Audiobooks aren’t ear movies

Earlier this week, I ended up in an online discussion about audiobooks and the following comment was made:

i’m trying to accept that it’s a totally different thing, but it’s hard because it does go against what i think of as the reading experience. readers do make the story their own. but audio books are, i guess, more like a movie where the reader is presented a specific interpretation of the story. i think just straight reading leaves the story open to reader involvement, but that style is def not popular.

In the past couple years, I have become an audiobook fan. I’ve blogged about my journey into this form before, but in this discussion, I found myself seemingly having the singular position that audiobooks don’t cheapen the writer’s work. (The discussion was mostly with authors and/or aspiring authors).

The discussion was on the difference of “straight reading” versus voice-acting by the narrators.

audiobooksI will come out in favor of voice-acting 95% of the time, mostly because it helps me keep track of who’s speaking. When I read, I realize I take in a whole line at a time, often absorbing the dialogue tag with the dialogue almost at the same time.

On an audiobook, it’s slower and the different voices help me keep track, especially while driving  (since I listen in my car.) Voice acting isn’t a movie, it’s just the way of telling the story since the visual cues aren’t there.

I actually use audiobooks as a way to “reread”  a lot of books. What I’m finding is that the audiobook version doesn’t detract from my initial love of a book. It enhances it. I’ve reread the Jasper Fforde Thursday Next books and laughed aloud, alone, in my car. I’ve reread all of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and ended up shouting at Harry, alone, in my car, at the same places that I did when I read them in print at home. I find plot threads more vivid than I did the first time through.

They are not, however, ear movies.

The audiobooks that have annoyed me the most have included sound effects. Sound effects. No, there’s no need. The text says “the door opened with a squeak”, or that “blaster fire erupted down the hallway.” I don’t need the noise.

Audiobooks also don’t lock me into a character image the way a movie version does (maybe this mean I believe what I see more than what I hear?). For example, as much as I love the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies, I can’t approach the books now without seeing those actors. Gandalf is Ian McKellan now (or maybe I mean that the other way around.)

But on audiobooks, James Marsters isn’t Harry Dresden and Scott Brick isn’t Jason Bourne or Paul Atreides or Captain Alatriste and Simon Vance isn’t Paul Atreides or Captain Alatriste either (interesting switch in readers that). They are giving voice to characters who are deep and rich and because of the order that the author put the words on the page in the first place. I don’t truck with abridged audiobooks; that is too much like a movie. The author meant all those words to be read, so whether on the page or a CD, I want to have them all.

The online discussion implied that audiobooks took things away from the reader.  An audiobook reader decides where to put the inflection on a word or in a sentence. So do people who read the paper copies, the only difference being the author doesn’t hear it. Maybe the author didn’t mean it that way and maybe the print reader wouldn’t have done it that way. But not having it, having just a flat voice? I’d tune it out with Charlie Brown teacher effects.

I’m sure it’s a surreal experience to be an author and have an audiobook version of your work.

But, to me, listening to audiobooks taps into something cherished, the telling of stories to each other. It’s the adult version of being read to by a parent or a teacher. It’s a voice that we trust to lead us through a world and all the emotions with it. I find that sentences resonate sometimes in an audiobook in ways they do not in the print version.

For me, audiobooks enhance the print version.


3 thoughts on “Audiobooks aren’t ear movies

  1. Sebastiene says:

    1st comment: In reply to, “…All of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and ended up shouting at Harry, alone, in my car…..” And I didn’t think I could like you more, Bethany.

    2nd comment: I think it depends on the intent. I *want* my stories to work in multiple mediums. I *adore* The Shadow radio programs from the 30’s (especially with Orson Welles). I really enjoy BBC Radio productions of Dr. Who, etc. So, I’d be very happy if my stories were available as books, movies, and radio plays. I find “straight read” audio books run the risk of being “droney.” (“Drony?” I know, I shouldn’t try to invent words.) There are different challenges in each medium, and I embrace that.

    …Until, of course, I sell my movie rights, and someone turns “Dead World” into an X-rated version of “Saw.” But that’s a different conversation.

  2. Abridged audiobooks are like bad movies, like the edited down, theatrical cut of The Two Towers, which is well shot, well acted, etc. etc., and yet barely functions as a film. Or they’re like most abridgements of Shakespeare, where they seem fine until you actually get the whole thing, and a what was a mere square becomes a mosaic, or a mere cube a Hellraiser puzzle box, and they feel more propulsive, more like Star Wars or Game of Thrones, and even feel ‘shorter’ because everything that makes everything else matter is there.


    Here. Here’s the above, abridged: “Audiobooks like bad, down Towers shot. Bare functions, like most, seem fine. You get the whole thing, a mosaic, a Hellzle box, and propulsive Wars or matter is there.”

    That’s The Two Towers theatrical, and abridged books.

  3. […] places where I continue to grow as a reader. I have expressed my love of audiobooks and how they are more than “ear movies.” But, like learning how to stop reading a book that is truly awful, I’m learning that its OK […]

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