Audiobooks are a controversial for some readers. The issue of comprehension is a oft cited reason for many serious readers to shun them. It is a fair question to ask. Is listening to an audiobook really reading?
I do listen to audiobooks. My number one priority when listening to them is to ensure that my comprehension and understanding is equivalent to my reading of physical books. To accomplish this goal I follow a set of rules when I read them. By sticking to these rules I have been successful. Thus, while perhaps not technically correct, I tend to use the terms “listen” and “read” when it comes to audiobooks interchangeably.
First, I only listen to audiobooks if I also have access to the written text. This allows me to go back and review in passages if I deem it necessary to do so. This also allows me to use quotations for my blog. This usually means that I either read books that are in the public domain, so that I can download a free copy on the Internet or I already own a copy of the book.
Second, I only listen to audiobooks when engaged in activity that does not require concentration. I run and use exercise machines a lot. Audiobooks are ideal listening when engaged in this type of activity. I do not listen to audiobooks when involved in activity like driving where my concentration is needed elsewhere. Listening to audiobooks only during repetitive exercise also allows me to rewind if I lose concentration or if I want to hear a passage again. The newest software for audiobooks also allows me to easily “bookmark” a place in the text if I want to go back to it for further examination. This is another feature that assists my blogging endeavors.
There are many types of books that may not lend themselves to audiobooks, writers of difficult prose, philosophy, history books where map aides are helpful to name few. I do not think that I would try to read Plato’s dialogues as audiobooks. Stream of consciousness and other forms of post – modern writing seem to not be conducive to this form of reading either, at least upon the first reading. Though I have not done so myself, I have been told that works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, which rely on stream of consciousness, word games, heavily accented dialog, etc. work very well, and are in fact enhanced, in spoken format. With that, I would not want to tackle such a work for the first time in audiobook form. However, I am intrigued by the idea of trying Ulysses or a similar work in a second or third reading in audiobook form. Thus, I may do so in the future.
By sticking to these rules. I believe that I lose nothing in terms of reading comprehension when listening to books. When I think back to books that I have listened to in the past, sometimes I have difficulty recalling whether or I listened or actually read the book. Sometimes I even think that because I prioritize comprehension, I think that my comprehension might be higher with audiobooks.
All the above rules lead me to read a lot of Victorian Authors via audiobook. They tend to be easy to comprehend, and all are available to download text in the public domain. I read a lot Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and similar authors this way. I find it interesting that Dickens spent a great deal of time reading his own works aloud and was an advocate of having his text listened to. Some have speculated that he tailored his prose specifically to be read aloud.
I tend not to reveal in my commentary whether the book was via audiobook or not as I feel that my comprehension of audiobooks has been just as good as the conventional form. When I blog, I think that a side discussion on the format might distract from the book itself.
Not everyone has the opportunity that I do to “carefully” listen to audiobooks. The fact that I run and use gym machines on a regular basis facilitates my ability to do so. But for me, audiobooks have worked. I have maintained a high level of quality reading when listening. They help fill my exercise time and even help keep me motivated. I also am able to read more because the fact that I have utilized exercise time in this way. Audiobooks have worked well for me.
Fascinating commentary on the genre. I generally eschew audio books, but I have found them helpful additions to reading the text in a few instances.
Your posting is really interesting. I tried the audio format but gave up because I was so easily distracted. In other words, my hearing could not compete with other senses; perhaps it would have worked for me if I had time to listen and block out everything else. And there is another issue: some narrators did not hold my interest. So, with my eyesight further complicating matters, I'm sticking with e-text versions of printed books.
Hi Brian, great commentary on this subject. Your reviews are always so insightful that I might try audiobooks. I've heard that certain books read by talented actor enhance the experience. I'm thinking some of the Agatha Christie mysteries might do very well with audiobooks.
each to his/her own... i'm with RT, though; my hearing is somewhat impaired and i'm so used to reading that if people talk to me, it's just sound; i have to make an effort to parse out what was actually said...
Until the last two weeks, I only listened to audio books when I had already read the original text; for me, it was a way of experiencing beloved stories again, but in a different way. However, a couple of weeks ago I learned what Wil Wheaton has done the narration for several audio books, and my affection for his work and 'geek presence' warranted me trying out audible. Once I have listened to both my intention is to cancel the subscription -- my listening time is limited, since I don't drive.
Like you, I only listen to audiobooks when I can give full attention -- I listened to Masters of Doom, for instance, while zoning out playing some pc games that don't require much mental activity. (Sid Meier's Pirates, The Sims 2 & 3...nothing that requires thinking on the level of Civ 3 or Cities in Motion.)
