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Listening or Reading?


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#1 vagansmom

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 07:09 AM

How many of you listen to books on tape? Do you find that there are some books or styles you have trouble reading, but can readily listen to? Or vice versa? I realize that the quality of a "book on tape" can make all the difference, and really depends on the capability of the narrator; just try listening :) to some of the audio recordings made for the wonderful organization, "Recordings for the Blind and the Dyslexic" (volunteers make their recordings). The narration quality is hit or miss. But assuming a recording is narrated well, do you have a preference?

My husband, who has keratoconus, an eye disease, now listens to most of his books in the car. I recently realized that I have strong preferences for what kind of material I prefer to read rather than listen to. I want to read serious novels, not listen to them, but I like to hear humorous books and mysteries, rather than read them. Years ago, I tried to read a Maeve Binchy novel and just plain didn't like it. But on a long trip recently, I listened to her Scarlet Feather, and I loved it: it was great entertainment. I think being a captive audience helps. :) But I wouldn't have read the book, even now, after knowing I enjoyed it. It's frivolous in my mind, I guess.

I prefer reading most scientific books so that I can easily go back and reread passages again and again, but have no preference either way for non-fiction history books (as opposed to historical novels which I prefer reading myself).

I think that my strong preference for reading novels as opposed to listening to them involves ritual and surrounding aesthetics. I have a favorite place in my house to read, with a teapot at my side, and often classical music in the background. I like to glance up from reading and look around me. The serenity of the experience is important. I can be more thoughtful in that environment, letting words wash over me, and pausing from time to time to reflect. It's harder to do that in a car. Even if I were to listen to a book in my reading environment, I wouldn't be able to pause and reflect so easily, and would instead be fumbling with the rewind button.

So, what about you? Preferences?

#2 dirac

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 08:57 AM

Thanks, vagansmom. I have listened to very few books on tape, so I can't really comment, but perhaps others will.

I can read pretty much anywhere, but I agree, quiet is nicer. :)

#3 innopac

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 11:20 PM

So, what about you? Preferences?

Vagansmom, I enjoyed your post and your insight into reading being more than just processing the visual cues from the page. I think my favorite environment involve a doona and a cup of tea ;)

I can't get into audio books, even those read by wonderful actors. Have tried several times with no success... I have to read the book. But I have lately become like Mr Toad and am wildly enthusiastic about podcasts. In fact, I would prefer to listen to the podcast of a lecture to reading the transcript. So where is the logic in that?

#4 dirac

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 10:46 AM

Well, it makes a certain kind of sense to me, innopac. A transcribed lecture, while useful, isn't quite the same as hearing or seeing it delivered, when voice and tempo and body language can mean a great deal. A podcast isn't the same as being there, but it's a lot closer to it.

#5 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 03:23 PM

I love (unabridged) audio books and have been an avid listener since the days of cassette tapes. (Now I do all my audio book listening on my iPod.) I will listen to just about anything -- ficition, non-fiction, long, short, jucy, dry, serious, frivilous -- they all work for me so long as the narrator is of professional quality. Since I live in Manhattan, and walk or take the subway just about everywhere, I can actually get more "read" by listening than I could if I had to rely on print only. War and Peace at three pages in bed per night is a year's-plus project, but it can be dispatched quite handily in audio book form between commuting and daily chores. (If I'm in the middle of a good book, I actually look forward to ironing!)

The book that I got through because I could listen to it was Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled. I loved it (he's on my top five list of living novelists) but I'm pretty sure I would have abandoned it if I had had to work my way through it a few pages a night. It's the kind of book that needs to be absorbed in largish chunks to have the right effect.

At one point in my life I was pursuing a graduate degree in literature -- after a while I think the only ritual connected with reading was checking to see how many pages I had to race through in the book I was reading in order to get to the next one on the reading list in time for my orals. I came to the conclusion that nothing ruins a good book like studying it. (Well, not really, but sometimes it felt like that.)

By the way, you can download well-done podcasts of short stories from a number of sources -- try The New Yorker and NPR's Selected Shorts. If you like science fiction (I do) there's quite a bit available that you can download legally and for free.

#6 papeetepatrick

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 03:33 PM

Well, Kathleen's explains a lot about this. I could never do it, because I would resent the listening taken away from music, and maybe it's really to a lesser degree that I also want to feel the book and read it. I've listened to only two read things on audiocassette, one was Gladys Cooper/Greenwood/Johnson/MacCowen/Redgrave in the 'Importance of Being Earnest' on Tuesday--but that was only because I couldn't get it in any other form--I'd have much rather seen any video of it, but did enjoy it because I know the play nearly by heart and could compare what I heard to well-known dialogue done by other performers.

And then the other one was a few years ago, I listened to Penelope Keith read Jilly Cooper's 'Class.' But I was only listening to this like music, because Ms. Keith's voice is so special and I love to hear it. The work was mostly fluff, but she can bring that kind of snobbish thing to life. Also, I hear a kind of voice while reading a book, and that may be partially me and partially the author. A reader--unless it's the author, in which case I would sometimes be interested to hear it as when we hear them at public readings--adds a 3rd voice to it, and also annihilates the one I'm superimposing.

#7 dirac

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 04:40 PM

Since I live in Manhattan, and walk or take the subway just about everywhere, I can actually get more "read" by listening than I could if I had to rely on print only.


