A Collection of Thought Bubbles: Audiobooks
In honor of this month’s book review, this thought bubble is a little more of a discussion I’d like to have with you.
I’ve never been an audiobook lover. I hated listening to them in the car as a kid; it just never felt like actual “reading,” which, for me at that age, meant it was a COMPLETE waste of time. I was a purist, plain and simple. Books should be read to you as a child and only as a child, and you can’t count audiobooks as books that you’ve “read.”
To this day, I am confronted with the fact that my mindset is totally at odds with the rest of the world. The audiobook phenomenon has become a booming industry and people are clamoring at book stores to order newly released copies. Audible, the audiobook download service you can get for your phone/tablet/computer, is becoming a staple amongst all generations- most of my friends from college have audible downloaded on their phones as well as their parents.
Audiobooks always felt like cheating to me. You can’t go and watch a movie and say you’ve “read” that book it was based on or read its screenplay, so why does an audiobook count?
I’ve come to realize that this is still a hot button issue within the literary crowds. I’ve seen numerous online discussions about how “audible has me reading 30 books a year instead of 3” followed by the quick retorts, of, “that’s not reading!” It’s not literally reading, that’s true, but because of audiobooks, people are becoming more and more interested in stories/novels in general. It perpetuates movie production, novel production, and author successes. It may not be traditional, but should audiobooks be given the credit they deserve in their contributions towards the reading community?
And, in such a growing industry, there are very few standards in what rates a “good” audiobook and a “poor” one. I realized just this year that a lot of what had turned me off towards audiobooks when I was younger was the boredom that the voice actors instilled in me. I could fall asleep to the sound of their droning… they absolutely killed the excitement of the story for me.
What’s even worse is that when a book is read out loud, you can pinpoint all of the problems in sentence structure, character voice, and the author’s inability to actually tell a story (I know, I’m probably the only one here who strangely pays attention to these things). I mean, the audiobooks ruined the magic of the story for me in such a complete way that I hated and blamed them. It was a mixture of voice actor and author inconsistency that really turned me off to audiobooks.
I realized all of this when I stumbled across the best audiobook I had ever listened to (irony is the best, isn’t it…). It was of course a magical mix of masterful storytelling and skilled voice acting- Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling’s story The Cuckoo’s Calling was the audiobook that gave me hope in the future of audiobooks. It was so beautifully written and orated that I had a hard time keeping my head out of the clouds as I listened to it. I’ve listened to Harry Potter on audiobook and even then I wasn’t as enchanted as I was with this mystery novel. I’ve listened to Gillian Flynn, Lev Grossman, Dan Brown, Haruki Murakami, etc… and everything pales in comparison to Rowling’s and Robert Glenister’s expertise. Glenister has a perfect approach to voice acting for a mystery novel… not too contrived, not too peppy, he brings the entire series to life.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other well produced audiobooks. I’ve seen the lists, forums, and references that other avid readers have suggested and I have yet to delve into them. I’ve seen exultations of praise for Stephen King’s 11-22-63, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files all over the place. Audiobooks vary based on voice actor(s), production quality, sound effects, etc., and can be produced multiple times. For example, Harry Potter was first produced with Stephen Fry as the voice actor and was redone with Jim Dale.
The world of audiobooks is growing exponentially, and I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to grow my own story repertoire. Whether it actually does mean that I’ve “read” the book instead of listened to it doesn’t mean much to me as I have already put a lot of time into physical books, and I feel like I learn a lot when I listen to the composition of a sentence or paragraph. I do not seem to get the same enjoyment out of audiobooks, however, unless there is a perfect trifecta of author/voice actor/production goodness. Am I being too picky? Most likely… but in a growing industry, I think it’s okay to keep your eyes open for improvements.
I’m curious how everyone else feels about audiobooks. Do you have a favorite that I didn’t mention or don’t know about? Or do you have an even more traditional viewpoint on the literary gap between novels and audiobooks?
Until next time!