Sooner or later, the voice in my ears ceases to be a voice
January 11, 2018 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Do audiobooks count as reading or are they more like watching a movie?

    Over the years, people have asked if I noticed a difference between books on tape and reading print, and the answer is I don’t know. Sporadic reader that I had been, it was hard to say if the words read with my ears reached my brain differently from everything I had read with my eyes. For every study that shows comparably complex brain activity during both methods of reading, there’s a respected author or critic who discredits audio books as shortcuts or cheating. In The Guttenberg Elegies, Sven Birkerts suggests listening to a book shares more with the act of watching television than reading print, and given my own seamless transition from watching TV with my ears to reading talking books, I’m in no position to refute his comparison.
    What I know for sure is this: Sooner or later, the voice in my ears ceases to be a voice. It becomes the words, the words become sentences, and the sentences become the story. At some point, the voice in my ears merges with my own voice the way the words on a page once became my own inner voice when I still read print.
posted by not_the_water (126 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
The author didn't get into it much, but I suspect they are neurologically very different experiences.
posted by Miko at 10:28 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Surely audiobooks are more like radio dramas than like movies.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:29 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


It is silly that "listening" to a book is stigmatized compared to "reading" a book. They are indisputably different, but that doesn't make one or the other worse (except in the sense of being less convenient or less pleasant for an individual person). And of course, "reader" is often used as the word for people who love consuming book-stories, even though it excludes some relevant subsets (people who primarily use audiobooks) and includes some irrelevant ones (people who read text as part of daily life but don't care one way or another about stories/prose/etc.).

It's a personal essay, of course, not an academic article or whatever, but with the repeated references to radio, I'm surprised the author didn't mention anything about radio plays (or their younger cousin, narrative podcasts).
posted by inconstant at 10:29 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


But is a book a sandwich?
posted by Fizz at 10:32 AM on January 11 [44 favorites]


> inconstant:
"It is silly that "listening" to a book is stigmatized compared to "reading" a book. They are indisputably different, but that doesn't make one or the other worse (except in the sense of being less convenient or less pleasant for an individual person). And of course, "reader" is often used as the word for people who love consuming book-stories, even though it excludes some relevant subsets (people who primarily use audiobooks) and includes some irrelevant ones (people who read text as part of daily life but don't care one way or another about stories/prose/etc.).

It's a personal essay, of course, not an academic article or whatever, but with the repeated references to radio, I'm surprised the author didn't mention anything about radio plays (or their younger cousin, narrative podcasts)."


My biggest problem with audiobooks is two-fold.

1] I read very quickly. Options are limited for doing audiobooks faster than the intended pace.

2] I have very bad tinnitus, and most audio tools do not have (to me) granular enough controls in case I need to jump back just a few seconds because I didn't quite hear something. (If you come to movie night at my house, prepare for subtitles!)
posted by Samizdata at 10:34 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


> Fizz:
"But is a book a sandwich?"

Yes, just like a pizza is an open-faced sandwich.
posted by Samizdata at 10:35 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


It was once common for factory workers to hire people to read the newspaper or novels to them while they worked. (Here's one example, for cigar makers in Tempa.)
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:36 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


Because of a combination of ADD and a job that lets me sit around with a headphone on, I find audiobooks are a great way to read books that I wouldn't otherwise get to because I can't be arsed to crack open a book. There's stuff I want to read that I don't think would work well in audiobook form (mostly big, hardcore, post-modern lit novels), but for something like a piece of pulpy sci-fi, or a general interest non-fiction book, it's fine. I even read The Origins of Totalitarianism as an audiobook, and I appreciated it immensely.

So, I pass no shame on audiobook listeners. It's as valid a way to read a book as any other.
posted by SansPoint at 10:36 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


On a long car trip with a friend and his son, we listened to The Butcher Boy, by Patrick McCabe. We sat in the car on arrival for 20 minutes to hear the ending.

Friend's son: "That was the best book I never read!"
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:38 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


Samizdata, Fizz: I will not be goaded into this argument again. Nope.

A book is not food, even if you can theoretically eat paper, and therefore its non-food nature disqualifies it from sandwichness.
posted by SansPoint at 10:39 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


One of my kids is dyslexic and reading is a struggle for him. His disability seems doubly cruel since he loves books so, so much. We give him audio books to listen to at night and it's been really great. If anything it's increased his adoration of books since they are more accessible to him, and he seems to be working harder during with his tutors and sped teachers since we've been doing it.

So I count audio books as a great thing, I don't really care if it is the same, or different from reading books.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:39 AM on January 11 [38 favorites]


Sooooo a magazine is a quesdilla?
posted by Grither at 10:41 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


small brain: audio books are cheating
normal brain: the important thing is people engage with narrative
cosmic brain: human speech is the primary mode of language so tricking your brain into hearing words by reading a book is cheating
posted by Tevin at 10:43 AM on January 11 [52 favorites]


For me, personally, whatever the difference between reading text and listening to audiobooks, it's a vast and uncrossable canyon. When I read text, I'm all over the place: I read six words in, skip back, then finish the paragraph, read two paragraphs down, then go back a page, then finish off the paragraph I started, skip back and re-read the whole thing start to finish, go on to the next one, etc. I read very fast with pretty good retention but only when I read like I describe above.

Listening to an audiobook is like an exam version of that: one linear death march through the text. I can't go back unless I want to take the time to rewind, find the place I missed or wanted to re-hear, play it, listen to it again, then keep going. I tried listening to a fiction audibook on the train once and had to stop because every minor distraction completely destroyed the flow and I missed story beats. Podcasts are fine because I genuinely don't care that I miss a bit here or there but with novels it was impossible.

Anyway I envy people who can listen to audiobooks with no real issues because goddamn that is not a format made for the way my brain processes literature.
posted by griphus at 10:44 AM on January 11 [41 favorites]


What a snobbish question. What about books with the picture inserts? Are they less of a book than books that don't have them?
posted by Beholder at 10:44 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I know a few people who are big audiobook fans - one is a PhD student who finds dense material much easier to absorb that way, one is a professional craftsman who listens to them while working, and one is a librarian with a 1.5 hour commute each way. Audiobooks are extremely valuable tools for all of them.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:46 AM on January 11 [9 favorites]


Oh, no, I'm totally the same, Samizdata! Well, not tinnitus specifically, but sometimes I just have trouble processing speech. And, hexapodlike, I have no patience for the chronoconstriction of audiobooks. Pretty much it only works if it is an audiobook of something I have already read, at which point it isn't so much me intaking the book as me putting comfortingly familiar things into my audio environment.
cosmic brain: human speech is the primary mode of language so reading a book is cheating
Go to bed, Plato.
posted by inconstant at 10:47 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


original article: discusses the individual author's experience of gradually losing their vision and the subsequent cultural discourse surrounding the act of reading vs listening et al but framed to illuminate ableism, a necessary and intentional action that is almost always missing within cultural discourse by the privileged, all written in really beautiful, wonderful prose

MetaFilter: what if we ate a thing that we don't normally eat such as books
posted by runt at 10:49 AM on January 11 [26 favorites]


It was once common for factory workers to hire people to read the newspaper or novels to them while they worked. (Here's one example, for cigar makers in Tempa.)

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can actually have Siri read to you any text onscreen.

