Listening to Voices


Lately I’ve become a consumer of audio books. I’ve done this before, years ago, when I was working on getting a house ready for sale. Mind you, I’ve always read while cleaning or cooking, but it’s pretty hard to read while painting, hence the audio books.

The latest spree isn’t painting related (though it could be soon. I mean, all of this house needs painting, but I’m waiting for summer.) I’ve just taken up long walks, and audio books help.

It has also caused some strange shifts in my reading habits, as I’ve discovered that just like reading authors in Portuguese then in English isn’t the same. I don’t know if it’s extraordinary translators or simply ideas more suited to being expressed in one language than the other, but I loved some authors in Portuguese that I can’t read in English and vice-versa.

So, that’s the first:

1- not all my favorite authors translate well to audio books. Though so far I’ve found I’ve got a greater tolerance for books in audio than in reading. Some language issues that bother me in reading sound a lot more plausible in voice. I think that this is because hearing things spoken makes them somehow more real than reading them. Hearing is believing. (In this it might help to know I grew up with radio news, as opposed to TV news, so maybe I’m conditioned to consider spoken things “true” I guess.)

1a) I cannot listen to F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series, one of my absolutely favorite series, and one of the very few I buy in hardcover. Mind you, I can’t listen to horror, either, but I don’t read horror. Repairman Jack is a thriller with horrific elements. I can read it fine. In fact, when it comes out I usually read it in the evening/night. So why can’t I listen to it? I dream about it. In detail. Graphically.

There is a second find:

2 – I’m more likely to get subtexts in a book listening to it read.

Well, either that or I simply don’t function well while reading and washing dishes, and making sure the book doesn’t fall in the water. But Terry Pratchett, for instance, is infinitely “richer” in audio books.


3- I’m more likely to catch the voice of the book while listening to it audio. I mean, I’m more likely to start speaking and writing like that book. This means I CANNOT listen to Georgette Heyer while writing space opera. Otherwise, my space people will be going “Handsomely over the bricks, my dear. What can you possibly signify?” OTOH once I caught this mechanism, it makes it easier to stay on voice. I listen to the book with the closest “feel” to what I’m trying to write.

But the fourth and most awesome discovery is that I feel MUCH closer to the writer’s personality when I listen to books than when I read them. I can feel the person, there as it were. And the realization suddenly hits me:

4- I’m listening to the author tell a story. When these are the voices of a dead author – like Heinlein – or even an author who was much younger when he wrote something – like Pratchett’s early work – it feels like the narrator captured a moment in time and brought it to me, still alive an pulsing.

To my mind that’s a form of magic.

So, what are your experiences with audio books? (I don’t ask about movies, because we all know what they do.) Any fun anecdotes? (Oh, yeah, like the time the kids came in and I was – years ago. Got books from library, so had to go with what they had – painting and listening to a Nora Robert’s ahem scene. To this day they talk about me listening to porn.) HOW do you feel about audio books? Are they – to you – a legitimate translation of the story? Or do they feel somehow wrong, and like a completely different thing? And is it just me who reacts differently to the same book, read versus narrated?

*crossposted at Mad Genius Club*

5 thoughts on “Listening to Voices

  1. Audio books? Doing the dishes and other house work, definitely. Even cooking, if it’s going to take a while. As noise blockers, sometimes, when I know I’ll be in a waiting room for untold hours. Music is also good for all of this but I listen to music all the time when at my home PC, so sometimes I don’t feel like more music, like you, I want to hear a story.
    The thing I notice most is the slower pace. I read very fast, no one listens any faster than anyone else. So I sometimes hear the story in what I think is closer to the way the author might have meant for it to be experienced. I like short stories much more when heard than when reading. When I read I like to sink into the author’s world, to fall in to the “reader’s trance” Novels are better for this. But listening is different, and I find I simply enjoy listening to a short story collection that I might not like nearly as much as written book. I find Heinlein good for this, Sir Pterry as you said, because his books are rarely long ( in fact they are never long enough! More please!) The Lord of the Rings as an audio book became a pure slog. Perhaps if I had not read the story many times, but I had. And a point you did not touch on, I want real human voices, not the text-to-speech software. I just like it more, and I’ve tried both.

