“That’s cheating.” I hear it all the time, but I’m not listening. And so what if it is? I’m Rhett Butler and “I don’t give a damn.” I’ve carried on with this illustrious affair for more than half my life now. In fact, it’s been highly profitable and entertained me for thousands of hours. It was a curiosity thing at first. I simply flirted and fooled around. But somewhere along the lines, it turned into something more; it got serious. I never construed it as “cheating” because I believed this relationship afforded me something that I couldn’t get elsewhere at certain times and places in my life. Quite honestly, it was a harmless endeavor that hurt no one directly and while it did on occasion cost me some money to add some gadgets to the mix, it worked out best for everyone in the end.
I’m talking of my love for audiobooks of course. Those hard-to-pinpoint products that some insist on as “it's not reading” while others swear (including Stephen King) by it. While it is aurally-oriented instead of visually oriented, the fact remains, processing the story still takes place and is influenced by a range of factors within the text (such as font size/type, book format—paperback, hardcover, etc—pictures, layout, chapter header designs, etc) all of which color (sometimes literally) what we experience in reading. Similarly with listening incurs a range of factors from the narrator to the sound quality to the format (CDs, cassettes, MP3s, etc) that influences how one hears. But at the end, both have experienced the story. That becomes the central piece here. The idea behind reading is to experience the story and in both cases, that occurs. Of course, the argument is that a reader analyzes it better than the listener, but that’s only because we have been more trained to be cautious and aware of reading nuances. A well-verse listener could also making all sorts of insights about a piece he/she listened to (in fact, currently working on an article for a book, doing just that). (Note: By and large, I’m talking here about unabridged audiobooks which translates the text word for word—mostly: usually, it skips footnotes, maps, and other supplemental material). Ok—that part of this rant is over.
So what moves me with audiobooks? Many consider them a snore-fest or feel they “can’t get into them.” Of course, their experience usually consists of listening to one and deciding to be done with it. Rather silly. If that were the case with reading, very few readers would exist. The fact is, just like we can “see” well before we can read, we also can hear, well before we can listen. For many, listening to audiobooks should be a gradual process in which they figure out a few different things about their listening preferences.
1. Place: If you sit down to listen to an audiobook in your living room with nothing else; you most likely fall asleep. This ISN’T because the narrator is boring. This has to do with the fact that in a quiet space with someone reading to you without any other stimuli, is a natural invitation to sleep (after all, for many of us our parents read us stories for bed and even if they didn’t, the idea of a voice in a peaceful environment probably has some correlations to our existence in the womb). Not all places will work for people but some of the most popular include while doing chores, commuting (by car, legs, or public transportation), or even while waiting in line or running errands like grocery shopping. For many, like myself, the goal is to use audiobooks when my body (but not necessarily my mind) need to be engaged.
2. Genres. Not everyone likes every genre and more importantly, genre interest does not always cross forms. People who like to read science-fiction may abhor science-fiction films. People who enjoy chick-lit maybe be repulsed by the “chick flick”. Realize that you’ll enjoy certain genres in one form that you might not elsewhere.
3. Narrative format. Some people love single-voice narrators, others like multiple narrators within a production, and still some prefer male over female narrators. These too can sway your interest for the book and it takes some time, trial, and error to determine what you like.
4. Audio format. If I can’t get it in (or put it into) MP3, I’m immediately not a fan of it. The reason is because for me, it’s easier. Given how much I listen, I would rather have a CD with 700 MBs of MP3 audiobooks (about 30 hours) instead of an audio CD (with a measly 80 minutes) and we won’t even talk about how many hours my mp3 player has.
There are other facets for gaining audio-literacy but maybe that’s for another post. Hopefully, it is sufficient enough for people to realize and ponder their listening-literacy. I want to get back to why I love audiobooks. See, many people confuse listening to audiobooks for being lazy. But many of the audiobook addicts I know, it has nothing to do with this. The fact is, I listen to audiobooks because I love stories. Many of my friends have heard me say this and it’s still true (thousands of audiobooks later). I don’t listen because I hate reading. I listen, because I could spend EVERY WAKING MOMENT of my life reading all the books in the world, and by the time I died, I still wouldn’t have gotten to half of the books that I’ve wanted to cover. So, audiobooks allow me an excellent avenue to get exposure to that much more knowledge and more stories. In doing so, it has also introduced me to a great many narrators whom I’ve gotten to interview or just admire from afar, including Scott Brick, Stefan Rudnicki, Alan Sklar, Barbara Rosenblat, Grover Gardner, Simon Jones, Phil Gigante, Jim Dale, and William Dufris, among many others.
It’s also worth noting that there are hundreds of thousands of audiobooks available. It used to be hard to acquire them but nowadays, between extensive library networks, digital download sites such as audible.com and iTunes, communal efforts (like the great folks at Librivox) and other resources (legal or pirated), provide for an abundance of listening for anything you’re interested in.