Monthly Archives: February 2016

Audiobooks: the case of the missing verb


As part of my goal to read more this year, I have added audiobooks to my list. Podcasts make up a large part of what I listen to, outpacing music a while ago, and it ranges from fiction to news to non-fiction. However, audiobooks never really interested me. Audiobooks on CD were okay for car rides but I always reverted back to podcasts or music.

This year, I have already finished three: two Sherlock short story collections and most recently H.G. Well’s The time machine. Perhaps these titles are best suited for audiobooks as they are engrossing yet fairly short, not more than 200 or so pages which is still a few to several hours. It’s been a habit of mine to blog about the books that I read, mainly as a record for myself but also as a way to take the chance to pause and consider the work and what I meant to me. For audiobooks, they just feel different and I have been unsure about posting review for them.

Part of what has held me back from reviewing is that completing an audiobook does not provide the same closure for me as finishing a book (print or electronic). So using the term “read” seems a little out of place, as to me it still implies a visual component. Yet the term “listened” connotes that it is less than a book when in fact the only difference is that someone is reading it aloud to me. I listen to podcasts and I listen to music. It doesn’t convey the right sense that I want. It’s as if there is a missing verb that is needed to describe completing an audiobook.

Maybe I am getting bogged down on the semantics–it’s my job to be down in the details all day long and it’s a trait that I have had all of my life, noticing and fixing them. Could I review the audiobooks that I completed? Of course! The work is the same, the writing is the same, the only difference from a text copy is that it is spoken word. Why should that change the way I intake and contemplate the story?

Well, the first thing is that I am always doing something else when an audiobook is playing. Whether it’s cooking or knitting or walking, additional attention is elsewhere. When I read a text copy of a book, I always give it my full attention. I’ve tried to multi-task the same way as with audiobooks but it’s impossible. Which is the point–in order to focus on a work, it must have the full attention it deserves. Perhaps that is why audiobooks feel different to me, because I am treating them different and not giving them the complete attention that they deserve. But what then is the point of an audiobook if not to free up my hands and occupy my mind while I do something else? If I were to play an audiobook and do nothing else expect listen to it, I think I’d stop the audio and prefer to pick up a text copy to read it myself.

Second, I love words. I love savoring a story, lingering over a page for a while, reading and re-reading a beautiful passage just to enjoy it all the more. With audiobooks, they rush through the story without pause, one track or disc seamlessly switching to the next. Sure, it can help get through a book more quickly. A couple of my first audiobooks were for the second and third The girl with the dragon tattoo series, which I might not have finished in a text copy; the audiobooks kept me going and I felt that I better understood popular reading culture at the time because of it.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a good verb for audiobooks or prefer to use either “reading” or “listening”? For more pondering on the topic, here are two articles to give you more food for thought: The Guardian and Writer’s Edit.

For now, I will probably not review audiobooks. While I have already finished three so far this year, they are a small part of my reading diet. If that changes, or you all want to have me post review of them, I could be persuaded to review the audiobooks. I just need a better verb for them.