So, in the spirit of the post and as a small experiment, I'm going to have Siri read this entire thread to me.
posted by FJT at 10:49 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


1] I read very quickly. Options are limited for doing audiobooks faster than the intended pace.

You should look again, many audio apps have an increased playback speed feature. All my audiobooking is library books through OverDrive which has .5x, normal, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x playback speeds.
posted by peeedro at 10:49 AM on January 11 [11 favorites]


One of my kids is dyslexic and reading is a struggle for him.

If you have access to a Kindle, see if he's able to read easier with a serif font pumped up to VERY BIG size.
posted by phunniemee at 10:49 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


All I know is that I listened to a lot of audiobooks and then I listened to the audiobook of Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day which I'd tried to read 4 times as a book and failed to finish and then after that audiobook I've never listened to an audiobook again.

Take from that what you will.
posted by hippybear at 10:51 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Soooo a magazine is a quesadilla?

Depends on how much cheese there is in it.
posted by mwhybark at 10:51 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Technically it's not impossible to do the washing up, go for a walk etc whilst reading a physical book but it's a lot less tricky with an audio book (when I've run out of podcasts)

I find it a lot easier to consume pre 20th century 'classics' via audio than physical but find it hard to take in a lot of physical action and prefer the written word for that... I don't know if that's due to mild dyslexia or some other quirk of my brain.

And slow... talkers... who... think... they...need to... OVERemphasise... things... are death. I've not got the patience for that.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:06 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I'm going to waffle and say "it depends what you mean by reading" but at the end of the day come down on the side of for most purposes and in most ways that matter it being essentially the same thing. Also not particularly like a movie.
posted by Artw at 11:06 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Yes, audiobooks count as reading, because you are getting all the words that the author wrote. Movies and plays and radio dramas would be edited, details removed, dialogue tightened, yes?
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:06 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I'm not a good reader. Don't know why, and don't really care that much. I'm slow (an audiobook is probably narrated faster than I read), my comprehension isn't always great when tired (which is when I'm more likely to be reading), and I often have to re-read things to absorb them.
Over the last year in particularly I've switched more or less exclusively to audiobooks. Because reading a book myself is comparable to an audible experience anyway, given how I narrate text to myself in my head, I have found precisely zero difference between the two, particularly as I read almost entirely non-fiction books.
Horses for courses.
posted by chill at 11:06 AM on January 11


Movies and plays and radio dramas would be edited, details removed, dialogue tightened, yes?

Movies and plays involve taking things that an author wrote and making them happen outside of words. You don't even begin to touch on what happens to an author's words during translation to another medium.
posted by hippybear at 11:09 AM on January 11


The librarian confirmed they had Peter Benchley’s shark novel that became the Spielberg movie I had seen a dozen times. I asked if they had Deliverance. [...] The librarian returned with the green cartons containing my selections. I wasn’t convinced I was going to read them, but it felt good to have the option, to ask someone if I could do something and, for the first time in months, hear yes.

as if you couldn't develop an even deeper crush on an entire profession. now how do we get more socialist institutions like libraries and safety net hospitals, hmm
posted by runt at 11:09 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


I'm one of the people Amazon hooked with the whisper-sync stuff. So I actually both read and listen to books often with the same book. There is a slight loss of agency when listening to a performed audiobook. You're locked into that particular voice actor's performance and understanding of the character and how they perform those lines (and for me once I've heard it that becomes the character), but I also find that it fleshes out characterizations that are present and obvious in the text that I would otherwise miss in the text, because I'm not a careful reader. A mediocre book can be saved by a great voice actor but a great book can also be ruined by a bad one, which is I think why folks feel the need to call out that they listened vs. read the book. That said anyone who tells people experiencing a book this way isn't valid or is somehow cheating is dumb.

Surely audiobooks are more like radio dramas than like movies.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:29 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


I would argue that this is actually only true of full cast recordings. Works with a single narrator performing the book are something else entirely.
posted by edbles at 11:09 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I'll also say this: there is nothing like reading a book to a kid to separate clunky prose from stuff that was just hacked out on the page. Some things are just a joy to read out loud - The Hobbit is a fave, versus time spent reading animation property tie-in partworks spat out in an afternoon is just torture.
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Okay, so do voices or not do voices?
posted by Artw at 11:10 AM on January 11


> peeedro:
"1] I read very quickly. Options are limited for doing audiobooks faster than the intended pace.

You should look again, many audio apps have an increased playback speed feature. All my audiobooking is library books through OverDrive which has .5x, normal, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x playback speeds."


Oh, I realize that. But that just exacerbates my hearing issues.
posted by Samizdata at 11:10 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I love audio books; I listen during my moderate commute and while I get ready in the morning. It's been a great way to reduce my diet of frustrating news.

I am friends with a couple of really smart, voracious readers, and neither of them could get through the print version of Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo. As an audio book, it's one of my favorite works. The cast is huge and the speakers are overlapping, and there are lots of accents. Still, not quite a radio drama.

So, not like reading, but with some pleasures that reading can't deliver. Unfortunately, I'm middle-aged enough that when I try to read print at night now I get sleepy.
posted by gladly at 11:11 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


My vision is... interesting some days, and I do most of my pleasure reading via audiobooks. I think mostly it’s a pretty similar experience to reading, although non-narrative stuff is harder to follow, and some authors/titles are difficult (I am having trouble getting into Ancilary Justice, for example, because of the “voice”). A specific reader can cause problems, too, especially if readers change in the middle of a series.

But, overall, I find listening and reading to be pretty interchangeable.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:11 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


You should look again, many audio apps have an increased playback speed feature. All my audiobooking is library books through OverDrive which has .5x, normal, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x playback speeds.
And I've seen the recordings people make of their screenreaders going at warp speed -- which would pretty much be the only option that actually approximates my personal reading speed -- but at least for me, reading fast isn't just about recognizing each individual word at a fast pace. It's more, er, impressionistic? holistic? than that. Just speeding up a recording so that it's machinegunning 800-900 wpm isn't really the solution.
Movies and plays and radio dramas would be edited, details removed, dialogue tightened, yes?
Movies and plays, maybe. A three-person narrative podcast? Eh. And books also get edited, technically. That's what editors are for!
posted by inconstant at 11:12 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


If the content is the same, I don't see why one content-delivery system should count and another not. They are different experiences, and have different uses -- absolutely. There are advantages and disadvantages to each delivery system*.

When the same content (or faithfully abridged content) gets delivered from some external source to inside my noggin, I'm happy to call that having 'read' the book. And with the case of audiobooks, often my realistic choice is to read it by audiobook, or not read the dead-tree version at all.

*Example 1: I just finished reading Chris Plummer's memoirs by audiobook. Granted, it was abridged, so I missed out on some content. However, Plummer reading his own memoirs made for a different (and richer**) experience than putting my eyeballs to a more complete text. Yes, I missed out on some of the text, but in reading a dead-tree version, I would never have heard his killer impressions of Jason Robards or Larry Olivier, and let's face it, Plummer knows how to narrate. And while I have the dead-tree version, it's sat unread in my pile for, what, ten years? But if I can take in an audiobook while I'm up a ladder painting, then it gets done.

**Example 2: Eddie Izzard's memoirs by audiobook are so much richer than the actual book, simply because he improvises on lengthy 'footnotes', which add much to the original text and go well beyond it. They might actually qualify as different works, or at least, the dead-tree version is the one which is incomplete.

posted by Capt. Renault at 11:12 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


2] I have very bad tinnitus, and most audio tools do not have (to me) granular enough controls in case I need to jump back just a few seconds because I didn't quite hear something. (If you come to movie night at my house, prepare for subtitles!)

