Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Audiobooks and Why I Avoid Them

(Crossposted from the 5NerdsomeWriters)

In a comment on Hilary's post from last Friday I mentioned that I have some deep-seated issues with audiobooks, but that I have been listening to them for school anyway. The only reason I do this is because I am currently taking six English courses and that makes for a lot of reading, reading I don't necessarily have time for; so I listen to audiobooks while I drive to make use of my 35 minute commute to school. Were this not the case, I'd continue my boycott of audiobooks.

Why? Well, for one, I feel they strip the reader of the experience of reading. If I can quote Rupert Giles here:
"Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a whiff of smoke, can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer… has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of knowledge should be tangible. It should be, um, smelly.”
Reading is more than just a story, it's the simple act of turning scratches on a page into ideas, images, and memories in your head. There's something to be said for the small and the feel of a new book, an old book, a borrowed book; no two books are exactly the same.

Authors do a lot of cool things with text that you don't get to see when listening to an audiobook. We wouldn't get the same sense of anger or excitement from Junior in Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian without his random sentences in all caps. I fear that the majority of the magic (and horror?) of MT Anderson's Feed would be lost without the distracting "pop-ups." Shape of paragraphs is nonexistant. Heck, some novels even use certain fonts for a specific reason (like Westerfeld's use of Futura in So Yesterday).

Short story: some audiobooks just suck. A lot of how a reader/listener reacts to an audiobook has to do with the reader. I know Korianne has been listening to Stephen Fry read the Harry Potter books for class and that he really makes the story come to life for her. Hearing Sherri Crowther read Emma was good, but it took me a long time to be able to concentrate on her soft voice. Oppositely, Ruth Golding (Wuthering Heights) has a very rough voice and she tries to keep the reader interested by changing it slightly for each character, but this only makes it harder to listen to her at points. Honestly, I have no idea what she's saying whenever Joseph is talking.

Audiobooks can be read differently than you would read them. The reader may put emphasis on different words or read in a different tone than you would had you been reading the book. I find this is true when my creative writing teacher reads our work out loud to the class. I hear my poem and I recognize it as mine, but the tone is all wrong, that's not how I would read it at all. I want to tell him he's wrong, but essentially, he's not, he's just reading the text in front of him, albeit differently than I would. It's the same for audiobooks and because of this a listener can understand the book very differently had they read it for themselves.

Plus, they can be pirated so easily and it's part of what's killing the book industry.

So give me my paper and ink, when I have the choice. Or better yet, provide me with a way to read while driving or get me a chauffeur. A 25th hour would be nice, too, while you're at it. Thanks!

Related: My post on audiobooks/ebooks vs books in sales


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