I haven't had much luck with audiobooks as I either find I can't concentrate as much on the book or I've been annoyed with the narrator for some reason, such as bad attempts at regional accents.
I don't understand why anyone would consider listening to an audiobook as intrinsically inferior to reading it, though I have come across people making that point. As you mentioned, a lot of older books were intended to be read aloud anyway.
In fact, I wish I could get on with them more as it would help save my eyes. The only real drawback with audiobooks is that they're very expensive so the only ones I'd consider are those available from the library.
Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts about audiobooks. I would like to listen to more of them. To me, they are a treat to listen to, and when I'm in the middle of one, I look forward to this time. Right now, I am hoping to find a new, engaging audiobook to listen to.
I have discovered I am too ADHD to listen to audiobooks, although that is almost entirely how my husband "reads" books. I personally don't think there is much of a difference. It's personal preference.
At night time I read aloud to Josh because I need to see the words and he prefers to listen.
On an interesting side, I just read a case study of a blind woman who listens to books on her computer at a blinding pace. She can hear the words at a speed that is incomprehensible to a sighted person. She reads around three books a day.
How are the narrators? I've wondered if that would determine how much I enjoyed them. Josh was listening to some Wodehouse narrated by an American. That seemed weird to me because I "hear" an English accent when I read a lot of British authors.
Hi James - It seems that many serious readers are not partial to audiobooks. It is interesting that you sometimes use them as a supplement to text. As I wrote, I tend to do the opposite.
Hi Tim - As i wrote, I only listen when I am doing aerobic exercise which means almost no distractions. I cannot imagine listening when there are distractions.
Hi Sharon - I can see how some folks would actually like listening better.
Audible lets you preview books. Many things that I listen to are available with a wide variety of narrators. I do listen to the previews and try to choose carefully. I tend to only go with British translators for English books and American Translators for American books.
Thanks Kathy - Some narrators are very good. I would guess that Agatha Christie would work very well in audiobook format.
I am actually completely deaf in my right ear but my hearing is good in my left. I can see how not being to hear clearly would completely close off audiobooks however.
Hi Stephen - I imagine that Wil Wheaton would be a great narrator for the right book. I get what you mean when you refer to "geek presence" :)
I just "reread" The Scarlet Letter on audiobook. It was a super experience.
Hi Johnathan - A bad narrator can ruin an audiobook. I can see how the comprehension thing would be an issue for some folks. They are indeed expensive. I also find that my library has a poor selection.
Hi Suko - I also enjoy listening a lot. They even help keep me motivated for exercise.
Interesting Brian. Good topic. I have gotten into audiobooks just the past couple of years while walking, and now I love them. I do find it a different experience than reading -- maybe it's a different part of the brain. I find it's true that certain titles or kinds of books are better than others as audios. I tend not to listen to really hard stuff or fact based, nonfiction things which I would rather underline in print form etc. One great thing about listening to an audio is I find I often listen to parts a couple times if I want --and replay parts. Most times I think comprehension is not sacrificed by listening to an audio; it can be enhanced. I find some of the narrators or readers are so good these days that it really helps a book. I find since reading & listening to a book is a bit different -- I like to reveal in my blog reviews if I have listened to one or read it. I feel like I am being more transparent -- I feel an obligation to disclose that info. I find it is too bad if people reject bloggers who review audios. I find them very valid, different but valid.
Very interesting topic, Brian!
I must admit that I am an old fashioned reader...hahaha... I tried once, but I did not like it at all. I prefer to hold a book in my hands, feel it, read it and keep it nicely in our house bookstore. Nothing is more beautiful and more relaxing than a reading room filled with books and the smell of paper...I believe this comes from my childhood memories:)
Hi The Reader's Tales - I love conventional books too. I have not displaced any conventional reading with audiobooks. But in the end, it came down to trying to use my exercise time to get more reading in.
Thanks Susan - I also do a lot of rewinding. I also go back and read the text a lot.
The issue of using different parts f one's brain when listening verses reading is a good one. I think that there is something to it and is worth looking into more.
In the end I try to make the two experiences as close as possible. But you are correct, there are inevitable differences.
Thank you for this post, Brian. I have never listened to an audio book. It is barely available in India. Even if it's available, I'm not sure how well I would fare. Now that you mention that it's working well for you, I hope we get to access audio book in India, for me to experiment with it.
Thanks Deepika - It is too bad that they are difficult to come by in India. In the United States libraries have some and there are pain subscription services.