This is me too.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:14 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Audiobooks don't work for me for the same reason that attending a lecture without taking notes doesn't work: I daydream too much. Reading or writing words on a page anchors me to a moment where I'm not hearing the rhythm of the tires on the road or the train chugging along or the HVAC system whooshing all around and losing track of what's being said.

That's a matter of my own inability to pay attention, of course, although I find the experience of listening to words, even at full attention, very different to that of reading them.

To discount listening as not reading, though, seems silly; a listener has experienced the narrative just as somebody who'd read the words from paper has. To insist otherwise suggests tiresome gatekeeping.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:16 AM on January 11 [7 favorites]


I do notice that I process them differently in general. Most notably, if I'm listening to something, I notice that my retention varies heavily based on how much I like the speaking voice of the reader, whether or not I actually like the book itself. And in general, if there are things where the grammar or pronunciation differs substantially from standard American English circa now, I have less trouble understanding them when they're read aloud. On the other hand, if I'm listening to someone who is clearly not a professional, or who has an accent outside of the subset of accents I'm accustomed to, suddenly all bets are off and I'll have no idea what's going on. I remember years ago discovering Librivox and being really excited and then realizing I just couldn't listen to most of their readers.
posted by Sequence at 11:16 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Kismet post! I was WAY behind on this month's title for the SciFi/Fantasy book group I run at the library. A co-worker convinced me to listen to the audiobook while I was off-desk, just to catch up. I was reticent, book snob that I am, but it was delightful to have someone read me the story while I was going stats and collection checks! Of course, I had to run it at 2x, because the narration is just painfully slow at the regular speed.

Now, I'm a convert! I really liked the experience and I retained a good percentage of the story. I could better engage with the group and I absorbed the story in bigger blocks than I would reading at lunch and bedtime. Even took the story on my lunchtime walks and made progress there.

Audiobooks may not be the same as reading, but I don't feel like I lost out by listening instead of reading. The words carry the narrative. If it's print or someone telling you the story, the narrative is what's important.
posted by Lighthammer at 11:16 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


A bit of anecdata for you that may help you make up your mind as to whether listening to audiobooks is the same as reading books: I'm kind of sensitive to typos when I read texts. So when I re-read a few novels in audiobook form during the time I had to commute five hours a day, I was primed to notice if those typos were fixed in the audiobook script. Spoiler: they were not.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:19 AM on January 11


Yes, just like a pizza is an open-faced sandwich.

Except for deep-dish which is a casserole and barely pizza. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:21 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm going to have Siri read this entire thread to me.

Okay, Siri just finished. The most major issue is Siri doesn't differentiate between quoted text and new writing, so anytime someone quoted someone else in this thread it has to read through that first. The second thing is that Siri read everyone's name, then time and date, which actually kind of helps because that's how I know a post ends before a new one begins.

But I am actually a little surprised that this method of reading Metafilter is doable and I was able to generally follow along. I think it's because Metafilter's design is linear and chronological, with the beginning of a post at the top and the most recent comment at the bottom.

I'm not a big listener of audiobooks . However, having stuff from the internet read to me sounds appealing, because most of my internet reading is broken up anyways due to being distracted or I'm working on something else when I do it. For me, it would serve the same function as podcasts.
posted by FJT at 11:23 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


The rising popularity of Audible in recent years has led to a number of friends, many of them writers, giving audio books a try. And this would feel more like progress if their Facebook posts about these audio books weren’t so apologetic—“Well, I didn’t read it, I just listened to it.” For those of us who read with our ears, writes Matthew Rubery in The Untold Story of the Talking Book, “listening means always having to say you’re sorry.”

As he rightly points out this is (temporarily) able-bodied people othering people who access information differently than they do.

Throughout college, after declaring an English major, I clarified to friends that narrators of my audio books didn’t perform what they read, as though a straightforward narration had more integrity, a closer relationship to the hardcovers sold in bookstores.

This rings very true. I come at this bit from two angles - I'm married to someone who's blind and consumes tons of audiobooks. I also used to narrate audiobooks for the CNIB national lbrary for eight years or so. When I've mentioned to people that I narrated audiobooks, they invariably ask me if I "performed" characters differently. My answer was always "No, not beyond inflecting slightly to indicate [SHOUTING!] or [question?] etc." I'm not a trained actor, so any attempt on my part to become a character would have just been clunky and distracting.

When I was volunteering at the library, in the early aughts we went from recording on big ol' Studer Revox reel-to-reel machines to digital recording to enable distribution (online even!) via the DAISY format instead of via the plastic boxes the author describes - a similar postal exemption for such material that he describes also exists here in Canada - and some of the analog content in the library was also converted to digital as well.

It's hard to understate the absolute convenience and ease of use that digital audio has brought along with it.

Put it this way...my husband was once in possession of a Shakespeare collection that was 64 four-track tapes.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:26 AM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Artw: Depends on the book and the narrator. I do think it helps when the audiobook narrator does some slight alterations of voice for different characters, but it's not essential, and sometimes it can come across forced. That said, I once read an audiobook of one of the Red Dwarf novels, as narrated by Chris Barrie. He did the voices for everyone, and he's such a gifted impressionist that it worked REALLY well.
posted by SansPoint at 11:27 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


My work has severely cut into my reading time, but I have a 40-minute each-way commute, which I fill almost completely with audiobooks. For me, the experience feels almost the same as reading the book myself, to the point where for some books I have trouble remembering if I read the print version or listened to the audio version. It is slower to listen, admittedly, but with an hour and 20 minutes of guaranteed listening time every weekday, I still get through more audiobooks than print books. All of this is only true for books with a strong narrative, though: fiction or really gripping historical accounts. I have discovered that I can't retain non-narrative non-fiction through audio nearly as well.

My kids all go to sleep listening to audiobooks. One thing I've noticed is that listening to books has greatly increased their ability to read aloud expressively, and they are all quite excellent oral readers. My eight-year-old son in particular gets very attached to certain inflections and word emphases--even for books that he hasn't heard in audio form, but has only read to himself--to the point that if I read one of his books to him, he frequently interrupts to say, "No, Dad, it's not 'Bring me that cow right now.' It's "Bring me that cow right now!' I think he's very impatient, but not angry." I credit audiobooks for his keen awareness of the decisions that go into narrating a text.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:28 AM on January 11 [16 favorites]


FJT - now try using Voiceover instead since you're on an iOS device.

You can find it under Settings > General > Accessibility.

It'll give you more control over how you read the page through different gestures.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:29 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The Hyperion audiobook voiceover person introducing George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring The Porkchops with an ever-so-slightly exasperated tone upon pronouncing “and narrated by George Carlin” will always be my favorite thing ever.
posted by dr_dank at 11:29 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Obviously if I am reading The Hobbit I am going to do Smaug as voice, because my god, who would not do Smaug-voice?
posted by Artw at 11:32 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


We'll I am going throw the Trump-Fury-book-thing as an audio book at the moment. I probably would not otherwise. Pitty, because it is great stuff, political soap opera galore.
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 11:33 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


It is plausible to me that the reading experience is very different from hearing books read out loud, on a number of levels. Both my father and a close friend were legally blind, and both held onto reading print as long as they could-- my father was ecstatic to go back to print when a huge Kindle came out that allowed him to increase the size of fonts beyond that of "large print," which he could no longer read. My friend, similarly an avid reader, tried to get into talking books and never really could. Because of these circumstances, I noticed this discussion of the pros and cons of abandoning Braille.

