Listening to Books

I know there are generally two sides to the books on tape debate.  There are those people that accept the idea unconditionally and then you have the other side that have no room for people that listen to books on tape.  I’m still not sure when I fall into this debate, I’ve listened to books on tape and have even downloaded a few books to listen to on my iPod.

I’ve heard of a book group that wanted to kick an individual out of their group because they found out that she was listening to the books rather than reading them like the rest of the group.  I’m not convinced that this the best approach to the subject.  There is more to the debate than just the validity of the book on tape as an acceptable way to intake books.  I think I would take issue that is the only way a person interacted with books.

I know for myself that I wouldn’t want to only listen to books because there is something great about having that book in you hand and your eyes glide across the page, consuming the story the way it was meant to have been devoured.  But on the flip side I think the book on tape can be an art form of its own.  It’s wonderful to sit back and have someone read a book to you.  It was one thing that I loved growing up, having an adult read a story to me.  It’s also one of the many things I love to do with my nieces and nephew when I’m at home with them.

My first encounter with books on tape was when I was attending a class at the University of Manitoba and had to commute an hour both ways from Winkler.  I enjoy listening to the radio and music but after sometime I needed to change my listening habits.  So, I picked up a copy of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and started to listen to that.  It was great to be able to hear the book while driving, it felt like I was accomplishing two tasks at once.  After this I would often get a book or two on tape to listen to while I travelled.

One other aspect of the book on tape issue that I don’t think comes up very often is the idea that some works of literature were meant to read aloud.  Many of the books that we consider classics were written for an evening with the family.  Where one family member would read the tales to the rest of the clan.  This tradition of reading as a family has all but vanished (I don’t know of any families that do this anymore – except parents reading a bedtime story to their children prior to bed).  This would mean that we, as readers, are loosing something when we just pick up a Dickens, Austen, or Bronte and peruse the pages ourselves.  They were written to be enjoyed by an attentive listening audience.

So, I decided a few months ago that I would begin listening to some of the earlier works of literature on tape, or bringing it up more to the modern age I would listen to an MP3 on my iPod.  I downloaded a few literary works and sifted through to decide which one I would listen to first.  I chose The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I selected this book because I had the novel sitting on my shelf for quite sometime and haven’t got to reading it yet.  I thought why not start with this one.  And I did.  Just this past week I finished listening to The Scarlet Letter.

Now there were issues on the technical side of things because the voice was computer generated and was just a collection of syllables that were prerecorded and cut and pasted together.  That made it difficult listening at times but wasn’t enough to prevent me from completing the task at hand.  I would often listen on walk to and from work and it was a nice way to spend my morning walk and helped me to get rid of many of the stresses from the day.

I’m glad I did this and I think I will listen to some more classics this way.  I’m not going to abandon the book to pursue the whole listening thing.  I just think both have their respected places and I will enjoy both for what they have to give to me.  This will not be the only way I’ll enjoy the classics because I have Pride and Prejudice sitting on my shelf calling me, and making me feel guilty for not having read anything by Jane Austen yet.  There is also something to be said about reading the classics as they are presented to us today.

I would be interested to know what the readers of That’s the Book! think of the whole book on tape debate.  And whether or not you sit down and read a book aloud with the family.  It’s something I’d like to do when I have a family of my own.

A review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne will be appear on That’s the Book at a later date.


7 thoughts on “Listening to Books

  1. I grew up with audiobooks (Brambley Hedge and Roald Dahl if I remember correctly!), but then lost interest even though I continued to read constantly through my teens. It was only recently that I discovered the Stephen Fry readings of Harry Potter, that I realised what a joy it can be to listen to a book. Plus its the only way of listening to a book while I shall most certainly be picking up more audiobooks in the future!

  2. Mariel: They really are great for traveling aren’t they? And sometimes it’s nice to just have someone read to you. And I love when the readers get right into it and create various voices for the characters.

  3. This is such a thoughtful post. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my commute, but I am particular about what I listen to. I love to bury myself in a book (the physical kind), so if it’s a book I’ve been really wanting to read, I want to hold it in my hands. I tend to choose audiobooks that vaguely interest me or that have been recommended to me but aren’t my typical reading style. Series books, books that are so long that I don’t want to spend the time reading them (driving is free reading time!), multiple books by the same author. Examples of things I’ve listened to are the first 2 books in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, many Jodi Picoult books, some YA books.

  4. Somer: Thank you for your comment. If you have any great titles to pass on that would be great. I haven’t read anything by Jodi Picoult but there seems to be a lot of buzz about her on these book blogs.

  5. I listen to audiobooks. I often listen to classics with a computer-generated voice, but I also listen to “real” voice audiobooks. I choose that format because that is what I have time for. I also read physical books, but I can read twice as much if part of my reading is listening. (I’m a stay-at-home mom and I listen to books as I do chores, etc.) An audio books is much more enjoyable with a pleasant voice. Sometimes the voices are hard to listen to–and not just the computer-generated ones!

  6. Rebecca: I agree, I just started listening to my next book on tape and it’s a real person. This is much more pleasant. I’m looking forward to listening to more. And my plan is to listen primarily to classics, I want to read them but other books get in the way so I’ll listen to them. And you’re right, I can get more books in by doing it that.

  7. Audiobooks are the only way a) I can read anywhere near as many books as I want to, and b) the only way I can tolerate my hour-long-each-way commute. I started out only listing to “popular” fiction such as murder mysteries, because I didn’t need to concentrate very hard. But I’ve now listened to a few classics and enjoyed it very much. I find it’s a great way to introduce myself to a book or a writer, get the general idea of the story, etc. Then if I want to study it more closely, I can take the time to read it again later. I’ve returned to the printed version of a couple that really struck a chord with me and reread passages.

    I guess this is my long-winded way of saying, “I love them!” I don’t think I could listen to a computer generated voice reading though. I like the various voices many of the human readers use.

    Have a great weekend!

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