Friday, February 25, 2011

Audiobooks: Same as Reading?

I do a heck of a lot of long distance driving. Good radio stations are sometimes hard to find, and even your favorite itunes playlist gets old after 5+ hours.

A few years ago, I joined an online audiobook club. For a monthly membership fee (around $15) I get one new credit each month. One credit buys most all of the audiobooks on the site (thousands - it's rare that I can't find a title I want). Sometimes a book will cost you two credits (all the Stephenie Meyer books - not sure why, as well as George RR Martin's fantasy series - I get that, they are often 45+ hours of listening joy!)

Of course, even your favorite books can be spoiled by a reader who doesn't quite match the author's "voice". But if the reader is a good fit, the stories that are fantastic on paper are made even more awesome. You can get totally swept into the world, and five hours in the car passes in the blink of an eye.

Someone once said to me that listening to a book read to you is not the same thing as reading (ha, there is defunct Facebook Group that also believes that), and to be a good writer, you need to READ.

I disagree.

NOT with the reading part, obviously. All writers should be ravenous readers, it's the way we see what might work in our own writing, how to improve imagery through metaphor use, for example; how overkill on similes can draw you out, how important voice is, etc. etc. But can you learn these things from listening to an audiobook, rather than reading your favorite novel?

YES. In fact, I almost would say - for me, at least - even more so.

When the reader is a perfect fit, the characters leap to life, the choice of words and sentence structure embed themselves into your mind...You can hear the punctuation, ascertain subtle emotion shifts, listen to the flow - the poetry of the paragraph, and how it brings the world to life.

If the reader is not a good fit, however, well... I usually don't get through the entire book, so I can't say if it would work the same way.

Below are a list of some of the audiobooks I've listened to recently and a couple of reasons why felt they helped me as a writer or why they didn't. So, got a road trip coming up? Try an audiobook. Really listen to it...No conversation with any other passengers, just listen. You'll pick up at least a handful of great ideas for your own work, I guarantee it!

A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords (George RR Martin) - all read by Ray Doltrice
  • Deep world building comes to life, you can see how important even simple language is in relation to that world
  • Doltrice has a difficult time doing the voices of all the characters, leaving the listener somewhat confused. For instance, one character sounds a certain way in one book, and a completely different way by the third. (It must be SO hard to keep all of Martin's characters straight - I'm sure I couldn't do it!)
  • The next books in the series are read by John Lee (who reads Follet's Pillars of the Earth books. So far, I like him better)

Harry Potter series (JK Rowling) - all read by Jim Dale

  • Characters all done in different voices - perfectly! Each one is completely true to the book, in my opinion, which is NOT an easy thing to do!
  • I enjoyed the audiobooks far more than the print books - but did they help me with my writing? Can't think right now what I took away from that series, but if nothing, you should listen to them for the sheer entertainment value!

Undead and Unwed (and all the Betsy Taylor vampire series, by Mary Janice Davidson) - read by Nancy Wu

  • I got through two of these on audiobook, because the reader completely spoiled Betsy by making her sound like Bart Simpson. I do realize the snark had to be there, but it was MUCH better in my own head.
  • What did I take away? Hmm, can't decide. The reader was too distracting.

Wicked Lovely (Melissa Marr) - read by Alyssa Bresnahan

  • I have only listened to the first one of the series and am hesitating on the next because the reader changes, but the dark tone of the story is dramatically conveyed by Bresnahan, and I felt myself hanging on every word, letting the poetry of the sentences sink in.
  • What I took away: style is important - dramatic writing creates drama in the plot - even if plot drama is lacking in some places - it keeps the reader hanging onto every word.

And my favorite one so far, Delirium (Lauren Oliver) - read by Sarah Drew

This reader has a PERFECT voice for the characters, and she makes the book almost musical, interpreting the rise and fall of rhythms so that words embedded themselves in my head. I caught myself saying, WOW on numerous occasions, just for the way the author strung her words together, and her endless metaphors and similes which didn't distract but brings the story to life.

  • Entertainment value also very high - if you are into YA and have not gotten your hands on a copy yet - you NEED to!
  • High concept plot - makes me jealous that I didn't think of it! All great take aways from this audiobook

I might try Shiver on audiobook, but I'm not sure if the reader's voice will ruin what's in my head (although having a female reader do Grace's part and a man do Sam's should help, and I do think they'll work). But, when I read this book, Stiefvater's beautiful writing just floored me. Yes, it's YA, so no, not Homer, not Shakespeare... Just modern and fresh and wonderful. And a great story to boot!

That's all for now - happy reading, happy listening... Happy writing!


  1. I have never listened to an audiobook, though I am sure they are great companions to bring on a long drive (I don't recommend reading and driving simultaneously) or to use during a workout that keeps your hands from being free. But I can't really comment on the experience having not experienced it myself.

    What I will say is that while I was still teaching, audiobooks were a common accommodation made for students diagnosed with reading disabilities. I was not against this being used, but I also felt it was sinful to use it for every single novel. The skills of reading and listening are very different, and although the kids enjoyed the audiobooks, I feel it is important for them to actually read them as well. Not everything will be made available in an alternative format, and I never understood how their reading skills would improve if they

  2. I agree! I listen to my audiobooks only when driving. I LOVE reading. (I think if you're a writer, this is a given!)I'm holding off for a loooooooong roadtrip to start the next George RR Martin..Can't listen to that one in little hour snippets...You forget all the characters :)

  3. I love audiobooks, but rarely get to enjoy them. I can read a book so quickly and I rarely am stuck in a situation where I'm in a car driving for a long period of time, since I work from home. Still, it agree completely with your post. Love them.

  4. I can't listen to audiobooks. My mind starts to wander. I need the visual to keep me focused. For me, it's books all the way.

    LOL. I saw your comment on Bethany Mattingly's blog about the temperature. I commented that you must live near me. Well apparently we live in the same country. Please tell me it's going to be spring soon. ;)

  5. I have to admit, I have yet to listen to a book. It's not that I'm against it, I just never have. The only time I drive long distances are when we take road trips, but usually we have a movie on for everyone to enjoy.

    One of these days I'm going to have to give it a go...maybe while I work out on the treadmill.

    This is my first time here. *waves hello* Nice to 'meet' you.
    Have a wonderful weekend,

  6. Thanks everyone, especially the new followers. So grateful!

    Mary - I love reading too, just can't sit down and polish a book off in an afternoon. My mom can and does all the time. Guess I didn't inherit that skill!

    Lola - I would love to watch a movie, but then the dog would have to drive, and she doesn't have her license :)

    Stina - RU west coast? I'm east of Montreal, we got HAMMERED today (March 7) with 70 cms of snow. Sick of winter!