My own experience, with no visual issues? Well, I know I would never have read Joyce's Ulysses all the way through, but I was able to listen to it all the way through on a series of long car trips, thanks to an excellent recording and I think I actually understood it better than on my attempts to read it. A recording is an interpretation, and if done well it can be very valuable.
posted by BibiRose at 11:36 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Okay, so do voices or not do voices?
posted by Artw at 2:10 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


Do voices, but if you're a man the women's voices can't just be shrill harpies ala Jim Dale who is beloved for the HP series despite doing the worst possible version of Hermione I've ever heard in my life(but for some reason his performance for the Night Circus is excellent). The guy who reads Charles Stross' books, Gideon Emory, actually does a good job of performing a woman's voice from a male narrators perspective, without dehumanizing them, even when the main character thinks they are evil HR villains.
posted by edbles at 11:39 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Dr. Twist, you might already know this, but there's research showing that when dyslexic people read with their eyes at the same time as listening to the audio version, over time it increases their reading speed and improves their comprehension. I have had a few students use this technique and each reported a marked increase in reading ability and enjoyment of the text.

I'm really glad your son is finding a way to enjoy reading!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:39 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


I read instead of listening to books because
(1) I read much faster than normal speech;
(2) I read on the train - it's too noisy for audio;
(3) text is always in the voice and tone I like; audio may or may not match my internal sense of what a character or narrator should sound like.

There are potentially issues aside from preferences - studies about whether students retain one better than the other, whether blind people process braille differently from audiobooks (I remember an article that said yes, but I can't find it now), and so on. But I'm not a student and most of my reading is for leisure; all I have to sort out is "what works best for me."

Audio is slow and more subject to environmental interference, and I can't easily back up two pages to check whether I was told that the guy with the gun entered the room.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:40 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


All I know is that I listened to a lot of audiobooks and then I listened to the audiobook of Thomas Pynchon's Against The Day which I'd tried to read 4 times as a book and failed to finish and then after that audiobook I've never listened to an audiobook again.

I think that was the Pynchon I attempted as an audiobook, but the gravelly-voiced brooklyn accented reader put me off, and I didn't make it five minutes. The reader matters. A lot. I'm quite enjoying working my way through Sarah Vowels historical books. Wickedly funny stories about Lafayette and hawaiian colonization as read to me by Violet from The Incredibles - what's not to like?
posted by jetsetsc at 11:41 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I somehow ended up with all of the Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry, which was like having nightly reading sessions from a favorite uncle.

I don't even know who Jim Dale is, but I think I'm glad I don't know.
posted by hippybear at 11:42 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]


On the topic of dyslexics and e-reading, see if you can try the OpenDyslexic free font? I have a little sister with dyslexia and she loved it.

https://opendyslexic.org/
posted by Samizdata at 11:42 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I can't easily back up two pages to check whether I was told that the guy with the gun entered the room.

YES! This is also the worst thing about e-books, and certainly about the old Kindle Paperwhite that I use. Very frequently when I need to recall something from an earlier part of the book I know exactly where it was on the page, and it's really hard to find that spot without real paper.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:42 AM on January 11 [3 favorites]


ErisLordFreedom: I can't easily back up two pages to check whether I was told that the guy with the gun entered the room.

Interestingly, one of the things that the DAISY standard does is basically marry XML and mp3 into a navigable structure (i.e., actual page numbering that corresponds with a print edition, usable subject indices, etc), so it is possible to hop by literal pages.

But. That's not a standard that available to general consumers getting their books of Audible, say.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:46 AM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Reading is for fiction, audiobooks are for non-fiction for me. I have consumed just about every audiobook on medical history available through either my libraries or audible. I've learned about so many thing that I would never had thought to pick up a physical book about. Am I reading those books? I don't know. But I am learning their content, getting new information. It's just as good as reading if it isn't reading.

But I cannot stand waiting on a narrator to reach the climax of a story I don't know. When I hit the climax of a story, I tend to tear through the words, absorbing them as quickly as I can so I know how it ends. I'll usually go back and re-read that part once I'm done. With an audiobook, you can't do that. On the other hand, I'll happily listen to fiction I've previously read. Although that tends to feel wasteful.

I absorb the information differently but equally from audiobooks and print books. Although I do realize, with audiobooks, things get slightly jumbled in remembering where I got which piece of information. That tends not to happen with print books.
posted by Hactar at 11:46 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm an avid reader, I can just barely tolerate listening to audiobooks. Books that I can read in 6 hours or so turn into a 20-hour slog. I also didn't realize how much I must mentally and transparently skip over stuff as well. I listened to Fahrenheit 451 a while ago, and found it (especially the last half) dull, slow, and repetitive. Clark's/The Protagonist's rambling speeches that just hit. you. over. the. head. with THE THEME OF THE BOOK were just insufferable and repetitive. I remember enjoying the book, probably because I could just yadda-yadda over those parts, whereas with an audio book you're kind of beholden to the narrator's pace.

The point being, I could see a new reader/listener being totally turned off by a lot of literature just because of the "weird" format that the author never intended.

Then again, World War Z is a fantastic audio rendition, and really my go-to recommendation for anybody looking for a good audio book.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:47 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]


I think that was the Pynchon I attempted as an audiobook, but the gravelly-voiced brooklyn accented reader put me off, and I didn't make it five minutes.

I listened to Gravity's Rainbow last summer while doing most of my long marathon training runs. George Guidall's voice will forever be associated, in my mind at least, with misery, sore feet, and that time I shit myself.
posted by peeedro at 11:48 AM on January 11 [8 favorites]


Fizz: But is a book a sandwich?

SansPoint: A book is not food, even if you can theoretically eat paper, and therefore its non-food nature disqualifies it from sandwichness.

But books are good for you! (Threadless link)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:49 AM on January 11


Ooooh, Gideon Emery does a great job with the Laundry novels, because he sounds like a James Bond-type right up until he starts talking about maths, coding, and other nerd stuff. He's a particularly good fit for that series, because Bob Howard is a James Bond-type even though he tends to believe he isn't. (Which James Bond archetype he is changes from novel to novel, and that's as far as I should go without revealing massive spoilers.)

There's a different reader for the UK version of the Laundry audiobooks, hired under a UK government grant for producing audiobooks for people with reduced vision, who sounds much more like a stereotypical maths grad student from Wolverhampton in over his head. Mefi's Own cstross doesn't listen to audiobooks (not even his own!) and has no opinion on who did it best.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:51 AM on January 11 [6 favorites]


The other interesting thing about the piece is how he talks about the experience of going blind turned him into a voluntary reader.

I thought we were here to check out school textbooks, but the first librarian said that a place called Recordings for the Blind handled those. The books here were the sort found in a regular library. When she asked if there was anything I wanted to check out, the question caught me off guard.

I couldn’t remember the last book I had read that wasn’t assigned by an English teacher, and most of those I abandoned after 20 or 30 pages, piecing the rest together from class discussions and Cliff’s Notes.

[...]

