ANYTHING interposes itself (think soft breeze, a sip of water, paper clips, dust tumble weeds, etc) my ears shut off.

I am also horrified that my conversational space-outs also occur during face to face conversations. Please, if we ever meet, forgive my episodes of complete blank-face. I’m not disrespecting you, I’m just never 100% there.

Audio books, like telephone conversations, require a significant mental investment on my part. Listening to books can become a chore. And while I can more easily imagine the happenings of an audiobook versus a phone converation, I am not as captivated as I am with a regular book.

But I am motivated to try ear-reading more books, especially the Harry Potter series. I continue to hope that I will learn better listening skills. Interestingly enough, I have enjoyed ear-reading Sunshine the most as I fall asleep at night. The sensory deprivation is key, and my pre-sleep brain has been appropriately macerated and prepped for audial onslaught.


Has anyone else ear-read audiobooks? What do you think? Does your processing of plots and characters and language change between audio and print?


3 responses to “Audiobooks: Some Thoughts

  1. Touched by the iTunes-gift of “Sunshine,” I interrupted an audiobook about mountain climbing in the 50s and 60s and eagerly started listening to the McKinley book. While of a genre I don’t usually read (even with my ears), and aimed more at the “Twilight” crowd than any demographic I fall into, I thoroughly enjoyed the clever writing, stream-of-consciousness story-telling, and depth of the characters, even the ancillary ones. And as a fan of “Buffy” I immediately liked the main character.

    That said, the producers of the audio book chose a narrator who is more suited to reading Lauren Bacall’s autobiography than the story of Rae. Terrible rhythm combined with cartoonish voices for all characters except the protagonist to make it difficult for me to get immersed in the story, which was actually quite compelling. Stress on the wrong part of a sentence, inappropriate sing-songy-ness (think of a bad impression of Katharine Hepburn late in her life), and general lack of a reading that matched the material, were all very distracting.

    So more about audio books. I love audio books. I’ve driven across the US enough times to know they can save your life, or at least your mind, when, say, taking I-40 through Kansas. I think audio books are somewhere between the book and its movie, if one is made. Closer to the book end of the spectrum, though. They do force you to accept one person’s interpretation of the book, but you can still give your imagination plenty of exercise since there are no visual images provided for you. I like that. And I like that there are so many places you can listen to an audiobook where you couldn’t read its paper papa: In the dark, while driving, at work, on the plane (the 4% humidity kills my eyes), at the gym…

    I say, give audiobooks a try. You may find that they’re not just a cop-out for people who are too lazy to read (c’mon admit it – you were raising your nose at them and thinking, Oh yeah, well, I’m a book purist and I only read what’s written on paper). You may find they are yet another way we can enjoy great books, and you may even find you’re enjoying more books than ever before!

  2. The only thing I listen to during my commute every day are audiobooks. As of yesterday I have completed 79 audiobooks in the last 2.5 years. I typically stick with teen or young adult fiction because it’s easier to space out on and still follow, but I’ve definitely found some great gems.

    The key for any audiobook, as you mentioned, is having a strong narrator. With that in mind, all of these books are great and are as good, if not better, thanks to great narration:

    Half-Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer
    Artemis Fowl (the entire series) also by Eoin Colfer
    House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
    Lisey’s Story by Stephen King
    Harry Potter (the entire series)

    Hope you find something you like!

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