April 6, 2012

Book 101 - Audiobooks

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Technically speaking an audiobook isn't a book, at least not when you define a book as that think with pages. Yet on second look the audiobook is a thing that takes you back to the roots of all narration - the oral tradition of telling stories. While oral literature is something we imagine our fore-fore-fooore-fathers to have practiced sitting around an open fire, it is also something many avid readers love to enjoy today. Maybe this is the right moment to confess that apart from my childhood I never tried myself on audiobooks. As a kid I loved listening to fairy tales of Enid Blyton on tape of record (I guess we've moved on from those ancient times as well), but as an adult I never tried out whether audiobooks still have the same appeal for me.

Basically an audiobook is a recording of a text being read. It is not necessarily an exact audio version of a book and you'll often find abridged versions of books in this format. Apart from the nostalgia setting in when I think of my fairy tale tapes, today audiobooks are usually distributed on CDs or as downloadable digital format.

What makes people rather listen to audiobooks than read the actual book then? Well, apart from some people simply preferring to listen instead of reading, there are in fact several reasons why audiobooks are a great invention. For starters they may be used to teach children to read and to increase reading comprehension, but they are also useful for the blind or people with poor eyesight who often find reading small print very strenuous. So it's no big surprise to learn that the idea of audiobooks originated in 1931 with the advent of the Books for the Adult Blind Project aimed at helping the blind adults.

Producing an audiobook obviously involves one or more narrators, and that is (at least to me) where problems start to build. The voice on a recording is obviously different from the voice you hear inside your head when you read a book yourself, thus simply may not work for you, be it because of the voice being too cheerful/whiny/etc or to fast/slow. On the other hand, for some, a dialog or a conversation in a book can be better comprehended in the audio format due to the voice modulations and other vocal cues. And as helpful they may be for reading comprehension, one might argue that audiobooks do not encourage children to read but instead provide an easy alternative for reading.

What are your thoughts on audiobooks? Upsides? Downsides? Feel free to share!


  1. I have a few audiobooks of my favorite novels, but I do not listen to others, since it is so tough for me to focus on listening... so, they are a total drawback to actually reading the book while listening to it.

  2. I don't like them. I don't enjoy being read to, neither a book or a quote or a newspaper article. I always prefer to read myself. However, for children, I think they are awesome. Our older son hates reading but loves listening so that way at least he gets some sort of literary knowledge.

  3. I love audiobooks for commuting or doing housework - BUT I hate the amount of time it takes to listen to one all the way through, so often I lose patience and give up. But with the right story and the right narrator I can completely get lost in the storytelling, even if I can't listen as fast as I read!

    I just have to find something else to keep me occuied whilst listening that doesn't distract me - I've never been able to sit and do nothing with my hands!

  4. I am not a fan of audio books. I think if I had a really long commute to work, I would listen to them in the car, but they arent for me. It dont feel like I am reading a book. Takes the fun out of it for me :)6

  5. Why wouldn't audiobooks encourage children to read? Children LOVE being read to; that's why teachers read to students (even up through middle school) because it sparks their interest in the story. I'm sure tons of research backs it up as sound pedagogical practice. Also, as proof, my daughter never would've given Harry Potter a chance if we hadn't listened to it since she refused to read it.

    I love audiobooks. They're great for long car rides, and they're fun for me and my daughter to listen to together and share a story.

    The narrator does make all the difference, though. We've had to quit books because of how they're read.

  6. Not a fan of audiobooks. I tried them on a road trip in college, they made me carsick and sleepy. I've tried them when I wasn't driving, and I tend to just wander off and do something else, forgetting that I'm 'reading'.

  7. I listen to audio books now and then. I like them when I'm ironing cause I otherwise wouldn't do it - I would be too bored! I also like to listen to them when I'm too ill to read - it makes me feel nostalgic of the time when grandparents read to me. audiobooks differ in quality immensely, there are some narrators that do their job amazingly. I guess they only work for certain people cause it involves a different way of concentrating. I think that it's a good idea for those who don't have enough of free time to read a lot. they are also useful for learning languages, if you read and listen at the same time cause you can learn pronunciation too. :)

  8. Audiobooks are great if I'm traveling. I can get through more of my reading list when I'm driving somewhere. For that reason, they are great!


  9. I love the idea of listening to an audio book when I can't read, in theory, but I can almost never get past how slowly the narrator reads compared to the speed at which I read.

  10. Thanks everyone for your feedback!

    Apart from tapes with fairy tales when I was little, I never listened to audio books - true story! I guess I might one day, so I know what they are like.

    BTW I also think audio books can help encourage children to read, being a real good way to get them interested in books. Yet some critics claim audio books can also keep kids from actual reading and rather let them remain lazily listening instead.