A Few Written Words About Audio Books

Before I retired, my job often required me to drive long distances. Those of you familiar with Southern California freeways know that, during rush hour, it can literally take hours to drive a few miles. During those days of sitting in endless, slow-moving traffic, I discovered the joy of audiobooks. I also learned a curious thing — the experience of listening to a novel is slightly different from reading the same book on paper or in digital format. For today’s blog, I thought it might be interesting to mention a couple of those differences.

When you listen to a book, you hear every word. Before I started listening to audiobooks, I did not realize that I would occasionally “fast-forward” through text when reading a novel. If I got to a boring descriptive passage or a particularly gory scene that I did not care to read, I would quickly skim through the paragraph, hitting the highlights, but not reading word-for-word. If it turned out that I missed something important during my paragraph skim, I could quickly go back and pick it up later.

You can’t do a “paragraph skim” when listening to an audiobook. (And certainly not while driving!) One audiobook, for example, contained a detailed torture scene. I had no desire whatsoever to listen to that passage, but if I hit the fast-forward button on my car stereo, I had no way of knowing whether I was just avoiding that scene or missing paragraphs afterwards. So I had to listen to every word that author wrote. Every. Single. Word. (By the way, this is not intended as a criticism of that author — at this point, I don’t even remember which author it was. I listened to a lot of audiobooks.)

You get a sense of how authors use language. When I was listening to books, I found that I was more aware of the author’s use of language and words. It is much faster for me to read words than to hear those same words spoken. Listening to a book slowed down the pace somewhat and let me hear the word choices and the phrasing of the sentences.

All those long, science-fiction/fantasy names. As an avid reader of written books, I would often “see” words before I heard them, so I had no idea how to pronounce all those unusual science-fiction or fantasy names. Often I would “sound-out” the names based on grammatical principles and words that I knew. For example, the word “half” has a silent “l” in it. So, when I first ran across the name “Gandalf,” I assumed it had the same silent “l” and pronounced it accordingly. Those types of mistakes on my part usually ended up with me being embarrassed in a conversation with more knowledgeable friends.

Amusingly, I had exactly the opposite experience with a series of audiobooks. I knew how the names were pronounced (or, at least, how the voice actor pronounced them), but I had never seen them written. After I had listened to an entire series of novels by one author, I remember reading something on the internet about that author and thinking, “Oh, so that’s how you spell the main character’s name.”

One final thought. Of course, it goes without saying that, that if you listen to audiobooks in your car, you should never let it distract you from driving. You can always listen to the book later!

-Susan 12/18/20

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