I’ve heard a few discussions recently where people have said that listening to audiobooks ‘doesn’t count’ and is ‘cheating’ on the book-reading front. This makes me so cross.
Audiobooks are simply another way of accessing books which, I would argue, is always a good thing.
After all, how do we first experience books and stories as a child before we can read them ourselves – we hear them being read to us. For me, the sheer luxury of being ‘read to’ has stayed with me into adult life. Surely I can’t be alone or BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime would have ceased long ago?
However, it’s true that some books work better than others as audiobooks and a poor narrator can completely spoil a wonderful text.
The ones which seem to work best are those where there is a clear plot and storyline, not books which switch dates, narrators and scenes very frequently. For example, Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life and Ali Smith’s How to be Both didn’t work for me at all on audiobook (not least because I had a physical copy of How to be Both which started with the first story, and the audiobook started with the second one, and there I was thinking ‘WTF is going on here ?’ In both cases I didn’t give up on the book though but switched to the hard copy. (Tip: Did you know that Audible will let subscribers ‘return’ a limited number of audiobooks if you’re not enjoying them?)
Rather than being the poor relation to physical books the audio versions sometimes have added value.
Narrators with authentic character accents can add an extra dimension – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ and Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ are excellent on audiobook!
Well-respected actors are often great narrators too and it’s like having a personal performance in your head. Stephen Fry’s readings of his own books bring his words to life wonderfully. (But beware of the narcissistic author who has insisted on reading their own audiobook without much previous reading experience.)
It’s always worth reading the audiobook performance reviews on Amazon/ Audible and listening to a sample of the narrator’s voice – occasionally you get one who just doesn’t work for the book.
Although it’s a bit expensive I love the Amazon ‘whispersync’ option where you can switch seamlessly between the Kindle ebook and Audible audiobook, with each returning to the last point you read/heard. I can then ‘read’ a book continuously throughout the day while I’m driving, doing dull jobs around the house, running, cooking as well as actually sitting down reading.
If I only have the audiobook (I have an Audible subscription) I sometimes try to borrow a physical book from friends or the library so I can at least experience some of it in written form and ‘mix and match’ as appropriate.
I’m still amazed how many UK friends don’t realise that UK libraries now have e-audiobooks available to download, and they’re not just the classics and lesser known titles. I’ve recently borrowed Emma Healey’s ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ and Kate Hamer’s ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ from mine. Library audiobooks are usually available through Overdrive and OneClickDigital apps and can be borrowed for up to 21 days.
So, thanks to audiobooks I’ve possibly accessed twice as many books as I might otherwise have done. Author/narrators have helped me understand every nuance of their books by reading it to me. I’ve listened to stories read in the language and accent of the original author and have had multiple narrators dramatise a book for me in a way I might not have imagined while reading it.
I don’t think audiobooks will ever replace physical books in my life, but they ARE an important part of my book-reading week. I mark them up on my Goodreads shelf and I talk about them with friends the same way I would any other book. In fact, a few months ago when I was in three book groups with meetings in the same week, it was only thanks to audiobooks that I could finish the books in time!
So it puzzles me when I hear talk of ‘not counting’ and ‘cheating’ – I can only think these people have had some overly strict primary school teachers? Would you tell a blind person that they couldn’t discuss a book with you because they’d only heard it via audiobook?
No. I don’t think so.
What are your audiobook experiences and habits? Let me know in the comments below.