Thoughtful Thursday – When reading isn’t reading

I’ve started listening to books on my commute.  I spend an hour each day in my car, and since apparently I am turning into a cranky old woman who complains about kids and their crazy music, I have lost patience with the radio.  Luckily for me, my library has an impressive collection of books on CD so I can find something new to listen to every week.fantasy and science fiction book reviews

As I’ve dipped my toe into this new medium for enjoying fantasy, I’ve discovered that just like there are good authors, there are also good readers.  Jim Dale is amazing.  Famous for being the voice on the Harry Potter recordings, I thoroughly enjoyed his reading of Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher. Surprisingly, however, I didn’t enjoy Kenneth Branaugh’s take on The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.  Branaugh, who I adore as an actor, couldn’t turn off the theater training.  It felt like he was trying to read the book to a blind person on the back row of a Broadway theater.  And then I listened to The Capture, the first book in the Guardians of Ga’hoole series by Kathryn Lasky that is being turned into a movie this summer.  Or should I say I listened to the first 90 seconds of The Capture, because Pamela Garelick’s voice was so cloyingly sweet and full of wide-eyed innocence that I had to turn it off or I would have driven into the river in an attempt to put me out of my misery.

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsSo, dear readers, I have a question for you: Do you listen to audiobooks?  If so, why?  If not, why not? And which readers would you recommend, either to seek out or to avoid like the plague?

Leave a comment and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win an audiobook of Andre Nortons classic Witch World.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. I do not listen to audio books,because I prefer listening to music as I read. Also, if there are words I do not know, at least I know how they are spelled. However, I do understand the merits for audio books. Besides, when comes down to voice, and the only voice that I prefer is James Earl Jones.

  2. Kelly Lasiter /

    I’m weird. I can only listen to an audiobook if I’m a captive audience. If I just sit down in my apartment and start listening to one, my mind will wander, or I’ll pick up a print book and start reading it! :-( But pop it in the CD player on a long road trip, and suddenly I’m capable of keeping my mind on it. I listened to some really long Bernard Cornwell book about Vikings like that once. I forget which one.

  3. My boyfriend and I listen to audio books because he likes books but doesn’t like to read because his eyes get tired. I can’t say that we ever take out books by reader but I do agree that the reader can make or break an audio book. We have stopped listening to several because the reader’s voice was either annoying or to monotonous.

  4. Kelly Lasiter /

    Oh, and I so need to try the Guardians of Ga’hoole. I’ve enjoyed other stuff by Lasky, and I adore owls. The movie preview just about slew me with cute.

  5. Anonymous /

    Hmm. My name isn’t posting. Comments 2 and 4 are by me.

    Kelly Lasiter

  6. Kelly try logging out and logging back in. I had this problem a few weeks ago. For some reason the system lost part of the log-in info, even though it still claimed you were logged in.

    I don’t listen to audio books. I don’t spend enough time in situations where I would listen to anything and I prefer not being distracted by the narrator. Also, I sometimes like to reread or cross-reference things from other parts of the book, something impossible to effectively do with audio.

  7. For the last nearly-a-year I’ve been “reading” Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series for the first time in form of audio books. I run for about six miles every day in the woods and on most days I’ve got the WoT with me. It’s my first significant experience with audio books and I love it while on the run. Having to concentrate on the book rather than the often-poor weather or pains of running was a skill I had to develop and one that’s paid off through the heat of summer, frigid cold of winter and the rains in all year ’round. I think the books are wonderfully-read and I’d probably not attempt to read the entire series in book form.

  8. I’m an avid audiobook reader. I just don’t like wasting time while I’m walking or driving anywhere. I’ll listen to one while I’m grocery shopping too. Bottom line, I’m doing what I want to do all the time.

    One of my favorites has been Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Woodring Stover. It was just awesome and much better than watching the movie. The audiobook even has light-saber noises in the background, great music, R2D2 noises, and the narrator is just spot on.

    Another good one is The Warded Man.

    Not a good one – can’t stand the voices – The Hunger Games.

  9. I have to make 6 hour drives back to Indiana to visit my family and I have found listening to an audiobook is the perfect way to make time fly. I usually listen to YA books, which usually have slightly less complicated plots and less characters allow me to both enjoy the story and not go flying off the freeway. I am halfway through the Artemis Fowl series and a couple into the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix. I have immensely enjoyed both series. Tim Curry narrates the Absorsen books and does an excellent job. Some of the scenes I actually get a little scared listening to and find myself white knuckle gripping the steering wheel.

