Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In Praise of Audiobooks

Last night, I went to my first Business Statistics class, one more step in the lengthy walk towards a graduate degree. It was also my first evening class, and though the school possesses a decent faculty and reasonable prices, it's also an entire county away. Which means lots of driving. In south Florida. During rush hour. Sure, I could take the Interstate, but I might be better off walking given how the flow of traffic congeals from four to seven p.m. So that leaves one of the spotlight-studded parallel streets, an option that’s swifter, although only relatively so. Seems I'm going to spend a lot of time in the car over the next few months.

I’m not complaining, though. I plan to fill that time with audiobooks.

Like those who lived back before printing presses, paperbacks and PDFs, we start life with stories being auditory objects. They’re crooned by our mothers when we’re still in the crib. They’re whispered by our fathers during dark nights around the campfire. Then something happens. We learn our letters. We gain literacy. We discover the library and used-book stores and Barnes & Noble. And stories go inward, become silent, stop being spoken or heard.

Now, no one should knock the delights of an hour alone with a good book. But we ought to recall the peculiar virtues of oral reading. A story performed slows us down. It gives us every word and won’t let us skip a jot or tittle. It lingers over riches of description, over the cadences of lovely wordings that the eye darts past so easily. It allows for performance, for letting the strongman sound like a lumbering hulk or permitting the femme fatale to truly smolder. And if the reader happens to also be the author, well, that’s something special indeed.

Thanks to the continuing death of physical storage media (and the concomitant demise of the accursed abridged version), you can find more audiobooks than ever -- and more that are free, too. The Escape Artists’ trio of podcasts offer up ear-tickling joy for lovers of SF (Escape Pod), fantasy (PodCastle) and horror (Pseudopod).
TTA Press -- publishers of Interzone, Black Static and Crimewave -- regularly syndicates its best shorts at Transmissions From Beyond, as do the editors of the online magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Splatterpulp author Scott Sigler has podcasted over a half-dozen of his books. And Neil Gaiman has put up a live reading of his latest project, The Graveyard Book, at his official Web site, along with numerous stories and poems at

So what are you waiting for? Get to listening!

(Picture: CC 2008 by
suchitra prints)


Loren Eaton said...

Fans of old-time radio might also enjoy the podcasts of the classic SF show X Minus One hosted by iTunes or Evan Lewis' large collection of The Adventures of Sam Spade at Davy Crockett's Almanack of Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West.

C. N. Nevets said...

Abridged versions are worse than never reading the book at all.

If you like Old Time Radio, then you need to check out which sells really affordable CD's chock full of OTR shows. It's a treasure chest!

Good luck with stats. I loved the heck of my masters level Stats for Anthropologists class.

Loren Eaton said...

Abridged versions are The Abomination of Which We Shall Not Speak. Blasted things.

Regarding statistics, I'm hoping for a passing grade as much as enjoyment.

Scott Sigler said...

I also hate the versions of which we shall not speak. Thanks for the props for my free books, glad you're digging everything.

Loren Eaton said...

That, sir, is a balm to my shrivelled little heart. Here's to hoping they will soon disappear for good.

Thanks for stopping by!

ollwen said...

I'm pretty tired of my work commute, though audiobooks are a blessing.

Someone told me that it wasn't until Martin Luther's day (. . . perhaps more importantly that's also Gutenburg's day) that people even conceived of reading silently. If you were reading, you were reading aloud, even if very quietly or with mere lip movements. I know this is why I read so slowly. I'm reading out loud into my head.

Perhaps this is a bias of my theatrical background, but I prefer a really good voice-actor to the author where possible. Some authors are also great vocal narrators, but some are not.

I think Jim Dale, won a world record for the number of distinct character voices he created for Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. . .

pattinase (abbott) said...

I find my mind drifting off--my husband, too. Never got the knack of them although my son loves them.

Loren Eaton said...


Yes, the long drives get tiresome awfully fast. And though audiobooks are nice, nothing beats a ten-minute commute.

I know what you mean regarding good voice talent. Some authors are (strangely) completely tone deaf when performing their own stuff. Listen to Neil Gaiman's readings, though, particularly "Nicholas Was" and "A Writer's Prayer." (Both are, like, two mintues long.) He combines the best of both worlds.

Loren Eaton said...


I've heard that from several people. I dunno, I find the current crop of audiobooks to be much higher quality than the ones I consumed a decade ago. That helps keep my attention. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a dearth of good audible crime fiction.