As an avid fan of audio books – particularly to listen to whilst driving – I’m a regular at my local library, where, for a small fee, I can borrow from a wide range of titles available. Having someone reading to you while driving can help to make the heaviest of traffic stress-free. In fact, the only problem I usually have is arriving at my destination when the story has reached an especially gripping moment, and not wanting to get out of the car!
Of course, it’s always disappointing when a book doesn’t live up to its promise. I recently borrowed an audio book but only managed to listen to about 20 minutes worth before I found myself wanting to rip it out of the car stereo and hurl it though the window. I won’t mention the title, but to say the characters lacked depth would be an understatement, the scenario was pretty unlikely, and the author’s knowledge of the world her characters were inhabiting seemed sketchy to say the least. I felt a bit robbed (not of the library fee – I figure it all goes to a good cause if it’s ploughed back into the library service – and I hope this is the case), but by the way the book had been presented.
It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed by an audio book, but I would say I’m far less often disappointed by a physical hard copy book. This got me thinking about the way in which we choose books to read. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can’t help but be influenced by cover design (after all, if you weren’t, publishers and indie authors wouldn’t spend so much time, money and effort in designing covers in the first place). You are likely to read the “blurb”, and then, if it’s a hard copy book, you might read a few lines of the first page, just to see if you like the style and tone of the writing. With an audio book, you don’t get this last opportunity, which I think is where I come unstuck. Sometimes the blurb doesn’t seem to be a true reflection of the story at all, or neglects to mention some aspect of the book which, had you known in advance, would have warned you that this wasn’t the book for you.
The other element which can affect your enjoyment, or otherwise, of an audio book is the person it is being read by. The reader’s voice will have a huge impact on the tone of the story. A good reader can handle different character voices, deal with changes of pace within the narrative, make scene changes clear, etc. – and they will do all of this unobtrusively, so that the listener is not distracted from the story itself. I’m fairly sure that I’ve enjoyed some books more as audio books simply because of the excellent reading (as I know I sometimes read too fast and miss important details). On the other hand, if I’m not enjoying an audio book, I do sometimes find myself wondering how the same book might appear to me if I was reading it myself. As a reader, you cannot help but bring yourself, your past experiences, your preconceptions to the story – and this must influence your interpretation of the words written on the page. A few times while I’ve been listening to an audio book, the reader has read a piece of dialogue in a way I suspect I wouldn’t have interpreted in my own head had I been reading it to myself. While literary theorists might argue there isn’t a “right” interpretation, if it jars with you the listener, it can’t help but bring you out of the story and taint your enjoyment a little.
To help inform my choice while I’m at the library, I sometimes take a look at reviews online while I’m trying to decide, but even this is problematic. Lots of books seem to end up scoring around the 3.8 mark on Goodreads (for example), and for every reviewer who loved it, there’s always another who seemed to absolutely loathe it. You have to read between the lines to work out which set of reviewers you are likely to side with!
So at the moment, I am without an audio book for the car, and therefore will soon be on the hunt for my next “fix”. If you have any recommendations – either for individual titles, or for the best way to choose an audio book – please let me know! 🙂