Seems like you have the audiobook listening down! I can only listen to books if I am on a long car trip and not the one who is driving or if I am knitting something uncomplicated otherwise my mind wanders away and I miss too much even if I am cycling on the trainer or weeding in the garden. My husband on the other hand loves audiobooks. To each their own! :)
Hi Stefanie - I started listening to audiobooks with hesitation because I did not want to lose the reading experience.
I wonder if riding bike while listening is a closer experience to driving a car as opposed to running while listening. One needs to concentrate on the road so much in order to stay out of trouble, that one cannot properly concentrate on the book.
Everyone has their own rules for audiobooks and what works best for them--I consider listening to a book equivalent to reading it. I find audiobooks work best for rereads of classics and for new authors that I want to sample but not sure I want to invest in. In the latter case, I will often get a copy of the printed book after I've listened so that I can reread it! My 94-year old mother who has all her faculties except vision loves the audio books I get for her--losing her eyesight through macular degeneration was devastating for her as she was a lifelong reader for pleasure, but audio books gave her back her favorites.
Hi Jane - I also consider listening the same thing as reading.
It is great to hear about your mom. I think about what would happen if I could not not read. Audiobooks would be the answer.
Excellent post Brain!
I listened radio a lot and that was era when my brain was more focused and active .
i would love to listen audio books if i took a good sleep and my senses are fully alert and attentive .Though English is my not language and the flow of narration and accent can be hard to get correctly
probably yet it is suitable for time when my mind needs therapy.
second reason for preferring audio books is that i have a weak eye sight which is huge strain to read my favorite books peacefully .they cause me headache which is so hard to avoid
Thanks for this thoughtful post, Brian. I've had mixed experiences with audiobooks. The narrator makes a huge difference & like you, the Victorian books have worked well for me. I've often listened to books I read years ago & hearing them narrated by someone else has helped me appreciate them even more. Sharon's comment above about the blind woman was fascinating.
Hi Baili - I agree that one needs to listen to audiobooks when one's concentration is sharp.
They are really a great thing when one's sight is not good.
It is too bad that you cannot find audiobooks in your native language.
Narrators can make all the difference. Rereading with audiobooks is indeed a good way to experience a book through from a different angle.
I'm an audiobook lover, too, and try to follow many of the same rules. It's very helpful to have a print copy, especially for nonfiction. Morning walks are my favorite time for listening and I usually move my bookmark ahead (and skim) the print edition afterwards.
I'm a big advocate of read/listen combinations,especially for long Victorian novels. Listening adds another dimension and helps me become totally immersed in the story. Listening on my morning walks makes me even more eager to pick up the print edition in the evening!
Interesting 'rules' .... if only I could stay awake to try them out.
I can read books for hours on end but admit that to listen to an audio book is to see me asleep within fifteen minutes.
I had thought it was the book. No, I tried one of my all time favourites only to fall asleep within a few chapters.
Was it the person reading the book? No, I tried another one of my all time favourite reads read by someone I knew and felt ideal to narrate that particular book and yet still fell asleep.
Hi JoAnn - Walking while listening to Audiobooks sounds perfect. If I walked alone I would do the same. The print listening combination is great.
Hi Tracy - I think that I would quickly fall asleep if I were lying down. I tend to listen when running and when using exercise machines.
I haven't tried audiobooks yet. I'm considering a trip sometime in the next couple of months that would involve a long train or bus ride, so that could be an opportunity for it (especially as I get motion sickness on buses). You make a good point that some authors really did/do want their work read aloud.
Hi Hila - Long rides when one cannot easily read might be perfect for audiobooks.
I used to listen to audiobooks on long car trips, 5-6 hours, but we haven't done those in a while.
Hi Harvee - I can see how listening to an audiobook would really be a pleasant experience on a long car ride.
Excellent post, Brian! I personally count audiobooks as reading, especially since listening to them doesn't take away from my time reading paper/ebooks. I find audiobooks a convenient way to squeeze in more reading time in the morning when I'm getting ready, etc.
I don't comprehend as well with audiobooks, since I am a visual learner, but I've found that I absorb memoirs and other narrative nonfiction very well in audio format, as opposed to other genres. And I think some books are actually better in audio format. For example, I recently listened to Trevor Noah's memoir, Born a Crime, and I think it was amazing in part because of the author's engaging narration. I would have hated to miss that by reading the book in another format.
It is interesting about being a visual learner. That is my strongest learning style too. I do well with Auditory also. I guess that is why I do well with audiobooks.
A good narrator leads to such a positive experience with audiobooks.
Absolutely WONDERFUL post, Brian!!
