Writing: Reading or Listening?

NYT had an interesting piece on reading vs. audiobooks and I wanted to put in my 2 pence on the topic.  I try to be very clear in my reviews when I’m reading vs. listening.  I know a few times I’ve missed the mark on it, but I try.  Because I do see the difference between an audiobook and the visual-reading experience.  I struggled with Terry Pratchett until I checked out “Making Money” on audiobook.  The reader helped.  A LOT.  When I recommend that book, I always recommend the audiobook version – because it is a different way to approach the book.

Now, some of it comes down to the reader(s).  I also listen to free readers on Librivox and some of them improve the experience, many are neutral, and a few have a negative impact.  It IS a skill to read well.  It is art to read and entertain someone else’s work.

I listened to “Lock In” by John Scalzi.  I got the Will Wheaton version, but he purposefully had two readers – a male and a female.  I read the book directly (not audio) for the 2nd in the series “Head On” and I didn’t necessarily stick with a male protagonist.  THAT is such a cool thing that Scalzi did.  He wrote an ambiguously gendered character because they live life through a robotic interface and so honestly, they only suffer from gender norms when they consciously/actively choose.  It’s a truly artistic piece of work.  I would LOVE to assign the audiobook versions to a class (1/2 the class gets the woman reader and 1/2 gets the man) and then one of the essay questions on the test would be “what is the protagonist’s gender and what are the clues you would use to support that” (open book essay question).  Follow it up with a “debate” for the class…  THAT would be awesome education.

Sorry, got off point a bit.  It’s definitely something I think is NOT available until you look at the audiobook genre.  It might be something an author could have attempted previously, but the two-readers-different-voices…. that is something unique to the 21st century (yes, I know audiobooks are technically a 20th century invention…. their popularity is 21st).

It is actually something I’ve been doing with some of my books – reading them aloud and listening to it later to see if it “flows” and makes sense.  Does it make a good audio book?  Honestly, having listened to audiobooks regularly (and the article apparently backs me up about 1/2 way through!) if the prose gets too complicated or descriptive – my mind begins to struggle following it. 

I don’t know that I would want to listen to most 19th century literature (Robinson Crusoe and Sarlet Letter come to mind).  Those long imagery-driven elements… I remember reading Scarlet Letter in high school and some of those long winded…. *shudders* I had to read them two or three times to really process them.

I think there is absolutely benefit to audiobooks (duh).  Hell, it allows me to “read” 2-3 books “at the same time” because I have my audiobook for commuting to/from work; my lunchtime normal-reading-book; and frequently a “bathroom” book I’m working through (which regularly gets carried away to curl up on the couch and finish).  This isn’t even counting the dyslexic/blindness/etc. argument – those who find listening easier/better for processing versus having to fight through the medium.

What do you think?  Do audiobooks change the industry significantly? Is it a different art form or is it like acting and the variation is stage vs. screen but the art form is the same?  Is the SKILL of visual reading/comprehension dying like handwriting as the article alludes early on?


2 thoughts on “Writing: Reading or Listening?”

  1. I actually prefer to ‘read’ the older novels like Gone With the Wind and Swiss Family Robinson on audio book. When I am reading a long-winded description, my eyes skim over it automatically, and many times I don’t even know I’ve missed something until later. The audio books force me to listen to the whole thing. Every word.

    I do agree that the reader can make a huge difference. I’ve survived many a long car ride listening to engaging… and not so engaging audio books. Either way it seems to make time go by faster!


    1. It definitely depends! I’ve got a Librivox reader of Pride & Prejudice I enjoyed but I haven’t found a good Count of Monte Cristo yet – and personally, I would argue CoMC has a LOT less “long winded” descriptions.


Comments are closed.