The librarian returned with the green cartons containing my selections. I wasn’t convinced I was going to read them, but it felt good to have the option, to ask someone if I could do something and, for the first time in months, hear yes.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:52 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


What a snobbish question. What about books with the picture inserts? Are they less of a book than books that don't have them?

Calling the sight-impaired author a snob by then making a comment about books with pictures is the lowest I've seen Mefi go in a while.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 11:56 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


1] I read very quickly. Options are limited for doing audiobooks faster than the intended pace.

You should look again, many audio apps have an increased playback speed feature. All my audiobooking is library books through OverDrive which has .5x, normal, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x playback speeds.


In grad school I had a blind friend who had accessibility functions turned on for all of his devices. Guy had it sped up to practically warp speed so as to make it incomprehensible to every sighted person. Makes sense, right? Why waste time with a slow navigation? It was super impressive.

I love turning on Voiceover in the evening when screens give me headaches. It makes a lot more sense in many circumstances (driving, jogging, etc).
posted by leotrotsky at 11:59 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I somehow ended up with all of the Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry, which was like having nightly reading sessions from a favorite uncle.

I don't even know who Jim Dale is, but I think I'm glad I don't know.
posted by hippybear at 2:42 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


He is the US audiobook narrator. He's actually a pretty good one in other ones I've listened too (and I think maybe a bit famous for audiobook narrator values of famous), but he just doesn't do it for me on HP.
posted by edbles at 12:02 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


He is the US audiobook narrator. He's actually a pretty good one in other ones I've listened too (and I think maybe a bit famous for audiobook narrator values of famous), but he just doesn't do it for me on HP.

I actually really enjoyed the Jim Dale version. While I'm a fan of Stephen Fry, listening to him read HP was too odd for me, it kept pulling me out of the story and I wasn't able to just live in that world or space because I was too aware that it was the host of QI.
posted by Fizz at 12:05 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


The guy who reads Charles Stross' books, Gideon Emory, actually does a good job of performing a woman's voice from a male narrators perspective, without dehumanizing them, even when the main character thinks they are evil HR villains.

haha this makes me never want to read a Stross novel. also the last one I read, way back in high school, featured a bear of a 30-something journalist who hooks up and has sex with someone who is described as a very young, probably teenager?

*shudders*
posted by runt at 12:06 PM on January 11


When I read text, I'm all over the place: I read six words in, skip back, then finish the paragraph, read two paragraphs down, then go back a page, then finish off the paragraph I started, skip back and re-read the whole thing start to finish, go on to the next one, etc. I read very fast with pretty good retention but only when I read like I describe above.

Interesting. I read in the same way when I'm reading for pleasure. But a while ago I started listening to audio books during my commute, selecting books that I probably wouldn't get through in print, and found that there are a lot of books that I enjoy listening to. Books that have a lot of conversation, like Wolf Hall. Books with fun plots, but not especially good writing, like Janet Evanovitch's and Sue Grafton's series. Stephen King books. Slow moving books, where my skippy page reading style makes me lose too many plot points.

So, I do feel that they're different, because I personally don't have much overlap between books I want to read in print and books I want to listen to. But I enjoy both, and I still say that I've read a book that I'd listened to. It doesn't seem at all like watching a movie to me, because the visualization is still all happening in my head.
posted by Kriesa at 12:07 PM on January 11


Guy had it sped up to practically warp speed so as to make it incomprehensible to every sighted person.

My husband's iPhone has the speed on Voiceover jacked up to auctioneer-on-meth. I'm now conditioned to actually understand what it's saying. It feels like I've learned a whole new language. but I completely forget about it until someone hears his phone or watch and is like "WHAT did that just say???"

Protip: If your significant other or other intimate partner uses Voiceover and has it paired with an Apple watch, be judicious with your timing with more...personal text messages shall we say. Like if he's at work, amongst co-workers.

Not that this has ever happened.

*tugs collar*
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:07 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


As a furry I'm required to inquire about the "tugs collar" comment.
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


The first book I ever tried listening to as an audiobook was Drew Faust's This Republic of Suffering. Unbeknownst to me, the iPod or whatever was on shuffle, so the chapters were read in random order. Until I realized this, I thought, "gosh, this is a good book, but awfully....impressionistic."

A couple of years ago when I went to Iceland I read to my friends from Njal's Saga as we drove along the Ring Road. It really forced me to slow down and appreciate nuances of the unfolding genealogy that I had not fully taken in with my eye speeding over lists of names.
posted by praemunire at 12:13 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


griphus: Anyway I envy people who can listen to audiobooks with no real issues because goddamn that is not a format made for the way my brain processes literature.

I've listened to a few audiobooks in the past year (side note: my favorite was Born a Crime, about, written by and narrated by Trevor Noah is fantastic, as he is retelling his life, complete with accents) and I've come to realize that I can't multitask. I listen to music all the time, but it's either instrumental or not sung in English, otherwise my mind focuses on that and nothing else, making it really hard to write or read anything else. Similarly, if I really want to take in an audiobook, or a podcast, I can't be trying to do something else, or I'll have to rewind to catch sections that I otherwise missed. As such, I'm also not a speed reader.

My wife, on the other hand, is laser-focused when she's reading, and can tune out everything else, and she mows through books like nothing.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:14 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


haha this makes me never want to read a Stross novel.

It's times like this when I'm reminded that Mefi is older than our younger contributors.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:16 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The audiobooks I always hear (hah) recommended in particular are the ones where the author writes with a specific voice and then narrates their own book. Especially when the author is someone already recognizable - Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler all come to mind.
posted by mosst at 12:18 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Hi, obvious oddball here: I enjoy listening to audio books while also reading along to them (on Kindle or a physical copy).
I adjust the reader's speech to my own and pause when i want to re-read or mark something.

I drift off far too easily no matter which medium and filling my senses with just this one book, in my hands, field of view and ears, really helps a lot.

(But yeah I'm weird this way. I also don't care whether it's seen as "cheating" - nobody cares about what or how much I read, but me, anyway.)
posted by bigendian at 12:24 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


It's times like this when I'm reminded that Mefi is older than our younger contributors.

that would make me 18 which means I would have read Accelerando and been a high schooler when I was 6

I appreciate the compliment on my intelligence though, I am, in fact, a very stable genius
posted by runt at 12:24 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Re "doing the voices" - I've never been able to figure out if there's a vocabulary of art to describe the spectrum of audiobook narration style from 'computer reading words out loud' to 'multiple actors plus sound effects, basically a radio play with narration.' I strongly prefer a single narrator and minimal or no character voices but as far as I can tell there's no real way to know that before listening.
posted by yarrow at 12:26 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The audiobooks I always hear (hah) recommended in particular are the ones where the author writes with a specific voice and then narrates their own book. Especially when the author is someone already recognizable - Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler all come to mind.
posted by mosst at 3:18 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


Neil Gaiman also gives really excellent performances of his own stuff. He sort of has a stable of archetypical voices he deploys as character forms. So some villain voices will be the same between books but it works because he's working in the fairy tale form so the characters are more broad sketches.
posted by edbles at 12:26 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


It's interesting where you listen to an audio book and it gives you a very different experience to reading the book when you've done both... like when I heard a version of The Wasp Factory done by a skilled actor who really brought out the satirical / comedic aspects of the novel.

I also experienced extreme cognitive dissonance when I listened to Neuromancer whilst doing a lot of walking down very English country lanes.