  10. I agree with Kelly – I can’t just sit and listen to an audiobook. But if I’m commuting, it’s perfect!

    Also, a good reader will just make the story come alive. When James Marsters reads Butcher’s Dresden Files (which are already solid novels), he gives it such life and personality that I can’t stop listening … despite the fact that I’d never sit in my living room and listen to a book, I’ve found myself doing just that in my driveway at the end of the day.

  11. Never. Aside from the fact that they’re expensive, it just doesn’t feel like reading to me. I like to hold a book and get absorbed in the words, to see them and see them used.

    But I am a writer, which might have something to do with it.

  12. Most of my reading is done by audiobook. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to read — I’m really that busy. I listen mostly in the car (I’m there for about 2 hours per day) or when doing mindless chores or exercising. I totally agree with Joseph: it makes exercising much less heinous.

    However, I do do this one strange thing: I check out the print book at the library also so that I can refer to it to see how to spell people and place names, or something just to see how something looks in print.

    I have some favorite readers: Stefan Rudnicki, Arthur Morey, Simon Vance.
    I wish I’d know about The Hunger Games reader before I purchased it at Audible.

    Seak, I can totally relate to what you say about wasting time. I can’t stand to be doing nothing. I take a print or audiobook everywhere so that I can read during any extra moment. It really infuriates me when I don’t bring one, thinking there won’t be an extra moment and then suddenly I’ve got 5 min when I could have been reading! I also listen to audiobooks in the grocery store.

  13. Like Kat, I also have the “real” books on hand. Sometimes I switch over to the print version to finish a chapter or to see how such strangely pronounced words are spelled (or, since we’re talking fantasy here, consult a here-be-dragons map). As much as I’m able to read, it’s never enough. Audio books fill a gap, but they’d never take the place of holding that wonderful bound object in my paws. While the library is a fine option if you don’t want to spend the bucks, I get my audiobooks as downloads/burns from a friend. A very long Jordan book will fit on just a few MP3-encoded discs that can be transferred to a pod or whatever.

  14. I think the only place I can listen to audio books would be my commute too. Anywhere else is too distracting.. (In fact, most times, I don’t get to do much reading at home, unless everyone else is asleep.) But even then, sometimes, I just want to rock-out when I’m driving anyway :thumb:

    Kat- I do the same thing.. I get so mad when I know I’ll have some wait time for an appointment and forget my book.:wall:

    But from time to time, when there’s a book of interest to me, or a good interview or commentary, I’ll listen to Book Radio on Sirius-XM satellite radio. Unfortunately, its rare I catch a fantasy book, but I’ve listened to enough audio books this way to understand how the reader makes or breaks it. I’ve had to stop listening to books I like, because I couldn’t stand the voice. On the other if the reader is a good fit for the story, it really enriches the whole experience.

    I can also see where a reader might be a perfect fit for one book and not good for another.

  15. I always listen to audio books in the car and when I’m walking by myself. But I do agree that the reader really makes a difference. I find myself having to work harder to concentrate when listening to a reader whose voice grates on my nerves. I recently listened to The Hunger Games on audio and that reader’s voice was a little much. I found myself wondering if I would have enjoyed reading the print book more. I also do not advise listening to abridged audio. I listened to an abridged version of one of my favorites awhile back and if this would have been the first version I ever read, it would have never become my favorite. Stay away from the abridged!

  16. I don’t listen to audio books much in the car anymore. I used to listen to them when my daughter was younger and she would listen to them as she fell asleep every night for years. I bought quite a few books on tape for her. Narrators do make a huge difference. I like the Words Take Wings productions of Patricia Wrede’s Dragon series, Bruce Coville’s Land of the Unicorn and we actually had to sit in the car for an extra 15 minutes at the end of a road trip to finish Redwall by them. Redwall was fun because the author and his sons did some of the voices.

    We tried The Hobbit, and the version we attempted was horrible. They started off by droning/singing some of the poems and it went downhill from there.

