Love it or hate it: Audiobooks

by David Holub

Love itThere are few activities that allow me to get completely out of my head, where I forget about everything swirling between my ears and reach a state of near-meditation. An open highway with a compelling audiobook is one of them.

While I can be a bit snobby and highbrow about the physical books I read, when it comes to audiobooks and road trips, bestselling pop-fiction page-turners are my bread and butter. John Grisham, James Patterson and Stephen King are all go-to’s, with their command of plot and surprising reversals.

Another favorite audio-genre is comedic memoir read by the author. Bill Bryson, Jay Leno and Steve Martin give great performances with their memoirs, but no one beats David Sedaris with his high-pitched Southern squawk, giving his essays audible life like only he could.

But there’s something peculiar that happens for me with audiobooks. Inexplicably, I can retain information 100 times better than when reading. Even years later, I can recall specific facts and ideas, particular plot points and phrases and sometimes the precise location I was when I heard it.

Perhaps it’s that meditative state audiobooks put me into, where there are no worries and no words to read. Just a story to lose myself in and a road to get lost on.

— David HolubHate itI am a very fast reader. It’s probably because I grew up pre-internet and read nonstop as a kid. But this means I also have very little patience for hearing someone else read a book aloud. Whenever the teacher chose one hapless student to read from a text in grade school, I felt tortured. They always recited slowly, painfully, with the complete wrong intonation and pronunciation. You learned how few of your classmates actually had vocabularies appropriate for their age bracket. It was disheartening.

Audiobooks provide a similar wretchedness. When do people have time to listen to a full book read aloud, anyway? I’m a skimmer. It goes along with being a speedy reader. I realize this isn’t always a good thing – we skimmers miss a lot. But if you’re reading, say, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, skimming is a necessary method of self-preservation. You’d never finish if you didn’t skip blithely over the pages and pages of description. I guess people listen to audiobooks in their cars, but in the car I want to hear music.

Someone else’s voice is a distraction. When you are reading directly from a page, your own voice dictates the story, but you don’t really hear your voice. It’s more of an elusive, disembodied mind who reads and understands. It’s easier to imagine how the characters might sound without the disturbance of narration. A popular thing now is celebs releasing audiobook recordings, but can you really focus on Moby Dick when you recognize the dulcet tones of Samuel L. Jackson, Anne Hathaway or Meg Ryan? I couldn’t.

Anya Jaremko-Greenwold


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