Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
I’m always surprised by the hesitancy with which some people approach audiobooks. Despite their ability to offer consumers a uniquely beneficial experience with the text, the format is frequently met with reservations.
Last month, Daniel Berkowitz discussed some of those misgivings in his piece “Audiobooks Make Me Feel Like I’m Cheating” for this publication. Berkowitz wonders if we can consider audiobooks on par with books; if the reading experience is still pure if you’re multitasking; if “reading” is an appropriate verb for consuming audiobooks; and if one can remain loyal to their love of books if they listen to audio.
My answer is yes—to all of the above. And it might come as no surprise that I actually think that reading is better in audio.
And yes, I call it “reading.” Consuming a book, whether you do that in hardcover, braille, tablet or audio, constitutes reading in my book. To suggest otherwise is discourteous to those who don’t have the choice. But what’s particularly exciting when you’re reading a book with your ears, rather than your eyes, is the whole world of possibility that instantly emerges.
1. Performance – Narrators bring a book to life in extraordinary ways. Whether it’s the theatrics of a full cast version complete with music and sound effects, or the intimacy of a celebrity reading you their memoir with the exact intonation they envisioned when they wrote it, there’s nothing more powerful than excellent narration. My appreciation for comedic timing, the rhythm of literary prose, and the eerie quality of mysteries and thrillers (there’s no reading ahead!) are all heightened through an auditory experience.
2. Retention – Numerous studies have refuted the commonly held idea that when it comes to learning and memory, listening to audio is inferior to reading print. In fact, both are equally great ways for your brain to absorb and comprehend information. But since audiobooks have to be intentionally paused (rather than your eyes wandering off the page), and you have the ability to speed up the narration, audiobooks lend themselves to more focused and efficient consumption of books.
3. Multitasking – You can’t read a paperback when you’re exercising, doing chores or are stuck in traffic. Average commute times in the United States are just shy of half an hour and are much steeper in urban centers, making audiobooks a flexible way to enjoy books that you just might not have the time for otherwise. I wouldn’t call this cheating, though—just making the best of our new reality: our lives are only going to keep getting busier.
And if you’re still not swayed, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that oral storytelling is the oldest format. Before humanity invented the written alphabet and Gutenberg pioneered the printing press, stories were told from one person to another, illustrated not by pieces of paper, but by the sound of their voice. Audiobooks are a remarkable fusion of the rich tradition of spoken stories and the innovations of modern technology.
And as the fastest growing format in its field, in which the customers are only getting younger, the future is bright for audiobooks. And even brighter for their readers.
Bonus Book List: Ian’s Picks for Better in Audio
1. Lucky Man, Michael J. Fox – This celebrity memoir is a perfect example of the intimacy that comes with an author narrating their own story. You can hear the tremor in his voice as he discusses his journey with Parkinson’s disease, and it is deeply moving.
2. A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin – Roy Dotrice’s narration of 224 distinct characters actually earned him the Guinness World Record for most character voices for an audiobook by an individual. His marvelous storytelling makes it surprisingly easy to keep all those characters straight, and is my ideal way to consume Martin’s magnum opus.
3. Macbeth, William Shakespeare – The Bard’s plays were written to be heard, and are notoriously difficult to comprehend in print. Acclaimed actor Alan Cumming’s remarkable one-man interpretation of the play brings the lines to life and gave me a newfound appreciation for this masterwork.
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl – My kids love being told stories, and adore Douglas Hodge’s inspired narration of this children’s classic. I love turning this on when we’re all in the car together and hearing them cheer for Charlie Bucket. It never gets old.
5. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger – As a thorough and fascinating look at modern marketing, this is one of my favorite business texts. And at just shy of seven hours, I was able to finish this in one week, entirely on my commute.
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