Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aural Reading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the benefits (and drawbacks) of listening to an audiobook rather than reading it on the page. My in-laws gave me an mp3 player, prestocked with several recent fiction titles, for Christmas this year (which is how I'm "reading" The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). But this isn't the first time I've ventured away from the written world: I used to download audiobooks from the Boulder Public Library and have purchased books on CD in the past. I tend to listen to them when I'm working out or cleaning the house -- it's a way to force myself to go to the gym or pick up a dustrag, because I won't let myself listen any other time and I always really want to know what happens next! I also find that, while it's hard to read multiple works of fiction at once, I have no problem reading one book and listening to another.

Some audiobooks work better than others. I love Anne Lamott, but her speaking voice just doesn't match the dry sarcasm of her written works. And trying to listen to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell proved more difficult than anticipated just because of its enormity; it would have taken me several months to get through it so I finally just gave up. But the audio version of Ian McEwan's Saturday grabbed me right away -- I declared it a "top 5 favorite books ever" before I had even cracked the spine of a print copy. I probably got more enjoyment out of listening to The Lovely Bones and The Time-Traveler's Wife than I would have reading them. And who wouldn't love to settle back and listen to Seamus Heaney read his beautiful translation of Beowulf in a lilting Irish accent?

I have a hard time coming to terms with the thought of reading on a Kindle or Nook -- but somehow audiobooks don't seem in conflict with my identity as a reader. Maybe it's because storytelling originated as an oral artform...or maybe I just like company on the elliptical machine.

Click here and here for more thoughts on audiobooks.

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