Weekend thoughts

So recently, I’ve been wondering about how reading a hard copy of a book vs. listening to the audio version affects our enjoyment, experience of, and final opinion of, the story. I’ve noticed that reading the book takes more actual concentration on my part, so if I’m really tired, listening to the audio is definitely easier. Imagining the book while listening to it takes little effort, while imagining a book from reading the written word does take some level of focus or conscious creative work on my part.
However, with that said, I am a pretty fast reader, and I feel that if I do have enough mental energy to read, I feel like I am able to become more fully engrossed in the world of the book when I am reading it myself, rather than listening to it. I think part of this is the speed at which I read. I often find it frustrating, when listening to audio books, in that the narrator seems to be going just a bit too slow. I’ve tried speeding up the audio, but listening to a jerky, chipmunk version of the story definitely kills the mood.  Also, much of the time, I find that the narrator’s voice is jarring in a way that serves to remove me from the immediacy of the story itself. Much of the time, I find myself analyzing how the narrator is interpreting the story, and wondering at some of the ways in which he or she says things. Often, I think that if I had read a certain sentence of dialogue in my head, I would have given it a different intonation than the narrator chooses. So this affects my interaction with the story in two ways. First, it sets to distance me from the immediacy of the story itself, because I am in an analytical frame of mind. And secondly, I am experiencing the characters and tone of the story in the way in which the audio narrator does, rather than in the way I myself would have if I was reading the book alone.
Third, when listening to an audio version of a book, I am almost always multitasking. I listen while driving, or while working out. On the other hand, I almost always read books when I am alone, in a quiet place. My attention at that time is focused almost exclusively on the world of the novel.
All of these things lead to me having a more intense, immediate, and personal experience of the story when I am reading it.
However, there are a few times when I feel that experiencing books in their audio form is preferable to reading them myself. As mentioned above, one of these times is when I am simply too tired to read, but would like the escape and pleasure of being in the world of the book. At those times, I can lay in bed or on the sofa, relax, shut my eyes, and just listen.
Secondly, there are some books whose narrators are just fabulous, talented at accents and voices, and interpretations of humor and emotion. At these times, I feel that the narrators bring the story to life in an amazing way. Two such examples are Heather O’Neill, who narrated the audio version of The Likeness, by Tana French, and Steven Crossley, who has narrated When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson. In these examples, I enjoyed the books more because I listened to them, rather than reading them myself.
The third time in which I think audio may be preferable to the written word, is when the book I am reading is so dense, “literary,” or factual, that I would find it prohibitively difficult to read myself. Because I read primarily for pleasure, I often lack the patience to sit down with a large nonfiction volume, or even a fictional narrative that is rather dense. Listening to these types of works means that I can experience them while doing other things, thus avoiding the impatience I would feel if I was forcing myself to sit still and focus on them alone. An example of this is The Likeness. Although Tana French is one of my favorite authors, her novels are not what I would call “light” reads. While I struggle to read them myself (which I did with her first novel, In the Woods) I appreciate them immensely when I am listening to them being performed by a talented narrator.
As a final thought, this year I have listened to mainly thrillers and suspense novels on audio. With the exception of The Likeness and When Will There Be Good News?, I find that the audio version disconnects me just enough from the book to diminish my enjoyment of it. I wonder if I would find listening to humor, fantasy, or historical fiction a more successful experience. I also wonder if some of the thrillers that I listened to and gave mediocre reviews of would have rated higher if I had read them myself.
What are your thoughts on audio vs. hard copy books? Which do you prefer, and why?
Ultimately, I am extremely glad to have both options in which to experience a book. Story, in all its forms, adds immeasurable enjoyment to my life.

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