Listen Up!

Is listening to an audio book considered “reading?”

I know, obviously, it’s not considered reading, because reading uses the eyes, and audio books uses the ears, but what I mean is, if I listened to an audio book, can I say that I’ve “read” that novel?  Is listening to a book the same as reading it?  And if not, what do you say when someone asks “have you read so-and-so book?”  “Oh, no, I haven’t but I’ve listened to it….”  Does that count?

I’ve never been an audio book kind of person, but recently,to make good use of a recent gift, I tried listening to one again.  The very first audiobook I tried listening to was Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about 10 years ago.  I uploaded it on my iPod to listen to while at the gym.  Maybe it was the setting, or maybe it was because I was doing exercises while listening to it, but, I found it very hard to concentrate and I decided that it wasn’t really my thing.

I didn’t try to listen to another one again until 3 days ago when I stumbled on Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, narrated by Colin Firth.  On a whim, I googled “best audio books,” and somewhere in the search results were posts praising Colin Firth’s performance as the narrator of the The End of the Affair.  I had seen the movie with Ralph Fiennes, and I liked Colin Firth, so I thought, what the heck, now’s a good time as any to see whether or not I really do dislike audio books.

Before the book began I remembered that though I liked Colin Firth a lot, I didn’t particularly like the tone of his voice.  I thought it was a bit nasal and pinched.  As he started to speak, I found myself unable to concentrate, paying more attention to his breathing sounds than to the story itself.  It was difficult to concentrate on the story at first, but after about 10 minutes of listening, I found it easier to follow what was going on.  Colin Firth changes his pitch and inflections a bit when he’s speaking as different characters in the book, and his reading is neither too fast nor too slow – just right, probably, but then again I really have nothing to compare it to.

While listening to the book, I realize that I can’t do anything else.  I have to be very still, concentrating on the narrator’s voice, and if I so much as look around, I lose my concentration.  Maybe having a celebrity narrator only adds to the distraction, or maybe having already seen the film I think that I don’t have to pay that much attention to it.  Whatever the reason, it’s still a bit of an effort for me to follow the story, and more than once I had to listen to a segment more than once to fully comprehend what was going on.

Maybe if I keep at it, I’ll get better at listening and paying attention.  So far I have The End of the Affair by Graham Greene and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (yes, that book again).  I’d like to try more, so suggestions are very welcome.  What are your favorite audiobooks?

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14 thoughts on “Listen Up!

  1. Audiobooks count, although I have a problem which verb to use when referring to them (e.g. “I read the audiobook of JS&MN.” “I listened to the book JS&MN.”).

    My favorite audiobooks are the following:
    Atonement (n. Carole Boyd)
    Gilead (n. Tim Jerome)
    The Sense of an Ending (n. Richard Morant)
    To the Lighthouse (n. Juliet Stevens)

    Note that I do audiobooks mostly for rereads. And sometimes, I listen to the audio while reading the text at the same time. Try it. It might help in easing your way through the world of audiobooks.

    And oh, I also cannot do other things while listening (eating is an exception), but others must do other things while listening. It really is dependent on the kind of person one is.

    • Thanks for the recommendations! Oh, maybe I should just listen to To The Lighthouse? 🙂 I was also thinking, what if I listen to books that I find too difficult to read, like Ulysses? Or maybe “fluffy” books that I’m just curious about but don’t really want to read?

      I’m thinking that it would be a good idea to also just listen to books I have already read….that way even if my mind wanders I still wouldn’t miss anything. Or maybe I will also try reading and listening at the same time.

      I haven’t tried eating and listening yet….it would be an interesting experiment hahaha.

    • Also I think the narrator’s voice is important. I’m a bit particular when it comes to voice quality, and if I don’t find the narrator’s voice appealing, I might not listen to it at all.

      • Yep! That’s why I listed the narrators. They are all great. Re: To the Lighthouse, I strongly recommend Juliet Stevenson’s narration. You might find the Nicole Kidman narration. That one is too breathy. Try the samples at Audible dot com to suit your narration needs. 🙂

  2. Audiobooks are a pure torture! What kind of book is this, if it cannot adapt to your reading pace and obliges you to give equal importance to boring and interesting parts. Plus, you cannot (easily) go back to your favorite parts for re-reading…
    Or maybe I’m just biased as the only one I’ve ever listened to was Harry Potter, while doing housework.

  3. Audiobooks do count as reading for me, but you really have to be judicious about which types of books to listen to. I have the hardest time listening to books are heavy on philosophy and light one physical action.
    As for good experiences, I was really bogged down by the jargon when I first tried reading The City and The City by China Mieville but switching to audio forced me to simply go along with the story without caring about pronunciation or etymology, and that helped me out a lot. I also loved listening to True Grit by Charles Portis, narrated by Donna Tartt. But mostly, I listen to non-fiction on audio, especially if the author/narrator has a very distinctive personality (Tina Fey and Sarah Vowell, for example).

    • Thanks for sharing! I think it would be easier to listen to non-fiction…

      Weird that you mentioned The City and The City which was recently recommended to me. Maybe I’ll just try listening to it!

  4. Unfortunately there could come a time when an audiobook is the only kind of book you can consume. I work with a client who has a rare lupus type of condition and over the years it has caused a series of strokes that have left her with increasing aphasia. She is amazing and has refused to let any setback (even breast cancer) dull her spirit. But when a recent stroke left her without the ability to interpret the written word (alexia) she railed against the speech pathologist for a while but at last, it is an audiobook future for this avid reader. We live in a city with an awesome library system so I am sure she will adjust to this challenge too.

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