audiobooks and the art of storytelling

I am very interested in debates about whether one can claim to have read a book if one has listened to it as an (unabridged) audiobook. Personally, I feel that yes, listening to the unabridged audiobook is a way of “reading” a book. Is it different? Well, yes. I think the experience of having a story read to me is different from reading it myself–although I do not know enough about how our brains work, I would wager that we probably use different parts of our brains and different cognitive processes when listening vs. reading with our eyes. However, I think it is an equally worthwhile experience and that one is not necessarily lesser than the other.

In this op-ed from The New York Times, T.R. Luhrmann argues that the rising popularity of audiobooks indicates a return to an appreciation for storytelling:

We tend to regard reading with our eyes as more serious, more highbrow, than hearing a book read out loud. Listening to a written text harkens back to childhood, when we couldn’t read it ourselves, or a time when our parents left off reading the chapter out loud in the middle, a nudge that we’d use our school-taught skills to finish it off by ourselves.

I listen the way I read books as a child, as if I were there watching. The author becomes more transparent, the characters more real. Listening to “Bring Up the Bodies,” I don’t think, what is the author, Hilary Mantel, up to? I feel the threat of death damp on my skin. And when I have listened to a book in a particular place — the ferns beneath the oak trees — I remember the book when I come back to that place, as if my hands in the soil were digging up the words.

2 thoughts on “audiobooks and the art of storytelling

  1. Wendell Dryden says:

    Audio-books give me direction and ideas to use when I read aloud to children (or adults). I mostly agree with Luhrmann, but I don’t think audio makes the author “more transparent.” More often, audio-books give me insight into the author’s intention. John Le Carre’s reading of his novels changed the way I read them to myself. I enjoyed listening to Harry Potter more than I enjoyed reading the texts and feel like I understood them better.

    On the other hand, I know a torrent site where the 5th most popular (downloaded/seeded) audio-book is a “learn to speed read” book – not sure what That’s about. 🙂

  2. mworfolk says:

    I’m not sure myself what Luhrmann meant by making the author more transparent. When an author reads his/her work well, I think it can bring excellent insight into his/her intentions. Neil Gaiman is one example of an author who does this for me. (Sometimes I’m not so keen on author-read audiobooks, though.)

    Your comment about the “learn to speed read” audiobook made me laugh!

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