The Wonder of Audio Books

I'm always reading two books. Well, okay, technically, I'm reading one  book, and listening to somebody read another book to me while I'm in the car. There is so much out there to read, so this is a relatively efficient way of keeping up.

I'm a big proponent of audio books as a means of augmenting my reading list. I do have a book by my nightstand, and I read a little of it every night. That book right now, by the way, is Spellbinder by Helen Stringer. Between writing, blogging, tweeting, working, parenting, husbanding (that sounds weird), sleeping, and some TV watching, I don't always breeze through the books I read. Plus I'm a slow reader.

My commute to work is around 30 minutes each way, and I do it five days a week. That's a minimum of five hours a week of unadulterated "reading". It's a slow pace, but consistent.

The funny thing about audio books is that they can really highlight how well written the book really is. You might run into a terrible audio production from time to time, but it's so rare nowadays. You get to listen to talented voice (or movie or theater or tv) actors or actresses and even the author themselves at times. Listening to Stephen King read one of his own books is pretty sweet. If the book sounds funny to you, there's probably a reason, and it's not likely the person coming through your speakers. Here are some examples.

Bad dialog - Unrealistic or just plain lousy dialog sticks out like a dead hamster on a wedding cake. 

Conflict for conflict's sake - It's like cutting to a car chase in the middle of the movie Titanic. Okay, yes, I'm tense, but how does this related? It hadn't occurred to me before, but PJ Hoover makes a case for it in her recent post on the Spectacle.

Whiny characters - I'm listening to the second book in a fantasy series about Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott. One of the main characters, Josh, is a total whiny bitch and he pisses me off half the time. It's because I hear his voice instead of see it on the page.

Pandering to the reader - This is when one character asks the other character what she means simply so she can explain it all for the reader. It's incredibly obvious on an audio book, and is even worse when you as the reader kind of know the answer already.

None of the above characteristics are unique to an audio book. The problems clearly exist on the page. They're simply more obvious when you listen.

A word about the voice actors.
Continuity among actors through an audio book series is important to me. Change is a distraction. It didn't work when they replaces the Duke boys in the Dukes of Hazzard. Sure, it can work all right. I was able to withstand when Michael Gambon took over the role of Albus Dumbledore in the third movie (after Richard Harris died). Yet, it would be an entirely different matter if Harry, Ron and Hermione were suddenly portrayed by different people. In an audio book as in a movie or television show, you get used to the style and voice with which the actor portrays the character(s). When a new person comes along and does it their way, it takes some getting used to. When it's a main character or a whole mess of characters, it's an even bigger deal.

For the record, and with the exception of the Half Blood Prince, I think Richard Harris portrayed Albus Dumbledore closer to the spirit of the character in the book. That's not to say I had a problem with how Michael Gambon carried Dumbledore. I don't.


Anonymous said...

Wow. That's pretty cool! I never thought about that when listening to an audio book. Heck, I haven't listened to one in years! But now you make me want to, just to see if I can catch anything you listed lol.


PJ Hoover said...

OMG, Jay, the second Nicholas Flamel book on audio almost did me in. I could not take it. The scene where they're escaping from some lizard monster was eternal. I think it took me two weeks to get through that scene alone.
I used to commute to work and listend to tons of books. Now my pace is much slower (due to no commute and lack of me getting my butt on the elliptical to listen).
I guess audiobooks are a true test to how good the writing is, and some books are much better on the page.

Jay said...

Yeah - these Flamel books - they are so borderline for me. Great premise, good story, but some of the writing - not that I'm one to judge. :-) Holy crap is Josh is irritating. Plus "all of a sudden" and "suddenly" - how many times is that turn of phrase in these books? GAH!

Anonymous said...

I've never listened to an audio book, even though people I've met raved about them. Now I'm wondering if I'm really missing out on something.

Mary Campbell said...

I preferred Richard Harris too, but I don't mind the other guy. I don't listen to audiobooks. I probably should, but I usually find the voice annoying - maybe they get better readers now. Thanks for commenting on my blog and becoming a follower.

Jay said...

Thanks for commenting, Mary. Long commutes are a great motivator for audio books, as is driving to Florida from New Jersey.

Like anything else, voice actors really range in quality. Jim Dale voiced each of the seven Harry Potter books, and managed to keep the voice consistent for each character throughout. He really added so much more, and was just phenomenal. In fact, his voice, is my favorite Dumbledore.