  2. About seventy-five percent of the audiobooks I listen to are books I’ve read in print already, so essentially they’re “rereads” of books I know I enjoy. A good chunk of the others are books whose author I don’t buy in hardback and whose publisher has decided to price the ebooks insanely. As an example, I saw one yesterday where the ebook was 17.99, Amazon’s price on the hardback was $15 and change, and Amazon’s price on the audiobook on CD was $14 and change, or I could use an audible credit and have it cost about ten bucks. Publishers like that are just killing their authors, and I feel sorry for them.

    Anyways, when most everything is a reread, sometimes it does change the perception I had of the book. For example, I had a hard time listening to “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” at first, because of the broken English spoken by Manny – I’d actually read the book many, many times, but evidently my brain had filled in proper grammar. After awhile I got over it, but it did take a bit. And the reader who does Weber’s Honorverse really bugs me, but I love those books enough to listen anyways. On the other hand, the reader who did Scalzi’s Sagan Diaries was the single worst reader I’ve heard doing any book any time, including a bunch of free podcasts, and the material couldn’t really save it – if I’d actually owned that one in print before listening I’d have deleted it maybe 30 minutes in and stuck to the print version.

  3. Skip

    Your reactions are actually like mine — as are the books you choose to listen to. Though I LOVED TMIAHM. The problem is I start writing like Manny speaks (actually Russian syntax/grammar, including “was joyed”)

    The only reader so far that I wanted to crucify was the chickie who read Heinlein’s Friday. (Yes, chickie. She EARNED that. If you detest a book, don’t accept an offer to read it.)

    For some reason there’s any number of authors — mostly romance and mystery — that don’t hold my attention in print, so I like listening to them while doing other stuff.

    It is a serious problem to listen to certain classics around my son, though, because he interjects uh… context… You truly don’t want to know. The wind in the willows will never be the same again, let’s just say that.

  4. BIG fan of audiobooks, as is me Beloved Spouse. I find that audiobooks make a commute or doing cardio much much more pleasurable (and greatly reduces effects of other drivers on my BP; traffic delay = more book “read”.)

    I find that at times my attention loses focus while auditing, so I prefer novels I’ve read and am familiar with the story of, thus mitigating needs to rewind and re-listen. For histories, biographies and other non-fiction audiobooks are a fine first read, especially as it slows me down and forces me to pay closer attention (or slog on through to the “good stuff” in a book I might otherwise set aside.

    Narrators are always a mixed bag. Like many others here I’ve done RAH; REALLY liked Lloyd James’ reading of Citizen of the Galaxy (especially the hint of Sean Connery he gave Balsam) but found his MIAHM and Starship Troopers merely servicable. Didn’t care for the “full cast audio” rendition of Have Spacesuit so much, but the novel is good enough to overcome that.

    OTOH, some readers fit their novels the way I only wish my hand fit my gloves! Tony (Baldrick) Robinson’s reading of ANY Pratchett makes driving dangerous (I can see the citation now: Driving While ROTFL) and he is equally delightful on Diana Wynne Jones’ books. Gaiman admits Anansi Boys was written with Lenny Henry’s voice in mind, so it is perhaps a less than fair example.

    In other instances the reader can be a bit jarring. Beloved Spouse complained throughout one of Kathy Reichs’ novels that the narrator used an entirely WRONG Southern accent for the lead character, giving her a Deep South (Alabama) accent instead of the Mid-South accent of North Carolina. And then there was Zelazny’s reading of his own Nine Princes in Amber! I cannot fault his interpretation, obviously, but I had never imagined it as a hard-boiled detective tale, which is how HE read it.

    As for LotR, well, it had been a while since I’d read it and that may have made me less possessive of the book’s voice; what most struck me was the rendition of the poetry and songs, portions I admit having never quite heard in my own readings of the books.

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