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.

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