I’ve just come to the party of audio books listeners. I’m a bit late but, as they say, better late than never. (I am so late that I sometimes regress and call them “books on tape,” which is weird, because I never listened to those, either.) I‘ve never had any negative feelings about unabridged audio books. At talks I gave, people would frequently ask me if listening to a book “counted” as reading it. I believe it does, but I also think it’s a different kind of experience than reading something on the page. When you are reading the print version of a novel, for example, it’s just you and the author, mano a mano, collaborating on the book. When you add another person — the audio book reader — it changes the whole dynamic. What the author says and how you respond to it is now mediated through the reader’s voice. Many people I know choose their audio books by who the reader is, rather than by the topic or the genre. “I’ll read anything Jim Dale reads,” I often hear people say. So, yes, it is reading; and yes, too, it’s a totally different experience.
So my not taking advantage of audio books was not based on anything more than that my life didn’t provide the sort of activities that many people partake in as they listen (gardening and cooking, long commutes, etc.). But then I realized that audio books might be a good incentive to bicycling or walking on a treadmill at the Y, or when I’m going for a walk by myself. And so it proved.
I’m just now beginning my fourth book. The first one I listened to was Sara Wheeler’s Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, but at that time I was still trying to figure out how to download from the library’s website onto my IPod Nano, so the chapters ended up out of order and the book didn’t make a lot of sense — it was as though I were listening to it under “shuffle play.” So by about halfway through I had to regroup and find it in print and read it that way.
Then, after many emails back and forth between me and a very helpful man named Andy Hird at Overdrive, the company in Ohio that sells the downloading service to libraries, l successfully downloaded and listened to Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo, which I really enjoyed. Kate Reading, the aptly named reader, did a good job, I thought, conveying the many characters in the mystery, from a black teenager to an Oxford educated scholar. My major feeling, though, upon finally finishing it, was how long it took me to listen to, and how much quicker it would have been had I read the print version.
My next choice was Sharyn McCrumb’s The Ballad of Frankie Silver, which is one of her series of books based on traditional Appalachian songs (they’re called her “ballad novels”). C.M. Hébert splendidly reads this particular one.
I really loved this book, although I found it terribly sad. The narrative alternates between the stories of two accused murderers: one in the 1990s and the other in the 1830s. But while I was listening to it, my mind kept wondering what it looked like on the page: What typeface was used? Was the 1830s account printed in italics? Did the author use quotation marks or dashes to introduce speech? I didn’t miss turning the pages, but I did have a real desire to see the pages themselves. Weird, isn’t it?
It won’t keep me from listening to more audio books — in fact, I’ve just downloaded another Val McDermid novel and another of McCrumb’s ballad books, The Rosewood Casket, and I’m looking forward to them both.