In Defence Of Audio Books
If you’ve been on YouTube for a long enough period of time, or followed any kind of consistent individual video creator on the site, chances are an advert or sponsor for Audible.com has come up (like here). Time and time again Audible mentions will rear their head, tacked on at the end of a video, creating a noticeable rattle but not particularly doing anything for anyone.
However, we should not be so quick to dismiss Audible’s attempt to sell us audio books. After all, even with the e-readers and the audio books, literature is still dealing with the 21st century and all its distractions. Depending on who you ask, it’s either winning, holding its ground or just flat out losing the war against its more vibrant siblings of entertainment, TV and the Internet.
Reading is taking a hit, that’s for sure. With the interconnected technology web becoming ever more time and space consuming for us, not only are we on call 24/7 with social media and e-mails, but also with our TVs hooked up to our smart phones, hooked up to our computers (hooked up to our brains…oh hang on, that doesn’t come for another couple of years), it’s rare we can find a space now untouched from our tech.
Audio books represent a vital way for literature to survive in the digital age, where reputations can be made in an instant (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is perhaps the most prominent example of almost insta-“worldwide” acclaim). In the age of more passive entertainment, where “content” can just wash over your mind, the audio book carries the ethos of literature – to transmit ideas and stories with the appearance of modern passive entertainment – in the way that allows you to pay as much attention to it as you want.
They, like e-readers, can provide a fix to our tech fetish while still transmitting the best of literature into our minds. E-readers occupy the hybrid space between tablet and book, but being able to continue to listen to the book while responding to messages or browsing the internet must be a dream for those who love the idea of constant multitasking.
“But the purity of paper!” traditional book purists might say, or “Having a book in your hands just can’t be replicated, no matter how new technology tries.” And honestly, I’m inclined to agree with them. Having the book in front of your eyes, the feel of it in your hands, is still the best and in no way do I want audio books to replace those paper marvels. However, I am also aware of the cruelties of finances. Unfortunately, I just don’t have enough money to purchase every book I would like to read. Honestly, in a world just overflowing with incredible writing, it’s impossible to keep up and own a copy of each book. Audiobooks at least can offer a partial solution to this. You will never be able to read every book you want to, but at least you have the chance of experiencing more if you can pick up some cheaper audiobooks.
All this is just trying to prove that audio books can be as good as real books, but what can an audio book bring that those paperbacks just can’t provide? Well for starters, the history of oral narration of works of literature extends all the way back to our earliest roots, in Homer’s Iliad. We have been passing stories around using our voices for far longer than we’ve been able to transcribe them in written language. And what can a voice bring? Well in hard facts, a voice can lend a story a tone, produce different voices for the characters and help to distinguish the characters far more concretely than the voices in our head. A voice can even help to reveal or hide certain aspects of the text we might not have encountered when reading it ourselves.
Perhaps more abstractly, a narrator can inject life into the story. A narrator helps to externalise the story from our own minds and help us drift into that state of being that happens when absorbed in a particular work of literature. Besides the obvious appeal of getting famous people to voice written works, the very (usually specifically chosen) casting of a specific voice can breathe new life and new wonders into a text. Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman is a book I have both read and listened to the audio book, narrated by Academy Award winning actress, Reese Witherspoon. Now, setting aside the book’s content, the experience of the two was strong to warrant a surprising enjoyment from me. If anything, hearing someone narrate a story can be just as magical as reading it yourself.
I do not want audio books to ever replace paper books and, if that day comes, it will be a sad and gloomy one. But they are a nice alternative. Sitting down somewhere and just listening to someone tell a story is something we’ve been doing since we started sitting round fires, and the audio book is just another piece to that comforting puzzle. Let’s face it, regardless of how it’s told, who doesn’t love a story?