the audio format

I think this post has been somewhat overdue. I mentioned here a while ago that I found the audio format difficult; but in the last several months, I’ve gradually found audiobooks to be a useful addition to my life. I spend about an hour a day in the car just getting to and from work – which I believe is well below average for here in Houston, but is still a good amount of time. I started listening to audiobooks in the car, and never looked back.

I’ve been meaning to dedicate a post here to the question of format, and I got a special prompt yesterday from Sheila over at Book Journey.

So first, the audiobook format. I guess my greatest difficulty at first was just with getting used to somebody else filling in some of the holes that I’m used to filling in for myself: inflections, pace at which characters talk, what their voices sound like. I still find myself taking issue, occasionally, with a reader’s interpretation of a line of dialogue. My other real problem is with the inability to pause and reread. I mean, yes, I can pause and rewind my cd player – but I’m trying to drive, and anyway it breaks up the momentum and flow of a story in a much different way than it does when I’m reading. I like to pause and contemplate while reading, and the audio format is just plain old less tolerant of this habit.

These quibbles aside, however, I’ve come to really enjoy the time I spend listening to books in my car. What used to feel like lost time now is time spent… reading! The reading time I gain is worth my little complaints.

But that said, there are books that are appropriate for audio, and those that aren’t. I like to listen to genre fiction – like murder mysteries – good, fast-paced, entertaining books. For example, I have fully embraced Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series on audio. The reader, Dick Hill, is great; his Reacher voice feels right to me (and what a deal-breaker it would be if it didn’t!), and even if I differ with his timing or inflection occasionally (am I an outrageously picker listener? do you do this too?), I consistently enjoy his work.

I use the audio format to try out new genre authors, too. For my job as a librarian, I like to broaden my horizons when possible; I won’t like every author I encounter, but at least I can better understand what my patrons want when they request something like Stuart Woods (ugh). I intend to pick up some romance on audio soon; I have many dedicated romance readers as my patrons, and although it’s not my genre of choice, I should stay abreast. For that matter, I haven’t really hated any of the few romance novels I have read. I’ll pick a short one. :)

On the other hand, there are books I wouldn’t so much want to listen to on audio. For example, the book I’m reading right now, Fire Season, is a beautiful, lyrical meditation on the outdoors, the natural history of the American Southwest, and much more. I’m relishing each line slowly, and I need the option of flipping back a few pages here and there. It just wouldn’t be enjoyable for me to try to follow it at a reader’s relentless pace, with the necessity of rewinding to try and find that sentence I wanted to hear again. Audiobooks have their place – in my life at least, and there’s a limit to that place.

Now to answer Sheila’s questions! Her post is about the problem of becoming engrossed in an audiobook and having to take it inside. I have SO done that! (See above re: my preference for fast-paced, suspenseful mystery/action audiobooks.) And then I discover a new problem: audiobooks really do belong in the car, for me. Even the most exciting one puts me to sleep eventually if I take it inside to listen to from the couch, lol. No, I have found some utility for them in the house, for doing chores like washing dishes. But mostly, they need to stay in the car. I definitely can NOT do like Sheila and listen to several at one time. I read one book and listen to one audiobook at a time, in general; of course I do pick up and put down books from time to time, so that I sometimes have more than one going at once. I think most of us do that. But as a general rule, I like to stay more or less faithful. It helps keep my thoughts in order so I can write a cogent review for you here! Plus, if I were to have 5 or 6 books going at a time, it would take so long to finish one!

I guess I’ve rambled on. Thanks Sheila for the inspiration for this post. My conclusion is, I do have an appreciation for the audio format. I think I’d prefer to read print books exclusively if I had my way, but at certain times (which for me means driving and little else, but to each her own) the audio version is a great solution.

You can see ALL the audiobooks I’ve read recently here.

5 Responses

  1. Great post! You are so right too…. not every book is audio worthy. I really watch what other bloggers are listening to and which narrators they rave about. I never thought about following narrators… but I am trying that now.

    The James Patterson Step On A Crack series is Phenomenal on audio!!!

  2. Maybe I’ll give Patterson another shot based on your recommendation. You may recall that I found Postcard Killers to be, erm, not so much.

  3. I do like the audio book format for some things.

    I used to listen to the Kinsey Milhone mysteries by Sue Grafton (read by Judy Kaye) with great enjoyment. They were abridged, but that was fine because it focused on the mysteries and cut out a lot of the stuff with her landlord and so on, which got tedious anyway.

    I spent six months obsessed with Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (read it repeatedly, created a whole blog about it, posted extensively on the Pynchon wiki) and I can’t even count the times I listed to it on audio at work and while commuting (unabridged, of course). I even sent a fan letter to Ron McLarty for his excellent reading (unusually demanding since, as usual for Pynchon, the book is full of songs, mostly made up, which he had to sing — I wonder where the melodies came from).

    My two favorite audio experiences are read by the authors. I love listening to Douglas Adams read his books. The Monty Python influence really comes out.

    But the best was listening to Frank McCourt read Angela’s Ashes. He was my high school English teacher (when he was just a substitute) and to hear him tell the stories, and sing the songs, was wonderful.

  4. Wow, fascinating. The songs and the melodies do make for an interesting question! I wonder if they consulted the author? Or if it were the narrator, or the director… very interesting.

    I listened to a Michael Connelly audio read by Len Cariou, and it had jazz riffs thrown in here and there, which I thought was a nice effect – since Connelly’s main character is a jazz buff, it wasn’t gratuitous. It really fit. He’s also got some read by Dick Hill (my favored reader of Lee Child) so I’ll need to check that out, too.

  5. I thought of asking McClarty about the tunes when I emailed him, but Pynchon has no public profile (he has never done an interview or made a public appearance, hasn’t been photographed since college) and I respect that, I didn’t want to come off like “did you talk to him? did you meet him?”

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