And they long long summer when I rented Under The Dome from the library and manged to get one of the disks out of order and notice for ages.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:28 PM on January 11


Re "doing the voices" - I've never been able to figure out if there's a vocabulary of art to describe the spectrum of audiobook narration style from 'computer reading words out loud' to 'multiple actors plus sound effects, basically a radio play with narration.' I strongly prefer a single narrator and minimal or no character voices but as far as I can tell there's no real way to know that before listening.
posted by yarrow at 3:26 PM on January 11 [+] [!]


A) A screen reader app
B) Full cast recording
C) Single narrator
posted by edbles at 12:28 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Ah, but C) can be a very wide range of performance styles - I want some way of knowing if it's more like A or B.
posted by yarrow at 12:31 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


So I was listening to James Herbert's The Rats trilogy (If you don't know it's a very lurid 70s/80s horror series about giant rats menacing England)

I was walking past some some houses which had no front gardens and just as passed this window, during a particularly tense part of the book, this small hairy terrier like dog jumped up barking at the window that I was just passing. My heart jumped about three foot sideways.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:34 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I’m hoping the reader does it in full Garth Merenghi mode.
posted by Artw at 12:48 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


yarrow: I've never been able to figure out if there's a vocabulary of art to describe the spectrum of audiobook narration style from 'computer reading words out loud' to 'multiple actors plus sound effects, basically a radio play with narration.' I strongly prefer a single narrator and minimal or no character voices but as far as I can tell there's no real way to know that before listening.

Audiobooks: Four Styles of Narration

Reading styles can be loosely grouped into four general categories: fully voiced, partially voiced, unvoiced, and multivoiced. The first, and most common, is the fully voiced reading, in which the personalities of all the various characters are vocally dramatized and maintained throughout the production, much like actors in a stage play. By contrast, the partially voiced production focuses on individualizing one or more characters, allowing the rest (often including the narrator) to recede into the background. Unvoiced readings are not, contrary to what their name might imply, silent, but merely straightforward readings of the text in a single voice without resort to vocal role-playing of any sort. The last category, multivoiced, involves a cast of individual readers, each responsible for one character. While this may seem, as described, not that much different from a fully voiced approach, the dynamics of integrating multiple readers changes the audio landscape considerably.

But not sure how easy this info is to find in terms of publisher's notes on a specific title without actually hearing a sample of how the narration is handled.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:56 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I mostly read non-fiction, but I can't listen to it - need to read in order to really follow an argument. But fiction I love in audio if the narrator is right.

I've read and loved the entire Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian but I've listened to the entire series three times and counting thanks to the incredible Patrick Tull narration.(If you prefer the Simon Vance narration we might still be able to be friends, but probably not close friends).

After I discovered the Mary Peiffer narration of Sue Grafton's Alphabet Series my sense of and love for Kinsey Milhone's character increased enormously. When they changed narrators midway through the series it completely ruined the series for me.
posted by Jackson at 12:58 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I listen to a lot of audiobooks, given my 60 minute daily commute, but wouldn't think of listening to one outside of the car where I could read a real book or an e-book. I love audiobooks though -- anything read by Frank Muller is bound to be worthwhile (he read a lot of the Elmore Leonard stuff, also Moby Dick). As for "doing the voices," I don't mind that at all: Nick Sullivan's readings of Gaddis (The Recognitions & J R) are very theatrically read and brilliantly so -- they do not replace reading the books, but they are an important addition to the experience.
posted by chavenet at 1:03 PM on January 11


I've come to the conclusion lately that listening is reading. Reading in the broad sense that is, as in we read someone's face or we read the room. Reading text is about translating visually sensed symbols into meaning. Reading aurally is about translating aural symbols into meaning. When we listen to audio books, we are still 'reading' in the broad sense - translating input into meaning. It's just the input mechanism that is different.

I used to live in a rural area where the nearest supermarket was an hour's drive away and the radio reception was crap, so I would often listen to audio books in my car there and back. Now, for my work, I often revisit that same area and I've discovered that certain landmarks - maybe as insignificant as a culvert or major like a long stretch of road - make me recall parts of books I've heard while doing that drive. I've never had that experience with a visually read book. I can remember very few places where I've read a certain book, but I can frequently recall what book/s I was listening to when I previously travelled the road I am travelling on again, or if I listen to the book again a certain landscape comes to mind related to my first listening. My friend calls it a type of synesthesia but I'm not sure it is.
posted by Thella at 1:10 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


> peeedro: "George Guidall's voice will forever be associated, in my mind at least, with misery, sore feet, and that time I shit myself."

That Guidall reading of Gravity's Rainbow was done in the way-back-when in a special effort for blind readers. It wasn't available to the general public, but there was a samizdat version out there on the intertubes. It was a very poor quality recording, lots of gaps and hissing and other weird audio problems, enough to be irksome and invasive but not enough to make me stop listening, because the overall effect was as if Guidall was broadcasting the novel over some pirate radio station from deep within the zone, which was hella cool.
posted by chavenet at 1:11 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


> Thella: "I've come to the conclusion lately that listening is reading."

Indeed. Not to mention that almost everyone's first experience of the written language is being read to.
posted by chavenet at 1:13 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


The reader definitely can make/break an audiobook.

Some readers are very apt at 'voices' while others benefit from plain transliteration (ie., they suck and should stick to straight reading).

I'm particularly in awe of (male) readers who can do convincing female voices; I recently finished re-listening to 'Altered Carbon' and Todd McLaren is really stand out for both being able to do voices without sounding silly and also pitching his female timbre convincingly.

The readers of Terry Pratchett's 'Discworld' novels are pretty uniformly fantastic, and range from straight read, to minimal voices, to full on voices. There is one reader, though, that I can't stand because he gets DEATH's voice all wrong.
posted by porpoise at 1:32 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


A very good text-to-speech app (for web pages, PDFs, epubs, etc) is Voice Dream, which I use frequently on my phone. The voices aren't good enough to replace human narrators yet, but I've listened to many books (and longer magazine articles or blog posts) with it. There are better voices available for in-app purchase, but you eventually get used to any of them, and you can manually set the pronunciation for words that the app fails read correctly on its own.
posted by Nutri-Matic Drinks Synthesizer at 1:35 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Okay, so do voices or not do voices?
"You mightn’t think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices." — Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:46 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


I'll join in with those folks above who said they can't really do audiobooks because they have a very skippy, distracted reading style. I tend to go back and forth, forget what I'm doing, read a line five times, skim a boring passage - I'm the opposite of a linear reader. And I need to do something active to absorb things. I can't do recorded lectures, unless I actively take notes. I much prefer a live lecturer where I can ask questions or scribble away in a notebook.
posted by peacheater at 1:49 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The reader definitely can make/break an audiobook.

Australian author and Mann Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan has most of his books in audio form read by Humphrey Bower. In one of Flanagan's books, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, three characters from different eastern European countries, say Hungry, Chesky and Poland, are sitting and talking around a campfire in the deep wet forests of Tasmania. Bower has to read their dialogue in such a way that we know who is talking, just through accents. The way he switches between the accents of the three is amazing and made me realise that audiobook voicing is an art form in itself.
posted by Thella at 1:54 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


The DAISY format is awesome, and solves many of the problems that people have with audio books, particularly navigation. It allows you to navigate by chapters, headings, even word by word. I don't know why it wasn't adopted as the standard for all audio books, not just a specialised format for people with print disabilities. I guess it's cheaper to just make a plain audio file, and most people don't know that other options are possible.

