Friday, April 19, 2019

Some Thoughts on Audiobooks

For a long time, I strictly stuck to physical books and ebooks for my reading. Audiobooks had always been kind of a mystery to me, and I never thought they were really for me. I tried with an audible subscription a few years ago but ultimately cancelled it because I didn't use it enough and it was too expensive for what I was getting out of it. These past few months, however, I have really discovered audiobooks for myself. And much like I did with my post about ebooks a while ago, I want to share  my thoughts on audiobooks today.

I am currently studying abroad and only a select few of my physical books made the journey here with me. This ultimately meant that I had to find new ways to read during the months I'd be staying away from home. At first, I was sure that ebooks would take centre stage because I've always loved ebooks as an addition to my physical books and I even got an e-reader for Christmas last year for this purpose. Turns out, though, that ebooks aren't playing as big of a role in my reading nowadays as I had anticipated.

When it comes to audiobooks, I'm still in the process of figuring out what works for me and what doesn't. The biggest difference to a written work is, of course, that the narration style makes for an important factor in the reading experience. This might be really obvious, but I definitely underestimated this aspect in the beginning. I don't think that an incredible narrator could make me enjoy a book that I would dislike if I read it myself, but the opposite seems more likely. For example, I listened to the audiobook for Truthwitch by Susan Dennard earlier this year, and the way the narrator did the voices and accents of the characters really irritated me. I did kind of get used to it and I still ended up really enjoying the story itself, but for the rest of the series, I decided to rather read the ebooks instead. This decision ultimately paid off and it allowed me to sink into the story much more easily because I didn't get distracted by the voices every time a dialogue came around. 

Whether or not I enjoy an audiobook also depends on the writing style and format of the book. Some books just seem to be more suitable for audiobook adaptation than others. I recently listened to A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, which features some instant messages as part of the story. I usually love when books feature text messages, emails or the like, but with the audiobook I found it really distracting and annoying. The narrator always read out the screen names before the messages and it bothered me so much that I just wanted those scenes to end. Something that would usually be a beloved aspect of a book suddenly became very annoying, and I just wished I could've read those parts in written form instead.

I also find that audiobooks work best for me for rereading books, for two reasons: First, listening to the audiobook brings something new to a story I already know. While I generally love rereading, it can get a little "boring" if I already know exactly what's going to happen. Somehow, it doesn't seem quite the same when someone else is reading the story to me, though. The second and more important factor is that I do tend to get distracted from time to time when listening to audiobooks, usually without really noticing. When I'm rereading a book, this doesn't matter too much as it will be easy for me to find my place in the story again when I snap back to attention, and it doesn't keep me from understanding the plot or anything. I won't feel like I missed something. This is different when it's a book that's new to me. I end up feeling like I have to go back and re-listen to the parts I didn't pay attention to, so as not to miss an important aspect of the plot. For example, I am currently listening to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and I think I missed a lot of what happens in the first chapter because I kept getting distracted. I didn't actually end up going back and listen to that part again, but it still bugs me a little now. 

But of course, I also want to be able to enjoy new stories through audiobooks, and it's not like it never works for me. I've read some great new-to-me books through audiobooks for the first time, such as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid or Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. As a general rule, though, I don't think I can go wrong with choosing the audiobook when rereading a book, whereas with new reads, it can end up being a mistake to go for listening instead of reading.

As I said, I still need to figure out how exactly to incorporate audiobooks into my reading and when to stick to ebooks or physical books instead in order to make for the best reading experience. Some random features of audiobooks I love include that I can listen to them while playing video games, doing household chores, walking to school or when I'm sick in bed and can't open my eyes enough to actually read a book. Because of these things, I want to make audiobooks a permanent feature in my reading even once I am back home surrounded by my bookshelves. But I also feel like I usually end up more engrossed with a story when reading it myself rather than listening to it.

What do you think about audiobooks? 
Love them, hate them or just don't use them?

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