Four years ago, I wrote a blog post about the smell of a good book. Today, I am going to talk about a different sense: the sound of a good book. I am speaking of audiobooks, that alternative to the traditional method of reading which can prove to be just as good a way of experiencing a book and, if I dare say it, sometimes better!
I first started considering reading via the audiobook format when my commute to work became a one-hour drive each way. Having exhausted my supply of CDs and having only so much tolerance for the dubious range of radio stations available, I decided it would be a good idea to devote all that time to reading instead. In doing so, I’ve found that I no longer resent the significant number of hours I spend each week in the car!
A big positive of listening to an audiobook on my way to work is that it makes the commute fly by – when it’s a great story, I end up so engrossed that I find it hard to believe I’m at school already. Sometimes I’ve even been guilty of driving a little slower to squeeze in more time for reading…
The narrator is a crucial element in the audiobook experience. Sometimes books are narrated by a cast of actors but more often than not they are read by a single person. No matter how good the content of the book, an audiobook will succeed or fail on the competency of the narrator. They need to have a decent grasp of pacing and be able to adopt a variety of voices and accents to represent different characters. Great narrators include Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter series and Davina Porter reading the Outlander series – both of them are so good at what they do that each character they voice is immediately identifiable. On the other hand, a poor narrator can destroy a book. Roy Dotrice, who narrates the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is unfortunately an example of one of these, pronouncing names wrongly, being inconsistent with voices, and running characters’ accents on from dialogue to narrative. These kinds of mistakes can really detract from the enjoyment of the book itself, so I always hope for a really skilled narrator who will totally immerse me in the story.
There are some drawbacks to reading audiobooks. As I only listen to them when I’m on the road, I am limited to the hours I spend in the car, which leaves sizeable gaps between reading opportunities, especially during school breaks when I don’t commute to work. On top of that, it’s hard to control where I might have to pause the book; I can’t tell when the end of a chapter is coming up so I could be forced to stop in the middle of a scene and put my emotions on hold until I can get back to it. Now and then, I find that the road takes my full concentration and I’m obliged to rewind the track if I miss something. I also can’t flick back to favourite scenes whenever I want!
Despite these downsides, I love listening to audiobooks. I never feel lonely or bored in the car and have often found myself laughing – or crying (damn you, Philip Pullman!) – behind the wheel. If you have a long commute and are looking for a way to pass the time, I highly recommend trying an audiobook!