Monday, November 21, 2011

Audio Books: How do I judge thee?

Audiobooks.  While a wonderful way to "read", I don't think I judge them with the same criteria as I do a printed book.   Perhaps this is wrong, but for me the mediums are so different that my so are my views on them.  I think the main reason for this is because while listening to an audio book, I am able to accomplish other things at the same time (driving to/from work, errands, etc.).  With a book where I have to sit and read…I have to do just that…sit and read it. I can’t do other things at the same time so it’s a bigger commitment. If I didn't like an audio book, I was able to get things done anyway. With a printed book, that time has gone completely to the reading of it.

An issue I have with audio books is I think I miss things while listening (or trying to listen) that I wouldn’t necessarily miss in a printed book. When I drive, I do tend to concentrate on safety and where I'm going first and foremost and listening to the book is secondary. So there will be times when I zone out and then realize I’m in another scene or I missed an element. Sometimes I’ll rewind a bit and sometimes I’ll just keep going and hope I can catch up and catch on. I have to wonder though, if I would comprehend more from the printed word.

Also, for better or worse, with audio books, the narrator can have a great deal of influence of my opinion on a story. I was listening to a book once and the narrator made it seem like she was reading to a kindergarten class. The characters sounded babyish and wooden and I couldn’t listen to it anymore. I wonder if sentences that sound funny or dialogue that sounds silly would be different if I was reading it. On the other hand, a good narrator can make all the difference. The ones that can do a variety of voices and you can tell who is speaking are top. The ones that come to mind are Wild Ride read with skill by Angela Dawe and Endurance read by, no wait...performed by Christopher Lane. I also loved listening to Bag of Bones by Stephen King. First of all, being the author, it was great to have him read it. He knew all the intonations, pauses, etc. What I also loved about Bag of Bones is the sound effects and music that was utilized. They added to the ghostly, haunting mood.  Would I have gotten the same satisfaction if I had read these books?  I'm not sure. 

Also, there are books, that I don’t necessarily want to listen to as an audio book. I want to read them. I want to sit and immerse myself in the story, not drive around and listen to them and risk missing something. (Although I admit I rewinded a lot with Bag of Bones so I wouldn't miss anything, so I guess it also depends on my level of committment).  However, for the most part, I guess there is something about the printed form, to utilize it as the medium it is intended. It’s not that I don’t consider an audio book as valid as a printed book, there is just something a little more appealing about the reading experience for me than the audio book experience. So if it’s a book that I’ve been dying to read, I’d rather read it. If it’s a book that I have a more casual attitude about, I’ll give it a try on audio. That being said, I have also listened to some really good books that I probably would not have read if they were not on audiobook.  I'm more willing to give an audiobook a try and also more willing to discard it if I don't like it.  Also, I don’t buy my audiobooks, I get them all from the library and therefore, I’m limited to their selection.

Although storytelling began as an oral form, the progress into books has also changed the nuances. With a printed book, there is no performance or theatrics…it is the power of the printed word. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, just that they are different and sometimes so different as to change the experience.

What has your experiences with audio books vs. print books been?  Do you prefer one over the other or are there various factors involved?


Karen said...

I've tried audio books and they just don't seem to work for me. I'll be listening and then realize I've drifted off - especially when driving because I'm paying attention to other things.
I think the person narrating makes all the difference though and I find I would rather imagine for myself than have a voice already attached.
Certain types of books work for me, like books by comedians for example. If you miss something you don't usually miss out on a major plot point.
I have a friend who bakes for a living and listening to audio books helps relax her while she's baking. But it has to be a book she's already read.
Interesting post.

Missie, The Unread Reader said...

Great discussion post, Pam. I've been pondering this myself recently because of my new addiction to audiobooks. You're right, with audios, it's easy to get lost or distracted. I hate not being able to flip back a few pages to try to figure out what I missed. And the narrator does play a big part. Before I buy an audiobook, the first thing I do is listen to a sample. If I don't like the voice, I'm not buying.

Midnyte Reader said...

@Karen-That happens to me all the time, which is why I have to rewind, which can be annoying. I've never listened to a book by a comedian and honestly never read one.

@Missie-That is a great idea!

Jen | Book Den said...

My mind wanders when I read print books, too. I find if I'm not paying attention to the audiobook (or print book), it's usually the book and not me. If a book is great, I notice I'm hanging on to every word.

Bonnie said...

I always wondered how reviewers reviewed audio books. I tried one once, read by the author, and I couldn't handle it. The story sounded interesting, but not only don't I like it when people read to me (I can't concentrate on what they're saying), I can't handle it when it's being read by a male and they have to read dialogue for a woman.

I've heard some deep voiced women, but you can definitely tell it was a man. I'd rather listen to the voices in my head. At least those type of voices anyway.

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