Strong opinions, weakly held

Audio books as an art form

I confess that I’ve not listened to an audio book since I listened to an album-length version of The Hobbit that we had when I was a little kid. Roger Ebert makes me think I’ve been missing out. This is quite an endorsement:

I’ve been a lifelong reader. My love for physical books is old and deep. I also love audiobooks, and have listened to probably 300 of them. Sometimes they stay with me better than the printed ones. I avoid abridgments in most cases, and listened to Simon Callow read all 12 novels in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time twice. Every word. It became part of my experience. Now I’m re-reading it in print, and I can hear the voices.

I tried to read Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and never really got into it. Then I listened to Sean Barrett reading it, and it was so enthralling that if it was playing in the car I’d leave the engine idling for half an hour in the alley while an chapter finished. I started James Joyce’s Ulysses several times and always bogged down. After I heard it performed by Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan, I got it. It’s all voices. Hearing them from readers who knew such people, I could finally hear them in my mind.

The Diary of Samuel Pepys is so long I certainly would never have read it, although I own two hardbound editions. I get slowed down by the period spelling and language use, and the unfamiliar expressions. I listened to Kenneth Branagh’s performance, and it was like being confided in by a naughty, delightful friend. Pepys is human, flawed, sinful, determined to improve. A gossip. A statesman. A rogue. He joins the crowd in my mind.

That makes me want to seek out some audio books.


  1. wow, me too. I especially like the idea that some works of older eras are more easily approached when vocalized — surely a good Shakespeare production makes even his tangled sections seem obvious. and Branaugh does books? the mind reels…

  2. I’ve been amazed by 2 narrators: Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. They’re incredibly talented. http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=pd_rsp_3?asin=B003ZWFO7E

    I also really enjoyed this: http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=pd_rsp_2?asin=B002V0QCYU

    The cheapest I’ve found is audible.com’s 2 books/month subscription. It works out to about $11/book. I typically cancel my membership after making the purchase and then re-subscribe when I’m ready for more.

  3. I highly recommend John Hodgman and Jonathan Coulton “reading” Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise

  4. My ADD prevented me from reliably being able to get through full length books for years, so I finally gave up and gave audiobooks a try, and I “read” a whole lot more these days. I highly recommend Audible.com as an easy source for just about any audiobook in the world at a good price. And yes, most audiobooks are excellently produced, and several take the original material to another level. Definitely worth a try.

  5. I’ve kind of discovered audio books myself this summer while training to run a marathon this Fall. They’re a great alternative to music on my weekly long run and I’ve been impressed with just how much dimension a good voice actor brings to the work. I haven’t purchased any at this point because our local library system offers a pretty solid selection of digital downloads that cardholders can check out.

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