When I don’t have an audio book going, I get the shakes and my personality…well, it’s a little jumpy, too. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t listen to the radio in the car. I’d much rather have an audio book (always unabridged, please).
It all started nine years ago when I had a horrendous commute to work. It was (on a good day) about 40 minutes to an hour, almost all in stop and go, cut-you-off-constantly highway traffic. To ease the stress level, I started listening to Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who mystery series (thanks, dad!). Then I went all the way through the Harry Potter series (best narrator ever!). Since then, I’ve done the Hunger Games trilogy, The Chicagoland vampire series, Percy Jackson, The Mortal Instruments and many others that way. One of the best compliments I can give an audio book is when I can’t to get back in the car to hear more.
Needless to say, it saddens me to hear that some people still don’t consider audio books “real” books or a legitimate way of consuming literature. Why shouldn’t they be? For thousands of years, listening to storytellers, bards and minstrels was the only way to know a story. Comparatively speaking, this eyes-across-paper/screen concept of reading is relatively new. Heck, even in the early 1900s, a lot of people got their stories via radio. I think, as humans, we’re wired to want to hear stories. Think about when you were little. The first stories you encountered likely were read to you by your parents.
That’s not to say that reading doesn’t have merit or isn’t important. Of course it is. I still have at least six paper books going at once (fiction and non-fiction). But the truth is, I’ve found that audio books help me read twice as much at any given time. While I have the hard copy book for times like lunch or before bed, I’ll have another book in audio form for when I’m in the car, cooking, cleaning house, folding laundry or working out. I love that it gives me more time to read, as it were. In some cases, I think audio books even help me to appreciate the poetic quality of writing better than reading ever could (The Thirteenth Tale and The Shadow of the Wind come to mind for those).
The main downside of audio books for me is that it’s not easy to rewind or “flip back” to something if you need clarification or have forgotten who is who. That’s one reason why I’ve found non-fiction doesn’t work for me in that medium. I can only do fiction. That and having to remember which track I was on when I switch from the car to listening in my house is a pain (my car only takes CDs) The price can also be a deterrent, but the cost has decreased dramatically in the last few years. I get most of mine from the library anyway, so they’re free.
The biggest thing that makes or breaks an audio book for me is the narrator. At the time Twilight first came out, the audio book version was terrible. Seriously, the worst I’ve even encountered. Thank goodness I had already read the book (yes, I did that one in both versions – that’s how obsessed I once was), otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to tell who was speaking. The actress didn’t vary her voice for characters at all. I’m hoping with the success of the series, that they’ve re-recorded it. The best narrators I’ve encountered (besides Jim Dale, who did Harry Potter and is in a class by himself) are Jennifer Ikeda (A Discovery of Witches and its sequel) and Khristine Hvam (Daughter of Smoke and Bone and its sequel). If the actor or actress can bring the characters to life and make you feel emotions with their voice, you’re in for one hell of a ride. (I envy people who can voice act.)
I’ve been wondering about the future of the audio book lately, especially with the popularity of e-readers (I don’t have one yet, but am slowly heading that way). Someone pointed out to me that audio books likely will continue to be produced, if for no other reason than to give the visually impaired an alternative to Braille. (I hadn’t thought of that. What a wonderful reason!)
As for whether it is “real” reading, that’s a debate that’s likely to continue for some time. I say, reading is wonderful, so do it in whatever form you can.
What about you? Do you listen to audio books? What are some of your favorites? Do you consider books you listen to really “read?” Why or why not? If you don’t listen to them, why not?