Like in the article, there is free postage in the UK for Articles for the Blind. It's a really little known fact that the first LPs were actually made in the 1930s for audio books for blind people. A lot of these schemes were first put in place to support disabled WWI veterans.

Not every book is available as an audio book, and there's usually a delay in the audio version being released. When Amazon released that Kindle keyboard with text-to-speach it was a life changer (for real, I've had people say that to me). For the first time you could read just about any book you liked, at the same time as everyone else. Then they stopped making them. It was machine-read, but better than no book at all.

Luckily, smart devices are now much more accessible, and can fill that role. There's been a revolution in technology for blind people. Ten years ago, you would have had to pay thousands of pounds for specialist equipment and software, a lot of which can now be replaced with one, mainstream device which you can buy from any shop. With perhaps spending some money on specialist apps. Not only that, you have a choice of devices. All it took was manufactures to start taking accessibility seriously.

A revolution.

And it's one we'll all be grateful for as we get older...
posted by Helga-woo at 2:01 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Well, technically listening to books is the original way to absorb stories, whilst book-objects that need to be read are the interlopers.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:13 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


You should look again, many audio apps have an increased playback speed feature. All my audiobooking is library books through OverDrive which has .5x, normal, 1.25x, 1.5x, 1.75x, and 2x playback speeds.

for people with audio processing issues, having your book read aloud by alvin and the chipmunks is not actually a legit solution.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:19 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


If you want a tiny understanding of disability, pay attention to how much he feared being outed for being functionally blind, and how he feels defensive about listening to books.

I'll bet his brain has done quite a bit of work to develop the ability read read books well by listening. I sometimes have to skip back to recover a detail I missed because I read pretty fast, but if I learned to listen to books, I might do better at picking up those details. I found this quite interesting: Sooner or later, the voice in my ears ceases to be a voice. It becomes the words, the words become sentences, and the sentences become the story. At some point, the voice in my ears merges with my own voice the way the words on a page once became my own inner voice when I still read print.

Interesting article, thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 2:23 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


He do the Police in different voices.

Also the working title of TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land”....
posted by chavenet at 2:35 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


Always wanted an album of Police cover songs called They Do The Police In Different Voices.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:52 PM on January 11 [6 favorites]


(2) I read on the train - it's too noisy for audio;

If you can afford them, good noise-canceling headphones make a world of difference on trains, buses, and planes. I have a 2.5-3 hr daily bus commute (hard to imagine in RI, I know), and it's saved my sanity. Well, the headphones, not the commute.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:02 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


I have absolutely told people that I "read the book on tape". I never thought anything of it. This article was well written, reminds me to try to be mindful of other people's perspectives when I am unnecessarily making what I think are self-effacing comments.
posted by HycoSpeed at 7:10 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


for people with audio processing issues, having your book read aloud by alvin and the chipmunks is not actually a legit solution.

FYI, most audiobook playback apps these days automatically adjust the pitch for higher speeds. Similarly most podcast apps that I'm aware of.
posted by Lexica at 8:53 PM on January 11


40+ years ago, my grandmother developed macular degeneration. Left with only peripheral vision. she could no longer read, which was a great blow to her. She enrolled in the Books for the Blind program, and the books came in the form of 16 2/3 RPM records. I assume she considered it reading, since it was all she was left with, and I know it made a big difference in her later years.
posted by Daddy-O at 1:49 AM on January 12 [3 favorites]


There are some books where the author refers to a speaker’s accent as a signifier of class or education or some other quality. When it’s not my country or language or culture, I don’t know what the implications is or even what that accent sounds like — but a skilled narrator can reveal this to me.

Ben Aaronovitch’s books are perfect examples of this: the narrator is from the U.K. and does all the accents, as well as those of various African countries, men and women alike. His name is Kobna Holbrook-Smith (I think, on my phone) and I won’t sight-read any of those books now because I prefer his narration/performance.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:24 AM on January 12 [6 favorites]


Just imagine having Barbara Kingsolver reading to you in your living room. Her reading her book "The Lacuna" which is really great on paper, is way, way better because I get to hear her, how she herself caught all the tones and inflections in the book she wrote.

Bill Bryson the same -- really a great reader of his own work.

Older audio books, they tend to not be read as well as most that are available on Audible today.

Anyways, It's really a nice thing, a small luxury, to be read to as I kick it here on my couch or down by the river or just wherever.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:04 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Audiobooks! That's brilliant! It's sooo tedious laminating the pages so I can read while I do dishes - but the time will fly by if I listen to audiobooks while I laminate.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:06 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I can remember very few places where I've read a certain book, but I can frequently recall what book/s I was listening to when I previously travelled the road I am travelling on again, or if I listen to the book again a certain landscape comes to mind related to my first listening.

method of loci, maybe?
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:08 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


My Bill Bryson recording an audio book encounter.

At the time I assumed he was there to record one of his earlier books, but he was actually recording a new book that hadn't been released yet, so that the accessible audio book was available at the same time as the print version. Which is unusual and fantastic.
posted by Helga-woo at 5:28 AM on January 12 [5 favorites]


The various comments about being beholden to the narrator's pace is why I only listen to eAudiobooks now (borrowed from my public library through Overdrive and/or Hoopla). Both apps allow you to adjust the read back speed. My sweet spot is 1.6x, although I will bump it up or down occasionally depending on the content/narrator. If I didn't quite catch something, Overdrive's app has a jump back 15 seconds button (it's 30 seconds in Hoopla).

Our library also loans Playaway audiobooks - mp3 players pre-loaded with ebook titles - that have similar controls.

I have a significant daily commute to and from work, and I don't know what I would do without eAudiobooks. It's the only way I can keep up with my significant reading list.
posted by zakur at 6:09 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


Ben Aaronovitch’s books are perfect examples of this: the narrator is from the U.K. and does all the accents, as well as those of various African countries, men and women alike. His name is Kobna Holbrook-Smith (I think, on my phone) and I won’t sight-read any of those books now because I prefer his narration/performance.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:24 AM on January 12 [4 favorites −] Favorite added!


I still sight read those books but I plan to do a full bore re-read as a listen because he's so good. I loooooooove how he does Beverly Brook.
posted by edbles at 7:10 AM on January 12 [2 favorites]


I have not read all of the comments here.

When I was single, I read (visually) voraciously. Now, I am married to a non-reader, I have a toddler, and commute 2.5 hours every day. Thanks to recorded books, I am able to consume the written word for 2.5 hours every day. I am a happier, better person for it. Is it a different experience? Sort of. Is it reading? YES.
posted by bluejayway at 8:18 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I've been listening (off and on) to an audiobook version of "JR" by William Gaddis. I found it a fairly difficult read as most of it is just people speaking, with no "somebody said" kinds of things to identify the speaker and you need to read carefully to figure out who is saying what. The audiobook reader is quite good at using different voicings for the different characters as well as highlighting their verbal tics, so it can be rather easier to follow. (Well, mostly.)
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:19 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


When Amazon released that Kindle keyboard with text-to-speach it was a life changer (for real, I've had people say that to me). For the first time you could read just about any book you liked, at the same time as everyone else. Then they stopped making them.

