How an Audiobook Speaks Up for Itself

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Audiobook Week, graphic from the Stacked book review blog has informed me, we’re in the midst of Audiobook Week.  Personally, I am a traditionalist when I read full-length works.  Although I [clearly] have become interested in reading blogs, articles, and forums online, I still prefer the paper-and-ink experience for novels, textbooks, etc.

I try to keep an open mind, though.  The first audiobook I “read” was The Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, starring the delightful voice of Rob Inglis.  Shortly thereafter, I received a gift of Good Omens on CD from a friend.  I’ve been “working” on this one for months.  I really enjoy the storyline and the narrator’s approach, too.

However, I still can’t seem to find harmony with the format itself.  I only listen to audiobooks in the car, on long trips.  [After all, if I have free time at home, I’d rather read a book in my hands.]  In the car, I tend to fumble with the multiple CDs, get mentally distracted, and often forget to play the audiobook at all on smaller trips.

I do, of course, believe that it is important for public libraries to stock audiobooks, as much as their budget will allow.  I know many people who prefer this format for many reasons: multitasking (something I am clearly unable to do – see above), listening simultaneously with a friend, and reading impairments such as dyslexia.  Additionally, my public library is fortunate enough to have a small collection of Playaways, pre-loaded MP3 devices with the most popular titles, in addition to the lengthy shelves of audiobooks on CD and cassette.

Thanks to Google Reader, I found an article on Stacked from 2009 that gave me a better understanding of how the strength of an audiobook operates on a different set of criteria than does a paper book.   According to Stacked:

Although listeners can have a preference for one of these, they can all be done well or all be done poorly. But what makes a good audio book and what makes a bad one? If you’re listening to one and aren’t sure, consider these:

  • Are the words pronounced correctly? Is the narrator using an authentic accent? One of the presenters mentioned a book set in Wisconsin where the narrator had a mid-Atlantic accent and it really killed the book for her as a Wisconsinite. The Dairy Queen, on the other hand, has an authentic Wisconsin accent.
  • Is the book complete with a clear, crisp sound? Is the volume consistent?
  • Do you hear juicy mouth sounds? Is the narrator’s voice hoarse?
  • Has the producer done a good job if material was dubbed not making it obvious? Is the text being repeated or omitted or cut too short? Are chapter breaks awkward or poorly timed?
  • Are names of the title, author, and narrator correct? One of the presenters said that there was one book where the reader mispronounced the name Nguyen and a student with that name was turned off entirely (for those of you unsure, that’s “win,” and the reader said “nah-guy-en”)
  • Does the reader mostly match the age and experience — at least in sound — to the main characters?
  • The readers connect to the text and are generally excited by the reading and discovery in the beauty of the story and the language.
  • Is music used effectively? Walden — the one by Thoreau — apparently has fantastic music interludes and was lauded for that reason.

Once I finish listening to Good Omens, I’ll be looking out for some recommended audiobooks at Stacked and Devourer of Books, two blogs that are providing a marathon of audiobook reviews and 101-information this week.  Be on the lookout for your next listen!

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One response to “How an Audiobook Speaks Up for Itself

  1. The stars must be aligned because I have just started to explore the world of audio books as “Audio Book Week” has begun! They are a godsend on long drives and make much better use of my time than useless dial turning!
    I listened to Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up” and was enthralled by his touching story…an extra plus was hearing the story read by Martin himself. Next I listened to Bob Newhart’s “I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This” (comedy insights seem to appeal to me!) also read by the author and was also impressed with Newhart’s nostalgic foray into the past. Next up will be a George Carlin read or possibly “A Girl Named Zippy”. The world of audio books is my oyster!
    Thanks for keeping me abreast about all of the audio book news!

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