My primary argument against audiobooks, before I managed to get through an entire one, was that someone reading aloud was a poor substitute for reading a book oneself. I had a bad opinion of audiobooks because I didn’t like having the Average Joe reading something aloud. Was it how the author intended his or her story to sound like? Did the reader completely miss the nuances? Did the reader’s voice somehow cheapen the story?
I suppose my dislike for this form of storytelling stemmed from listening to teachers and librarians read children’s books when I was in elementary school (with the exception of my fourth grade teacher who read the class The Chronicles of Narnia throughout the school year) because the speaker’s interpretation of a story did not mesh with my interpretation. The story in my head was almost always far more witty and sophisticated. An elementary school librarian sounded like she was talking down to the students, at best. An idiot, at worst.
But, of course, how can I decry a media form without really trying it out first? So last week, I checked out several audiobooks from the library–all of them for books that I’ve read before. I figured that this would control for the quality of the book so I could concentrate on the quality of the narrator. After trying several audiobooks, I’ve decided that it depends on who the narrator is. Some people are good with different voices. Some, not so much.
The best analogy I can think of is that audiobooks are to the written word as a movie is to a screenplay. I can see there is a certain appeal for audiobooks (after all, unlike reading a book oneself, listening to an audiobook allows one to do several things at once), and some may be quite good on their own merits. But I still believe that the actual book in hand is better than listening to someone else reading it. For one, the version in my imagination is funnier. The narrators always sound so serious! Or, the narrator may have a certain tone that I am sure the author never intended. But above all, the audiobook is a dramatization–someone else’s interpretation of a story–and like the movie, it does all the work for you. The listener doesn’t have to think. He or she can just sit there like a zombie and let the voices pass between the ears without much processing.
However, I have yet to get my hands on an audiobook in which the author reads his own work. I suspect I will have different expectations for it.