Thursday, August 1, 2013

Five Rules for Audiobooks

There are some people in this world who don’t like audiobooks. These people suggest that listening to an audiobook is in someway cheating. It’s a perception that’s disappearing, but it exists.

I had a conversation with someone about this a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about a book, and he knew I’d been putting in a lot of hours driving up and down the state. He asked me when I had the time to read the whole thing, and I told him it was an audiobook. He’s the last one who told me I was cheating when I did that.


It doesn’t make sense. The only way a person could conceive of that as cheating is if he or she thought that reading wasn’t fun to begin with. I enjoy books, and I want to be around them as much as possible. They’re dangerous, however. They need to be taken seriously. I present five rules for reading audio safely.

1. Read the Synopsis and Think about Your Life

You’re probably going to be reading while driving. If you’re driving someplace important, you’d better choose the right book. I listened to The House of Sand and Fog right as I was going into a job interview -- a job that I really wanted and desperately needed. As I sat there in the parking lot waiting for the interview time to come closer, I grew more and more engrossed in the plot until (spoiler alert) my favorite characters, characters I’d grown to love and understand, started killing themselves and each other.

Shock horror. The tragedy. The sturm and drang. The horror, the horror.

Suddenly, nothing seemed as important. Suddenly even the job interview didn’t seem to matter, only the fact that they were dying, people I loved.

Thankfully, the passion I was feeling for the characters I loved turned me into an intense and seemingly complex speaker. I seemed to ooze intense passion. Of course, I did. A couple of my best friends had just died.

2. Do Not Listen to Horror at the Wrong Time.

I became engrossed with Stephen King’s The Stand just as I was going on a camping trip. I couldn’t turn it off, couldn’t stop listening. Neither could anyone else in the trip.

We couldn’t stop thinking about it either, especially out in the woods when the wind would pick up and twigs would snap and leaves would swirl and maybe that was the Walking Dude just outside the tent. One night, sometime around midnight, we gave up and sat in the car, listening to the drama play out until the sun came up.

3. No Faulkner

Actually that rule can be extended to a lot of writers. James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot. Basically anyone who needs a desk reference companion or anyone whose language you need to read slowly to appreciate. After all, it takes a lot of quiet time to appreciate a line like, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” and you want to figure out what it going on and why you’ve forced yourself to endure that kind of poem before you move on.

Don’t get me wrong. I like The Sound and the Fury as much as the next guy, but it’s kind of a slow burning appreciation.

4. Nothing Too Sexy

You do NOT want to be the guy with that look on your face at a stoplight. Keep your D.H. Lawrence at home.

5. Consider the Actor

Some actors are good. Some are too good. I drive the Los Angeles freeway system all the time. Listening to Alex Cross can be a dangerous thing especially during a gun battle when I’m changing lanes. The bad guy is just ahead and the panic in the actor’s voice works its way from my ear to my foot, and now I’m weaving trying to save the woman, that poor, poor woman.

The CHP generally frowns on this kind of listening.

No, it’s not cheating to listening to audiobooks. In fact, it’s one of my great pleasures, but it needs to be done responsibly.

The wrong book can ruin your whole life.


Liane Spicer said...

I've never listened to an audio book, never bought one, never even saw one in RL. Are they CDs? Do you download them like you do music? Why would I want to listen to a book? Part of the pleasure of reading for me is the ability to control the pace at which I do it, to linger over a word or phrase or paragraph if I want to, to highlight stuff, etc. etc.

The funny thing is, e-books used to seem just as strange to me not that many years ago. Now I buy far more digital books than paper; the ratio is something like 100:1.

So I know audio books are in my future. When I venture there I'll bear your advice in mind.

Charles Gramlich said...

I haven't listened to very man but I don't find it cheating certainly. I just tend to listen to mindless music when I'm on the road because I'm doing a lot of thinking in my head.

elysabeth said...

Audio books aren't knew at all. Consider the blind who "listen" to books on tape. I just finished listening to my first audio book (The Help) and since I read or listen on my kindle when I go to bed, determining how much I read or listen to is easy to do. I can see how one would get involved in a book while driving, although I haveyet to do that as I haven't really had any long distance trips or the audio books to listen to prior to a few months ago.

I agree, it isn't cheating when it allows you to become involved in a book in some form whenever you want to.

I also recently had my stories put up as audio books and am in the process of getting the rest of them done. It's even more meaningful to listen to audio books when you know you have books out there yourself.

Thanks for sharing - E :)

Elysabeth Eldering
Author of FINALLY HOME, a Kelly Watson paranormal mystery

John Brantingham said...

They're great. As an Angelino, I have a long, long commute. For a few years, it was 5 hours. I became completely addicted then.

John Brantingham said...

Hey Liane,

I never do it when I can open a book and read it, but when I'm doing something else -- like cleaning or driving -- it's perfect.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I have never listened to an audiobook, however, my ten year old daughter uses the kindle audio function and has the stories read to her. I know, I know its not the same. The kindle audio is a monotonous robotic drone that has no expression unlike audio books.

(Come to think of it, I'm wrong about listening to audio books. I did listen to the bible on CD when I bought it for my mother whose eyesight is severely impaired. It was really interesting.)

Anyway, to get back on topic, I've always tried to discourage her from using that function because I thought of it as cheating. I figured she needs to see and sound out the words and extrapolate the meaning from the way its used in the sentence, afterall, she is reading for learning as much as reading for pleasure. However, when she has to do a book report and she resorts to it, I realize she learns just as much from the audio story as if she read a paper back and her vocabulary and spelling has not been negatively impacted.

So then, maybe I'm wrong about audiobooks.

Online Bookstore said...

Sounds interesting!!

Alan said...

If you drive a lot, audio books are your saving grace considering the crap on the radio. I started listening to books (some are read by the author)when I drove a lot because of my job. Now that I'm older and have lost most of my vision, it's the only way I can read a book.

Dayton Ward said...

I love listening to audio books during long road trips, and I even listen to them from time to time while just running errands or whatever. Certainly beats enduring talk radio and those snippets of music that tend to interrupt all the commercials.

I've never considered it "cheating." On the other hand, I tend to listen to audios of books I've already read at least once, though there have been exceptions when I really wanted something for a long trip.

And I'll definitely agree that the reader/voice actor can make or break an audiobook. I tend to prefer mysteries and thrillers for "leisure listening," and a voice actor named Scott Brick is one reader for a series of books I've enjoyed, which usually are presented in first person so he basically becomes the book's main character. He's done a lot of other stuff, as well, and is usually very reliable.