02 July 2021

Ear Reading

Source: audible.com

Once upon a time, I only consumed books via paperback and hardcover. Ebooks either were not a thing yet. When they were, they were kind of lame in the era before Kindle. Then there were audiobooks. But producers worked a bit too hard to turn them into radio plays. To me, reading was words on paper. End of discussion.

And then, during my waning days as a pizza delivery driver, someone took me to a store down the hill from my apartment at the time. It was the early 2000s, so cassettes still existed. My first audiobook, an unabridged version of Loren Estleman's A Smile on the Face of the Tiger. It came on eight cassettes that, amazingly, my cassette deck didn't eat it. Or any of the other books I rented on cassette. Or borrowed from the library.

About that time, producers of audiobooks had struck the right balance of simply reading the book and having the reader perform. Sometimes, the wrong reader could have hilarious results. For instance, the 80-something William Windom reading a Spenser novel. It was like grandpa hitting on Susan Silverman. On the other hand, Burt Reynolds nailed Spenser by basically reading him as a parody of...

Burt Reynolds.

But for me, it expanded my reading lists. At the time, I didn't need to expand my reading list. I regularly could read a book a week, and this was before speed reading. So, are you really reading a book when you listen?

There are some differences. When I reviewed books, I sometimes had to email authors to get the spelling of a name or a word. Especially if it was science fiction. On the other hand, listening to a book is passive. Load up your book, and someone reads it to you. Reading print or ebooks takes effort. (And really, in terms of content, I no longer differentiate between ebook and print. You still have to scan the text.)

This passivity has become a godsend. For the past two years, I've had to add caregiver to my many hats, as well as working two jobs. Audiobooks let me make up the shortfall as I couldn't read as many print books anymore.  

And the Audible subscription is the absolute last thing that goes when I have to tighten the belt. A credit a month gets me any book I want. But does the reader make a difference?

Well, there's a difference between RC Bray reading The Martian and Wil Wheaton reading it. I bought both versions. Bray can fake an Indian accent without making it sound like a parody. Wheaton just imbues Kapoor with his own world-weary sarcasm.

But while it's listening instead of seeing, I consider it to be the same as reading a book. The delivery does make for a different experience, but I am consuming narrative. For the longest time, I listened mainly to nonfiction on audio and read fiction. Over time, it became audio for scifi and reading everything else. Now both are an eclectic mix. 

Recently, I learned to speed read, which let me get through King's 11/22/63 in just over a week. Contrast that with when I read Under the Dome, which took months.Currently, I'm reading Blacktop Wasteland in hardcover. And frankly, I like the option of slowing down when I read an author with a distinctive voice. Audio might not actually work for me on this one. I need to hear SA Cosby unfiltered. On the other hand, the reader of Iain Banks's Consider Phlebas manages to stay out of the way of the narrative. It's a thin line the readers have to walk.


  1. Jim, I personally still prefer to read books in print or kindle. But I have listened to some great e-books, and I think it all depends on the narrator. Lynn Redgrave reading Edward Rutherford's "The Forest" and Andrew Wincott's reading of "London" was fantastic. But others... well... no, not so much.

  2. I listen to audio books every day as well as read and write and have 14 titles on audible. I enjoy audio books.

  3. Glad y'all are enjoying listening to audiobooks. Me, I would never listen to an audiobook. I'm retired now but for years I was a court & then medical transcriptionist. I have extremely good hearing but even so, had trouble understanding some really terrible dictators.

  4. Love audiobooks. I find I'm less critical of audiobooks than books I read with my eyes. I can sink into the story more easily. But I can only listen to audiobooks in the car. When I'm home, I get distracted. And I'm driving a lot less often than I used to. Sigh.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>