I am currently reading Jim Boulton’s 1970 baseball smash, Ball Four. I’m listening to the audio book. So far, it’s great. But there is something particularly funny about it that makes it even better.
Most audio books these days use professional voice actors or narrators to read the book. Occasionally, the author will read their own book, but with few exceptions (Neil Gaiman or Mary Robinette Kowal, for instance), authors aren’t always the best choice as readers.
Jim Boulton reads his own book, Ball Four. He is not a bad reader. In the context of the book, he’s actually pretty good, because it’s him telling stories about his days playing baseball. But for nonfiction books, voice actors typically play it straight. The funny thing about Boulton’s narration of Ball Four is that he sometimes cracks himself up with what he’s written. So he’s reading his book, gets to a funny part, starts laughing, and has to pause, or re-read a sentence after the laughing has stopped.
I love it! It comes across as so genuine that you can’t not laugh yourself. The genuine emotion that his impromptu laughter brings to the reading makes it that much better.
When I get going, I probably cruise along at an average reading speed. I’ve never tried to measure my reading speed in any scientific way (which, I suppose, is unusual since I measure just about everything else about myself). I read a lot and it might seem to those looking in from outside that I read quickly, but that is an illusion caused mostly by the fact that reading is the water that fills in the jar of pebbles that makes up my day. Reading is my default mode. Put another way: when I am not otherwise occupied, I am reading.
But the actual speed at which I read is mostly constant with one quirky exception: my reading picks up speed as I approach the exciting conclusion of whatever book I happen to be reading.
Maybe this happens to you and maybe it doesn’t, but my own personal brand of speed reading is a kind of steady increase in pace as the excitement picks up at the conclusion of a book, until it seems as if I am simply zipping past each page barely seeing the words. I finish the way a sprinter finishes a race, out of breath and with the last push one big blur.
This alone convinces me that speed-reading techniques would be completely lost on me. The thing is, while I race through the end of the book, I do so by gestalt, and not be that calm, leisurely absorption of each word on the page. And that is a problem, because the ending of books are often much more of a blur to me than the 90% of narrative that comes before. I wish that I could maintain the same pace that I maintain through the rest of the book, but the excitement rushes me along. I turn pages, skimming, desperate to know what happens next. In doing so, I sacrifice the details and the beauty of language in an effort to swallow the plot whole.
I’ve lived with this problem my entire life, as far as I can recall, and I’ve never discovered an adequate solution–until I began listening to audio books a few weeks ago.
Continue reading My Difficulty with Speed Reading and an Unlikely Solution in Audio Books
I am now more than halfway through my first complete audio book, Stephen King’s Misery. And having now listened to more than 7 hours of the book, here are few thoughts:
- This is one really good book. I had no idea! I seem to recall seeing bits and pieces of the movie once, a long time ago, but the book is so much better, so much richer. It is just fantastic so far.
- I love the metafictional aspects of the book. I love the work within the work (Misery’s Return) but even more, I love the multiple levels of recursion that are taking place. I’ve got to imagine that this was a fun book for King to write.
- The book is narrated by Lindsay Krouse and so far, if I had my way, I’d have her narrate every future audio book I read. She is outstanding.
Now for a few of the downsides I’ve discovered:
- I can’t really multitask while listening to the book–not beyond walking or working out on the elliptical machine. And even then, if I don’t focus on the story and let my mind wander, I soon discover that I’ve missed something and have to go back.
- It’s not as easy for me to pick up where I left off. When reading a book, it’s easy to open to where you left off and continue, but I find I tend to have to back up a little when listening to the audio book in order to more easily slip into the narration.
- I think Lindsay Krouse is a fantastic narrator. She has the perfect voice for listening (as far as I am concerned) and the trouble with that is the chances are very good she won’t be narrating the next audio book I listen to. And I suspect that whoever does narrate it simply won’t be as satisfying to my ears.
I have not yet decided what I’m going to listen to next. I do enjoy working out listening to the book. I enjoy my morning walks listening to the book, too. I take a quick 1 mile walk every morning at 10am to get some air. The last two mornings have been bitterly cold and windy. I would have ordinarily cut my walk short both days, but I pressed on mainly because I was so absorbed by the story and Lindsay Krouse’s voice, and I wanted to keep listening, at least for a little while.
Every once in a while, when I reflect on how small a dent I make in my stack of reading, I think about audio books. I have friends who swear by them. For some of them, it seems, it is the only way they get their fix. There is a great deal of advantage to audio books: you can listen do them while performing other activities, like commuting to work, chores around the house, working out, taking a walk. Indeed, you can make use of those times when reading a book is impractical.
But though I’ve tried on one or two occasions, I cannot bring myself to listen to audio books, particularly fiction in audio book form. There are several reasons for this:
- The voice bothers me. I am so used to my own internal voice, and the voices I make up in my head for various characters, that I can’t bear the voice of someone else reading to me. I’ve tried. Even when it is someone whose books I greatly admire, like Isaac Asimov, I’m not able to disappear into the story the way I can when I’m reading from the page.
- I cannot divide my attention to make listening and doing something else worthwhile. I will either focus on the story (if I can get past that alien voice in my head) or I will focus on the tasks that I am performing while listening to the story. I can’t do both. This is true for music, too, by the way. If I listen to music while I work, for instance, I will eventually discover that I never heard the music because I was so focused on my work.
- Reading aloud tends to be too slow for me. I am by no means a speed-reader, but I do read somewhat faster than the pace of reading aloud. It is just too slow for me and I find myself growing impatient.
- For me, reading is an active thing, and finding that groove where the words start to fade away and the scenes flow smoothly through my head is a kind of heaven that I haven’t been able to achieve listening to audio books. To me, audio books come across as performances and I’m not looking to listen to a performance.
That is not to say I have not delighted in audio performances–readings with expression–that were wonderful. I’ve written about my experiences seeing and listening to Harlan Ellison read aloud. Such performances spoil me because I’ve never heard anyone quite as good. But then, those readings really are performances as opposed to someone simply reading a book and perhaps adding a little color through the use of their voice.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because it was not more than a few years ago that I had a similar attitude toward e-book. I could never read an e-book, I thought, because I delighted too much in the feel of the printed page. Well, I learned pretty quickly that, at least for me reading an e-book feels no different than reading off the printed page. And so I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t giving audio books a fair shake for similar reasons.
But after careful consideration, and especially for the reasons I list about, I’ve accepted the fact that audio books are not for me.