Audiobooks are nice for commuters, too. The advantage of audiobooks is that they allow people with limited time to sit down with a book to hear it – if you have a long commute you can listen to it in your car. Often people come home at the end of a working day with not much energy for intense reading, or kids underfoot, and during the week that’s almost their only opportunity for ‘reading time.’

#8 dirac

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 01:41 PM

I recently realized that I have strong preferences for what kind of material I prefer to read rather than listen to. I want to read serious novels, not listen to them, but I like to hear humorous books and mysteries, rather than read them.


An interesting distinction. Do others who listen to audiobooks have preferences?

#9 PeggyR

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 06:51 PM

Some of my favorite childhood memories were of my parents reading to me. My father liked to tell about the time he walked past my bedroom and saw my mother happily reading "The Wind in the Willows" out loud long after I had fallen asleep. And when my mother was in the nursing home during her final illness, I often read aloud to her; in fact, I usually ended up with an audience when other residents came by and listened in.

For me, it isn't really a matter of 'preferring' one over the other - paper or audio. I enjoy both, although I mostly listen to nineteenth century classics. Favorites include Anna Massey's 'Persuasion', Juliet Stevenson's 'Sense and Sensibility', and Andrew Sachs' 'Silas Marner'. I still read the books, but a good narrator can bring an extra dimension. Listening to Andrew Sachs (Manuel -'He's from Barcelona' - from Fawlty Towers) with his extraordinary command of voices and accents, you'd swear it was a full-cast recording, not one reader.

I guess I've never understood the 'Listening to an audiobook isn't really reading' point of view. :)

#10 Helene

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Posted 24 August 2008 - 07:55 PM

I find it depends on the book. I couldn't read Kafka's "The Castle", but happily listened to the audiobook version during my commute. I put aside the Maugham stories after realizing that I wasn't paying attention. I'm planning to try again when I'm not in the car.

Listening to Bill Maher read his "New Rules" was much more fun for me than reading the book.

#11 vicarious

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Posted 25 August 2008 - 09:23 PM

For most things I perfer audio books. I have to rest often and they allow my eyes to also rest. I primarily listen to fiction but I've also listened to non-fiction on parenting and self-help. I do not enjoy listening to religious materials however, because I don't have time to ponder what I'm "reading" so with that I stick to written material.

#12 Ed Waffle

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 09:17 PM

I have been listening to "The Iliad" recently. This is the Fitzgerald translation, which I read many years ago, and is narrated by George Guidall. Seems to be an excellent combination of translation and performer--some passages that one (me, for example) may fly though quickly or even skip over have a whole new meaning when heard. The gathering of the fleet for the voyage to Troy, with each city, the number of ships from each of them and their commanders, comes across more as a special effect than as a list--it has a cumulative effect on the listener.

I picked up this set (10 discs, 16 hrs, 45 min) when I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time in surgical waiting rooms--lots of time, little ability to concentrate for long--and was happy that I did. May grab "The Odyssey" next.

#13 sandik

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Posted 06 September 2008 - 10:06 PM

As a parent I've spent ages reading out loud to children, and listening to others read as well. There's a big difference between reading yourself and being read to (timing, emphasis, tone, just off the top of the list) -- I love to read to myself, but there's something really special about someone else reading to you.

There are several authors (like Sarah Vowell) whose work I first heard read aloud, and only later did I read text for myself. And I still hear her in the back of my head when I read her work to myself.

I read most of the Harry Potter series aloud to my child, and then borrowed some of the recordings. Jim Dale knocked me for a loop -- it's a whole different world in his voice!

#14 bart

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 04:07 AM

I used to love reading to children -- and watching them being read to, too. :thumbsup: There are genres of literature that really work best with this. Childlrens' literature, incuding variants like the Potter books, fit the category. Llistening to the Iliad, as the writer(s) intended, makes good sense, too.

Listening in the car on long commutes also makes sense as an alternative to spotty and often dreary radio, or monologuing about the traffic.

As for myself, I guess I'm the only strong vote so far for silent reading rather than listening to someone else read for me. I realize that the best readers are indeed artists, and I've enjoyed some of these as performances. Reading itself, however, is a much more interactive activity. You control the pace; you control the pauses; you control the Fast Forward and Reverse; you can repeat and skip.

I don't mean to sound like a control freak on this. What I mean is: silent reading, holding an actual book in my hands, or propping it on a desk, makes me feel like an active participant -- a kind of partner with the author -- in a way no recording ever has.

And ... increasingly important for me as I get older .... there's seems to be much too much noise and chatter in the world already, without my adding to it.

#15 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 07 September 2008 - 05:55 AM

When I was a teen I participated in an interesting activity that involved listening to readings. In Cuba there's a tradition within tobacco factories that involves having a reader the whole time in front of the huge rooms of workers who hand make the tobacco all day long. These readers are usually poets or writers who go and volunteer to read their own works, or otherwise regular people or whoever wants to go and read for them, according to a previously generated reader's schedule. I offered myself one summer and read fragments of a novel for 3 hours, by the time someone else took over. The workers listened attentively and glanced at me from time to time. The smell of tobacco was intense though, and i was exhausted by the end. It was an interesting experience anyway.


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