You know, I really do think I should listen to books more often. Like you, though, I must definitely have access to the text, so that I can compare the two formats if I want to.
I don't think I would listen to an audiobook version of a printed book first. I would always want to read the printed book, and then consider whether I'd also like to listen to the audio version.
I've only listened to four audiobooks so far, and you won't be surprised to know that they are the four volumes of The Twilight Saga. I LOVE these books so much, I never get tired of them, lol. So, after reading them as printed books for the second time, I actually bought the audiobooks on CD. I don't like Audible, BTW. I prefer to have audiobooks I can actually hold in my hands. Lol.
So yes, I listened to these books, and I must confess that I did so while driving! Somehow, however, I was able to concentrate on the traffic at the same time. Perhaps that was because I was already familiar with the plot of each book. Listening to these books actually helped me to feel less stress during my daily work commute! Lol.
I think I should try listening to audiobooks while doing exercise. Of course, that means I should exercise more, haha!! But yeah, that's a GREAT idea, Brian! That way, you can do TWO awesome things at the same time -- one for your body, and one for your mind. TERRIFIC!! The few times I've gone to the gym (cough, cough), I've been listening to EDM, as that type of music REALLY revs me up while exercising. But listening to a book on audio will, I think, make it much easier for my body to get into the exercise, paradoxically enough. I really need to try it!
How interesting that Dickens might have actually planned for his books to be read aloud. Oh, would I LOVE to meet this writer!! I think I might try listening to "Oliver Twist" sometime! That's because I already own the printed book.
Have you ever heard of the "Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Country Store"? My husband and I like to eat there a LOT. There are two of these restaurants down here in South Florida -- one in Homestead, and the other in Pembroke Pines. They have GREAT cooking, and in a very homey, cozy, old-fashioned type of atmosphere, too. (The only thing I don't like about this place is the country music that's constantly playing, lol.)
Anyway....they also have a store, as the name says. They sell all kinds of things -- T-shirts and blouses, some jewelry, toys, and.....they RENT audiobooks! Yup! When I first walked into one of these restaurant/stores and saw that, I was really surprised! I wouldn't be interested in renting one of these audiobooks, though. Buying them, yes, but renting them, no. As you know, I'm OBSESSED with OWNING books!! Lol.
Do you guys have this restaurant up there?
Thanks for such an interesting post! I'm feeling like listening to a book right now! I do own "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in audio format, too. Gotta get the rest of them!
Happy Friday, and hope you have a GREAT weekend!! :) :) :)
It seems like a lot of people like to read a book first and then listen to it.
That is interesting about wanting to actually own the audiobook. I am think that we may soon reach a point where one cannot actually by “physical audiobooks.” But I might be wrong about that.
Listening to music seems to make more sense while exercising. I work out a lot however and I felt I even needed a change from that. I find that the audiobooks now keep me motivated.
I have been to Cracker Barrel. I like them. We do not have them on Long Island however. That is so interesting that they rent audiobooks. I think that is a great idea.
I think that Harry Potter would be a great choice for an audiobook listen.
Have a great weekend!
Hummm no updates...Well, have a tip top tastic weekend ;)
Thanks for stopping by The Reader's Tales. I should have a new bog up in a couple of days.
Brian I have to admit, I have never listened to an audio book. I don't know why, I have had plenty of offers or those free audio offers with Amazon but never taken them up on it. I would count it as reading and for folk in their challenges.
I love that you check with the printed text too, not something I considered folk doing if they are listening to it. Do you find many, if any, differences?
Well, that's interesting that you mention exercise and audio books together. I tried to listen to Alice in Wonderland (a book I've read) while doing housework. It didn't work. I could not focus on the words, it felt like they went in one ear and out the other. On the other hand, when I listen to podcasts while exercising, it's a lot better. I can actually remember what was said. Maybe I should try audio books again.
Hi Lainy - Audiobooks seem so different. I an understand why you have never tried them.
I have tried hard to make listening the same experience as reading. In the end, it seems mostly the same for me.
Hi Delia - I would imagine that it would be difficult to concentrate on audiobooks when doing housework. They work best for me when doing mindless aerobic exercise.
I like to listen to audio books as well. Working out while listening is a great idea. There are times I've listened to books on audio for about 30 minutes at night before falling asleep and it is really relaxing. I've also crocheted while listening and it's a nice way to be more productive with my downtime.
Like you mention, I don't think all books do well in this format, like the more difficult classics.
Interesting post Brian!
Hi Naida- Listening to audiobooks before sleep sounds so relaxing. I can also see how they would work well when crocheting. It id indeed a way to use one's time productively.
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