Thursday, June 29, 2006

On Audio Books

I’ve been giving some more thought to the experience of listening to audio books vs. reading them. I have yet to enjoy a novel I’ve listened to, and I’m beginning to wonder if my reaction to those books was influenced by the fact I was listening to them rather than reading them.

One of the problems with listening to a book rather than reading it is that it seems to engage less of my brain. Thus, when a character does something unbelievable, or a plot hole yawns wide, or a writer seriously gets her facts wrong, I find my mind spinning off into prolonged analysis and contemplation of these failings even as I continue listening to the story. I suspect if I were reading the book, I would simply note the problem, then move on.

Another factor is one of speed. The book I’m listening to at the moment has massive tons of description. Now, I like description, so if I’m finding myself wishing I could skim, you know we’re talking serious overdoses of travelogue. This author also writes loooong scenes that do nothing to move the plot but are intended simply to show characterization (I personally think a scene should do both); if I could skim or skip them, I might find the book more enjoyable…although I would still have to put up with her Too Stupid to Live heroines and serious lack of understanding of how an archaeological dig works or what 800 years in the dirt would do to a brass and silver buckle.

I suppose the only way to test this theory would be to listen to a novel by an author I know and respect. Which is what I’ll probably do next.

In contrast, I find I enjoy listening to nonfiction. I suppose the experience is similar to listening to a good lecture. The problem there is that, as I drive down the street, I find myself wishing I could take notes! As a result, the two nonfiction books I’ve listened to most recently are now sitting on my bookshelves.

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