I’ve been wanting to read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for some time now, so I chose that as my starting point. I got a trial account with Audible and downloaded the first book in the series, The Gunslinger. This morning, at 5 am, as I started my elliptical workout, I started listening to the book.
Going from paper books to e-books was a paradigm shift for me. I shied away from e-books for longer than I might have because I loved the feeling of the book in my hands. After giving a couple of e-books a try, I quickly and willingly gave up that “feeling” in favor of the numerous advantages e-books have over paper books. I’ve always been hesitant to go to audio books as well. I had the impression that listening to an audio book isn’t the same as reading a book. I have my own inner voice that I hear when I read. I wouldn’t want to hear anyone else’s. Nevertheless, I gave it a try this morning. I listened to the first hour of The Gunslinger.
The result: it was not the paradigm shift I experienced with e-books. I wasn’t bothered by the reader’s voice (as opposed to my own) as much as I thought, but I found I had to make an extra effort to concentrate on listening. If my mind drifted for a moment, I lost the narrative entirely, the voice became background noise in my head. When I am actually reading a book, this rarely happens, unless I am unusually tired. The other problem was that the reading seemed slow to me. That is probably because I read faster when I read to myself, and I suspect this is something that I will have to get used to. The images conjured in my head were not quite as vivid as when I read the words on the page. Unlike reading, where the words eventually fade away and the story takes over, listening, I was consciously aware of the reader as a kind of intruder in the narrative.
I suspect this will get better over time. My gut tells me that I’d be better off listening to nonfiction than fiction. But there is a clear advantage to the audio book: I can listen to it while doing just about anything else: working out on the elliptical, eating breakfast, driving into work, sitting at my desk composing emails. And the constancy of it means that I can probably read at least a book a week simply by listening to them. And this in turn allows me to get more done. So for the time being, this is a sacrifice that I am willing to make. I recognize that there are many factors that make up a good audio book–the quality of the story and the quality of the reading being the two primary ones–and I expect to keep giving audio books a shot. But as I suspected, listening to a book is a very different (and somewhat diminished) experience, for me at least, than reading it myself.