Inverarity (inverarity) wrote in bookish,

Saturday Book Discussion: In praise of audiobooks

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. First of all, I am not a speed reader. Second, like most people, I spend a fair amount of time every day doing tedious, rote things that do not engage my brain much but do prevent me from being able to read. (I'm sure there are people who do read while they are driving, and I hope they go to the same hell where people who text or talk on their cell phones while driving should burn.)

So, while I am driving, cooking, housecleaning (yeah, I do housecleaning every day. Sure I do. Really. >..>), exercising, or shopping, I usually have an audiobook playing on my iPod. How else do you think I review so many books? Probably about half my reads are audiobooks.

I've heard it argued that this doesn't count as "reading." I suppose in a technical sense that is true, and even from a neurological perspective, it's true that the areas of the brain that process text are not the same as the areas that process speech, so one might be said to "consume" an audiobook differently. But when I look at the list of books I have read, or remember having read one in particular, I do not always immediately remember whether I "read" it or listened to it as an audiobook, so I do not think experiencing a book visually or aurally materially changes the fact that you have read the book.

Also, I usually sense a certain degree of snottiness from people who say audiobooks "don't count." I dunno, maybe they think people listen to audiobooks because they can't read? While audiobooks are certainly an excellent way to enjoy a book for someone who is lacking in literacy skills, they're also an excellent way for people who are visually impaired or who cannot physically hold a book for very long to enjoy them. But you need no excuse to enjoy audiobooks, and sometimes the audio performance itself actually enhances the experience.

It may take you a little practice to learn to listen to an audiobook if you haven't done it before. A common complaint is that it's hard to pay attention or your mind wanders. I'll admit this happens to me sometimes, especially if the book has long boring stretches. I rarely feel compelled to rewind and catch something I missed, though, because I usually find that even if my mind drifted for a moment, my ears still heard it, and once I focus again and catch the context, I will "catch up" to what I wasn't really paying attention to previously.

(That said, there have been a few books where I swear entire chapters passed me by without my really hearing a word. But that's happened with some books I've read, as well...)

Note that abridged audiobooks are very common, because they're also cheaper to produce. Avoid them. Abridged sucks.

There are also "dramatized" versions of many classic novels, which are much like abridged novels, in which the book is performed more like a radio play with a cast of readers. These might be fun in their own right, but they aren't the same as listening to the book.

Choosing your narrator

A good reader brings the book to life without distracting you with his or her voice. It takes a really skilled reader to handle a book with many different characters, multi-person dialogs, people with different accents, etc., but most professional narrators are good at this. A common complaint is men who aren't good at reading dialog in a woman's voice and vice versa, but I've rarely found this to be a problem in a professionally produced audiobook. No, male narrators do not typically speak in a falsetto when reading a female character's dialog, and female narrators don't attempt a comical "deep voice" to sound like men. Male narrators usually do pitch their voices slightly higher and speak a little breathier to represent a woman's voice, and female narrators usually lower their voices a bit to represent men, but mostly I stop noticing the sex of the narrator while I'm listening to a book. Most books are read by someone the same sex as the author, the exceptions usually being first-person narratives, where someone the same sex as the (character) narrator is preferred.

Obviously, I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of narrators. For classic novels, there are usually many audiobook versions that have been made over the years, since they're much cheaper to produce: you only have to pay the narrator, not the author. For example, has over two dozen different audio editions of Pride and Prejudice. (Even after excluding the zombie mash-ups.)

Some of my favorite narrators are Timothy West or Simon Vance for Dickens and Trollope (Vance also does a wonderful job narrating the James Bond stories), and Juliet Stevenson for Austen and Bronte. Wil Wheaton does the narration for several of John Scalzi's audiobooks, and has lots of fun doing it. has also gotten some celebrities to narrate a few classics, like Ethan Hawke, who narrates Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. You can also listen to Casey Affleck reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Tim Curry reading Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, or Leelee Sobieski reading Madame Bovary.

And for sci-fi fans, Audible produced a shared-world anthology called METAtropolis which is narrated by a variety of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek veterans.

Where to get them

Audiobooks are much more expensive than print or ebooks. Buying an audiobook at full price can cost upwards of $40.

Fortunately, there are many ways to get audiobooks much cheaper.

First, libraries have been lending audiobooks for as long as there have been books on tape, and a growing number are now allowing digital audiobook loans.

Second, used book trading sites like PaperBackSwap allow you to exchange audiobooks too. (An audiobook on PaperBackSwap is 2 credits, which is a good deal if you have lots of 1 credit paperbacks to unload.) Unfortunately, most audiobooks put up on PBS tend to be abridged versions of the sort of books you find on the rack at your grocery store (e.g., Nora Roberts, John Grisham, James Patterson, etc.), but occasionally I've snatched some good John Le Carré or Stephen King there. (Okay, Stephen King is also a "grocery store rack" writer, but I'm a fan, so there.)

Third, Project Gutenberg has an Audio Books Project, with many books supplied by There are books read by human narrators and computerized readings. Obviously, these are not generally professional productions, and all the books are old ones that are in the public domain, but you can find many free classics to download.

Lastly, I'm going to give another unsolicited plug for Yeah, it's an Amazon company and it's got a virtually monopoly on digital audiobooks right now. That said, the selection is huge (if it's been made into an audiobook, probably has it). They have a variety of membership plans. If you listen to a lot of audiobooks, like me, the Platinum plan is the most cost-effective. And they have sales every few months, like putting a couple hundred of their older titles/classics/first-books-in-a-series on sale for $5.95 each, or 3-books-for-2-credits specials, etc. And I've found their customer service amazingly responsive. (Every time I've had a complaint, they give me a free credit. :D) So, Audible tends to keep my iPod full.

So who else is a audiobook aficionado?

Poll #1794441 Audiobook poll

Do you listen to audiobooks?

Yes, often!
I've listened to one or two, but it's not something I do regularly.
No, and I'm not interested.
No, but I may try it now!

Do you count audiobooks as "read"?


If you listen to audiobooks, where do you get them?

I buy them new from the publisher or a bookstore.
9(11.7%) or other online service.
Project Gutenberg or AudioBooksForFree.
Used (used bookstores, PaperBackSwap, etc.).
The library.
I'm a dirty stinkin' pirate.

Previous Saturday Book Discussions.
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