Thursday, 26 April 2012

Thursday Thought: Audiobooks

Reading books versus listening to them. I've been thinking about this for a little while because I love audio books, I always have, but I do know that not everyone views them in the same way I do. Some people just don't get along with them, so don't bother with them, but others will quite adamantly say that it doesn't count as reading and is worth less.

Obviously listening and reading are two different skills and I don't think they can really be compared. But that doesn't mean that one is better than the other either. If I was blind I wouldn't be able to read so I would have to listen to all of my books, and I don't think anyone would dare tell me that I was missing out. Listening to stories is also the oldest way of communicating stories. Before we learnt how to write things down and preserve them, people told each other stories and simply had to remember them. As children we are read to and then we learn to read to others. Personally, I think that listening to a story connects to a different part of you. Reading is solitary, but being read to or listening to an audio book can be more social. As a kid my mum and I would listen to audio books in the car on the way to school, when we went away on holiday my Dad had to suffer through audio book versions of Animal Ark books until I got my own personal cassette player. Nowadays I listen to audio books as I work or when I'm in the bath. Audio books can be solitary too of course, but I do think that having a story read out loud is already more social than reading to yourself.

Most people seem to argue that you get more out of a book by reading it yourself, and maybe that is true for some but not everyone. Not everyone enjoys the act of reading. My fiancé does not like reading books, he finds it boring. He'd rather be doing something interactive. Although I do also think that he was simply given boring books to read as a kid and not encouraged enough to stick with it. I think that for people like him an audio book can be very appealing. Yes, reading is very important because it teaches us key skills such as spelling, grammar, how to use language and how to think critically, so I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't encourage people to read. Of course we should, but there's also no harm in listening to books too.

I wonder if this reaction is because these people love books and feel that they are somehow threatened, similar to when people argue that TV, film and video games are causing less kids to read, which I think is a bit silly. I do believe that there will always be people wanting to read as long as there are good books to read, but they do need to be accessible and that's why I actually think eBook readers, Kindles etc are a good thing. I also believe that the only way to get kids to read is to set a good example, encourage them and buy them good books.

A few years ago The New York Times did an article about audio books and some of the authors they interviewed expressed that they don't want people to listen to their books, they would prefer them to read them. I honestly don't care if people read or listen to my writing. For all I know you could have someone reading this to you right now. It doesn't matter to me. Who am I to tell you how to enjoy something?

The most important aspect to me when it comes to audio books is how it's read. Some audio books are pretty dire and the reader is terrible boring, whereas others breathe life into the writing and make it a wonderful experience. As I said the other day, I have been listening to audio book version of Terry Pratchett's books which are read by Tony Robinson and they are fantastic, possibly the best audio books I've listened to. Robinson is one of those readers who seem to be enjoying the story too, he also likes to do voices for the characters which would fail for many books but is perfect for Terry Pratchett's writing. I think that a lot of that comes from him also being an actor, but I do wish that all audio book readers were as enthusiastic as him.

I just think it's important for us all to enjoy and experience stories. I love stories and I want to be surrounded by them, whether I am reading them for myself or having them read to me. To say that audio books are not as good as reading for yourself smacks of elitism and that doesn't sit well with me. We are all different and we don't all enjoy the same things.

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