Is it possible to do audiobooks wrong?

Is it possible to do audiobooks wrong?

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Until five weeks ago, audiobooks were somewhat of a newfangled concept to me. With their ever-growing popularity among consumers, and double digit sales growth year-over-year, (Good E-Reader reported sales growth of 28.8% in Q1 of 2017 versus Q1 of 2016), it was time to squelch my inhibitions around downloaded audio. It took a considerable amount of internal dialogue to convince myself that listening to an audiobook wasn't cheating. But once I found myself shoreside in Orange Beach, Alabama, disconnected from the grind of daily life, I decided it was the perfect time to plug into an audiobook.

My audiobook experience

Game of Thrones was halfway through its seventh season during my vacation. I'm a huge fan of the show and George R. R. Martin's series has been on my to-read list for a while. When I finally got the chance to "borrow" and listen to the book from Dallas Public Library's cloud library, I just couldn't get into it. I felt like a teenager whose beloved grandfather still saw as a young child. He's reading me a story. I chuckle when I should feel suspense—grow restless as I fight to keep my attention. That couldn't be my experience of Thrones, right? So I tried something else.

Audiobook is how I ultimately consumed Arianna Huffington's The Sleep Revolution, which I reviewed in a previous blog post. But I ran into a similar problem here. Voice was, again, a major distraction. The narrator sounded remarkably like Huffington, and her unvaried tone put me to sleep more than once. It took me a full week to get through what would've taken me just a couple hours of reading. There were countless instances of me falling asleep during the audiobook. Fewer attempts of me finding the place I passed out at. And all the desire to just consume the information at my own pace.

Future audiobook listening

I often hear that audiobooks are just long podcasts. I beg to differ. Podcasts, at least the ones I listen to, are brimming with personality quirks and natural-flowing dialogue or commentary. I feel like I'm sharing a room with them and I actively listen to what they have to say. A 60 or 90-minute podcast feels like half an hour. In contrast, audiobooks are meticulously paced—sometimes overly dramatized—and have this undeniable sense of rehearsal. Specifically in fiction, my imagination suffers when I try to form characters around a voice recording, and that cheapens any value I get from the book.

Am I saying audiobooks are terrible? No. To each his own. But what it comes down to, for me, is active versus passive. Listening to an audiobook offers a passive way of taking in information. Whereas reading a paperback or e-book requires more work processing the material, but you also can go at a more desired pace. Sampling audiobooks has affirmed my preference to consume fiction via actual reading, but I'm open to trying out audio versions for non-fictional material.

I prefer reading novels myself for the time being. And my workday commutes will continue playing podcasts. I can don the earbuds when I find myself on another vacation with all the time in the world.

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