The publishers complained that the TTS counted as a derivative work that would interfere with their audiobook sales, and was therefore illegal. I can't find out if an actual lawsuit was filed or just threatened, but Amazon backed down and allowed publishers to permit or deny the TTS features to work. Most of them blocked it. So Amazon removed the feature from later Kindles, which allowed them to push the Fire and Audible.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:06 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The Oasis has Audible integration I believe, but I have a perfectly good phone so haven't splashed out for it.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on January 12


I'm another visual learner/reader who can't really get into audiobooks. I like the idea of them, I'm totally pro audio books and don't think they're less than plain old books, and they're essential for the visually impaired. Not to mention commuters and drivers.

I've used them and text-to-speech readers a few times but they just don't stick, I can't get into them and I wander off mentally or I just fall asleep.

And like a lot of other readers I also probably read 10-20x faster than most people can comfortably or conversationally speak. My inner monologue, reading and informational voice is a hummingbird auctioneer with Paul Erdos' amphetamine regimen.

I don't read like this all the time, but when I get really, really into a book I start 'imaging' and being able to read entire sentences or paragraphs at a glance like they were individual words or letters like I'm some kind of human OCR machine. I can rip through a book so fast that people think I'm just skimming and idly turning pages, but when I'm into it I'm locked in and fully retaining what I'm reading, and if I pause it's because I'm thinking or re-reading something I liked.

This is one of the reasons I love ebooks and etexts and why I've been into them since the early 90s - no page turning at all! Automatic page turning! Adjustable fonts! And if I fall asleep, it turns itself off and I don't have to turn out the lights! OMG, I can read as fast as Johnny 5 and I don't have to prop up a heavy, fragile book and turn a page every few seconds? And I can do it hands-free!? IIIIINNNPUT!

And don't get me wrong, it's not just about about speed, but visual learning and retention. I won't retain as much unless I write it down, read it or see it. I've trained myself to use tricks like visualizing words, names or even images to remember things if I can't get to a pen and paper to write it down. After I write it down I often don't need the note itself, I just needed to be able to see it.

Example: I actually can't even remember what books I've ever listened to, and I know I've listened to a few in addition to some TTS stuff. But it's a complete blank to me what books they were. I don't even have the slightest clue or shred of an idea. I think I can confidently say I listened to a Gutenberg Project etext of War of the Worlds through TTS once, but... maybe I'm just saying that because it sounds like something I'd do.

Conversely I can remember the first time I held and read many, many different books. I remember the first copy of A Wrinkle in Time I ever saw, or the first time I read The Hobbit. It's been over twenty years but I still vividly remember the first time I read Cat's Cradle. I can practically see and feel the dog-eared used copy I picked up at a flea market, finding a sunny spot and sitting down to read the whole thing and laughing my face off. The book smelled like Nag Champa and cigarettes, the cover was well creased and faded, and the edges of the pages were quite yellowed.


And yet I still don't know if I'd call reading better than listening. I know some people aren't visual learners and do better with audio - and I have know idea what it's like to be in their head, if they have the same retention and vivid visual memories triggered by sounds. I know people who use auditory stuff just like I use visual imagery, and they can recite something back that they've heard word for word, or they can hear music and actually remember all of the notes of a song the first time, and even immediately play it back.

I think the two mental spaces and the cognitive tools used in their domains are different, though they overlap.

My intuition and thoughts tend towards the idea that visual learning is more rigid and symbolized than auditory learning, that there's this direct extension of the brain through the optic nerve, that our eyes are effectively exposed parts of our brain. And yet words and visuals can be more abstracted, symbolic.

And that auditory learning is more holographic and broad spectrum, even emotional or performative and situational. It may actually contain more information with less bandwidth than text or visual learning. Hearing a powerful poem or song has much more emotional impact than reading static words on a page.
posted by loquacious at 12:36 PM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I love ebooks and etexts and why I've been into them since the early 90s

Main ereader: Sony Clié | Sony PRS-505 | Astak Pocket EZ-Reader | Kobo Mini | Inkbook
Also tried: RCA eBook | Jetbook | Sony PRS-300 | Kindle 2 | iPhone 5S

Astak PEZ was my hands-down favorite; I still have one, but the battery won't hold a charge. My new Inkbook is the first I've had with no audio jack; it has bluetooth, but I don't deal with any of its wireless settings. I just connect via USB cord and drag-and-drop ebooks.

Newer ereaders seem to have less direct support for audiobooks than older ones did - they want to manage them through an app, rather than as part of the ereader's core software. Older ereaders often had MP3 players built-in - but of course, that doesn't support the lock-in DRM that publishers want.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:25 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


iOS fast-reading peeps looking for autoscroll are advised to learn how to get their books into Marvin 3, from Appstafarian, which includes a non-crippled autoreading text-to-speech feetch. The app has some non-functional features such as cloud sync, which means your ipad and phone won't open to the same place you left off (or at any rate, mine won't) but color and font customization plus autoscroll mean I can have my dark-background and dim green text whip by at illegibility-minus-X to my heart's content.
posted by mwhybark at 6:41 PM on January 12


Sony Clié

Wow. I read extensively on ((a succession of) second hand) Cliés, but I don't think any of them (even the NZ90) had the horsepower/storage to do audiobooks practically. Kudos on your perseverance!

Having thought about the original premise of the FPP and gone through a few more (audiobook listening, I'd read before) commutes and some reading (handheld over short durations, I'm reading for the first time, both fiction) - for me - reading is fundamentally different than listening in terms of getting information into my brain.

The mode of ingestion also "lights up"/ uses some different processing areas of my brain. Listening is often more superficially "rich" (especially with a great narrator), but I'm much more engaged and imagining secondary and tertiary effects implied by the worldbuilding. OTOH, I've changed my mind in understanding something about what I'm currently listening to, based on the reader's interpretation of authorial intent.
posted by porpoise at 7:24 PM on January 14


Oh man old-school ebooks hacks are great. I had an excruciatingly boring office job between high school and college in 2002 and the only reason I managed to survive it was because I figured out how to get the books i got from #bookz into Acrobat Reader on my Visor Deluxe.

I also read all of Neuromancer for the first time on a Palm IIIx which is the most cyberpunk way to read Neuromancer imo (esp. with that glowing green backlight.)
posted by griphus at 1:13 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


Maintaining your rep of basically being that picture from Mondo 2000.
posted by Artw at 3:46 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


> griphus:
"Oh man old-school ebooks hacks are great. I had an excruciatingly boring office job between high school and college in 2002 and the only reason I managed to survive it was because I figured out how to get the books i got from #bookz into Acrobat Reader on my Visor Deluxe.

I also read all of Neuromancer for the first time on a Palm IIIx which is the most cyberpunk way to read Neuromancer imo (esp. with that glowing green backlight.)"


I miss my Palm and my Visor (that I had to cable to jack into my Samsung Spring phone for 14.4 internet. This was over 20 years ago, so I was cyberpunk AF.) Also, using it as an ereader was a lovely way to deal with different sleep schedules with the ex.

Also, if you are going to fault people for audiobooks, then fault them for ebooks. I do so much reading on my tablet (or, rather, a succession of tablets) that my neighbors in my building mention if they don't see me with it. My biggest love for ebooks is how many I can stuff on there. That way, if I am away from home and I finish a book, BAM, open another one!
posted by Samizdata at 11:34 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


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