Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Notes: Audio Books

  • Do you read audio books?
  • Do you enjoy particular types of book in audio editions?
  • Where do you get your audio books?

I've listened to audio books on and off all my adult life, but I really became a fan when I got an iPod and discovered how to load audio cds from the library onto my iTunes library, then on to my iPod.  I could keep 20 or more books in my purse!  More recently, my library expanded its list of iPod-compatible audio books available for automatic download, so I no longer have to mess around with the cds.

I still read the majority of my books with my eyes, but there are plenty that I read with my ears.  I bristle at the argument that listening to an audio book does not "count" as reading the book.  An unabridged audio book puts every single word of the book into your head, just like reading a paper book does -- it just gets into your brain via your ears instead of your eyes.  But it is the same information getting to your brain -- just like reading a book in Braille puts the book into your brain through your fingertips.  The difference is sensory, not substantive.  It is not like watching a play or a movie or listening to a radio program because an audio book is not an adaptation -- it is the real book, read aloud.

There are a couple of genres I enjoy best in an audio format.  First, memoirs read by the author, because they can be superior to the paper format.  You hear exactly how the author intended the words to sound -- you get inside the author's head.  For example, I always know who listened Frank McCourt read Angela's Ashes and who read it with their eyes.  The first group, including me, thought the book was heartwarming and very funny.  The second group thought it was heartbreaking and incredibly sad.  The difference is in the cadence and inflection McCourt put into the words when he read them.

Likewise, Ayaan Hirisi Ali reading her biography Infidel was mind blowing.  I cannot imagine getting the same impact from the printed page.  On a lighter note, I came close to abandoning David Sedaris until I listened to Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and became a devoted fan.

The second genre I prefer in audio is classic literature.  I am listening to The Tin Drum now.  I've listened to, among others, The Count of Monte Cristo, Moll Flanders, Silas Marner, Hard Times, Madame Bovary, and Moby Dick.  And, yes, even the passages on cetology and the meaning of "white" were entertaining when read out loud.

Listening to these classics is more rewarding for me that reading them with my eyes.  Instead of facing dense, page-long paragraphs of prose, some professional has parsed the phrasing and figured out every nuance of intonation.  That, along with different voices for characters, makes some of these older books come alive.  In that way, I agree with the idea that audio books are like a play -- listening to them is satisfying in the same way that watching a Shakespeare play makes more sense than trying to read it on the page.

So while I will continue to flip pages, you can often find me plugged into my iPod, listening to a book.  And I definitely count every one of those audio books as I scratch the titles off my various book lists.


  1. Well done on an excellent post re: Audio books. I tried to read the Great Gatsby several times as well as Middlemarch in print and failed dismally. I then got the audio from the library and now they are two of my favourite books. I loved the voices and how they took me into the story and the characters. For the life of me I don't understand why some people think it is not the same. Great post. thank you.

  2. I love memoirs on audio too. I've also found that I prefer books told in the first person when I listen to books.

  3. Hi Gilion,

    Sorry, I have never listened to an audio book in my life and have no urge to do so.

    I hate being 'read to' and always have. Just as soon as I worked out as a young child, how to read for myself, I even hated the idea of a bedtime story and that idea was banished to oblivion.

    I can't wear headphones or earpieces of any description, as this brings on an immediate headache and earache.

    I don't like the idea of someone other that the author reading a book. It is theirs to own and bring life to, as only they know how they would like the finished work to sound and the lasting impression it should leave on the listener.

    Sorry to be the voice of dissent ... each to their own ...I hope that you enjoy your audio collection and of course I agree that the medium should count as books read.


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  5. Yvonne: Thanks for balancing the discussion! It's funny to think of a kid not enjoying being read to, but once you figured out you preference, I can see how audio books would not suit.


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