I’ve loved audiobooks for a long time. I remember getting them on tape from the library and listening to them as a family. One of the first books I remember listening to was The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (which is a fantastic book btw, and I highly recommend it!)
I have some favorites when it comes to audiobooks and audiobook narrators. There are classics like Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter series and one of my all time favorites is Tim Curry narrating The Series of Unfortunate Events – one of my favorite series with a favorite actor? Brilliant!
When I was in grad school I had a commute that was about 3 hours a day total. Since I was so busy reading for my classes, I was rarely able to read anything I actually wanted to. Audiobooks (and my local library <3) made that commute bearable and allowed me to read things I wanted.
I also have used audiobooks as a way to listen to classic books I never got to and that I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to as quickly like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and recently Lolita and Rebecca.
But I recently started thinking about why I love audiobooks so much. And if audiobooks are impacting my enjoyment of a story. My sister can’t listen to audiobooks because she is much more of a tactile learner and has a hard time absorbing the story just through auditory means. I, however, have never had a problem with this. In fact, sometimes I can listen to a book much more easily than read it.
Here are a couple of examples: I spent much of my life sad that I don’t really care for Jane Austen’s books. I love the movie adaptations, but I tried to read Pride and Prejudice no less than 10 times and never made it through the 1st chapter (for someone who rarely gives up on a book no matter what this is significant). I forced my way through Emma because it was one of my friend’s favorites and I figured that I couldn’t say that I disliked Austen unless I’d actually read a whole book. But when I had to read Pride and Prejudice for my first master’s English class I had a brainstorm and got the book on audio. And I liked it. In fact I went on to read (or rather listen to) Sense and Sensibility next. And while I’m still not a big fan, at least I can enjoy it.
I also recently listened to A Catcher in the Rye, reading it for the first time. And I am almost positive that I would not have been able to make it through if I’d tried to read it rather than listen to it. The narrator completely sold me on Holden in a way that the text probably wouldn’t have. This was also true of (and I’ll probably get at least one incredulous/nasty comment about this next point) the Twilight saga. I listened to the first book on audio – read it before it became a phenomenon. Just thought I’d pick up the new audiobook that had come in at the library and I knew absolutely nothing about the book. I really think that the audio had a big impact on my enjoyment (yes enjoyment) of that series (no I’m not a twihard, but yes, I own the books and have read them more than once and still like them).
I’ve had a rocky relationship with Libba Bray’s books as well, but I really wanted to read Beauty Queens because the premise just sounded too hilarious to pass up. I got it on audio with Libba Bray reading it herself and it was hilariously brilliant. I definitely enjoyed it so much more because of her narration.
One final example to get to my point (really, there is a point). I have heard so many good things about John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars, but I have not had a good relationship with John Green’s fiction so I kept putting off reading it. Then our library got it in their audiobook section so I thought, why not. And I fell in love with the book. Then yesterday, a friend posted on Facebook that they had just finished the book and were disappointed that so many people loved it when she thought it was forced and, I think “maudlin” was the term they used (don’t quote me on that). Now this friend and I match up in so many ways in what we like book, movie, and tv-wise that I was rather surprised by how strongly she disliked the book that I had loved so much that I bought in for my Nook before I had even finished the audio. And I started to wonder whether I had liked the book as much as I did based on the performance of the narrator than I would have if I’d read it.
I’m pretty sure it didn’t influence me hugely – both of the other John Green books I’ve read were also listened to as audiobooks and I didn’t really like either of them – but I have a feeling that it did impact my reaction.
A really good narrator can make a book more enjoyable while a bad narrator can destroy a book. Another point – I got The Great Gatsby on audio years ago (yes, I had never read it in high school) and the narrator was so horrific that I gave up on it after about five minutes and ended up not reading the book until this past fall. So essentially, that bad narrator kept me from reading and enjoying a books.
So audiobooks are a wonderful thing and I think that the narrator has a huge responsibility because, how they interpret the text can have a massive impact on how a reader enjoys or dislikes that work. As for me, I’m going to keep on listening to more audiobooks. But I’m also going to think more about how much of an impact the narrator has on my feelings of the story itself. Not because I think it’s a good or bad thing that the narrator can have that much power, but simply because I find it interesting that they do.