Sandra Gibbons

Sandra Gibbons

lives in beautiful Northwest Arkansas. She writes about parenthood, lessons learned, and creating moments of happiness.

Is it Possible to do Audiobooks Wrong?

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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