    Mostly now I listen to college lecture series in the car. There is one professor that I could listen to her read the phone book and it would probably be good. Some of the series are harder to listen to than others because the lecturer’s voice/speech habits are hard to listen to for any length of time. But they are fun because I have learned a lot that I would probably never know otherwise.

  17. I listen to audio books during my commute but I have started many more than I have finished. The reader’s voice has to be just right. Also, I have had better luck with children’s or young adult books because they are shorter. I have a hard time staying interested through a really long book. I prefer to have those in print. I have enjoyed Tim Curry’s reading of some of the Lemony Snicket books. I tried listening to Eragon and hated it. The reader tried to make his voice gruff for Saphira’s voice and it was so terrible.

  18. I don’t because I’m very rarely in the car in any unbroken stretch of more than 20 minutes so it’s music or NPR. Many summers I’ll drive cross-country or close to it. I tried a few audiobooks then but didn’t care for them and stopped–didn’t like the need for auditory attention for long stretches and prefer my own imagined voices. So now I just load up tons of podcasts of science and interview shows. I did listen to The Canon that way and found non-fiction better than fiction, but then I wanted the book so seemed a waste to have the audio.

  19. I tried to listen to audio books while I work out and while I paint houses but my mind wanders and I lose where I was and have to go back. When you have books on tape it’s ok because you can just rewind but with cds I just have cheap player and you can only go from track to track. I did used to listen to audiobooks when I did a lot of art type painting, somehow I have an easier time keeping my mind on the book. The paintings would sort of remind me of the books when I was done too. I had one painting I was working on while listening to Harry Potter and I always thought of it as the Harry Potter Painting. If I ever go on a long car trip again I’ll probably try audio books. As it is even though I drive a lot in my job it is short hops many times a day.

  20. 2 hours of commuting a day is where I listen to audiobooks. I often switch between books and podcasts. My favorite thing to do is get the book in both audio and paper. That’s usually only feasible when the library has them both.

    I’ll agree with Nathanael on the James Marsters’ Dresden Files. I’ve said it before on here, it’s the best audiobook experience I’ve ever heard. Marsters’ voice is so perfect for the character, and since the books are written first-person…’s perfect.

    Recently I’ve been listening to the EE Knight books reason Christian Rummel. He’s been quite amazing, and I will from now on look for his name on the box.

  21. For nonfiction, I listen to the Modern Scholar lecture series which are produced by Recorded Books. They are actually college courses. My library has a bunch of them and so I’ve “taken classes” on several ancient civilizations, some of the US founding fathers, several periods of history, arts, and even a course on fantasy literature. The reader is the course lecturer, of course, and these have all been good.

    But it’d be really cool to listen to one by Stefan Rudnicki. He could teach Albanian Tax Laws and I’d be enthralled.

    P.S. I thought what Melis said about painting was really interesting!

  22. I need to start listening to audiobooks.

  23. I have not listened to any books by audio…. yet. I have considered picking up one though. With the weather starting to break and having to do things outside and the regular house work, I start to run out of time. So I have considered trying out an audio book. But I am afraid that I might miss something on the audio that I would normally pick up with reading.

  24. I am an avoid audio book listener (something like 50+ last year). The reader makes a huge deal. Simon Vance that someone else mentioned is awesome.

    Other books with good readers:
    Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series has a great readers. They switched to someone else halfway through the series, but after the first couple of hours of the new one, you get use to the new reader.

    Mike Resnick’s Fables of Tonight series has a great reader. I think these books are designed to be audio. They are so much more wonderful to listen to rather then read – the characters are strong either way but the personalities come out better with audio.

    Christopher Moore always has a good reader for his books.

    Neil Gaiman, whoever readers American Gods works wonderfully. A nice gritty voice.

    I also like the reader, Margarite Gavin for the Kim Harrison books.

  25. @Kat – That’s awesome, I’m glad someone else is crazy like me. :thumb:

    The Hunger Games is doable, she just had a very monotone voice and then the voices she made for most of the characters didn’t fit for me. But it’s still a decent enough book that it works.

  26. Seak, that’s not even the half of it.

    WonderBunny, it was George Guidall who did American Gods (I almost mentioned him) — I listened to that one. Gaiman himself narrates Stardust, but my favorite Gaiman audiobook is Anansi Boys simply because it was narrated by Lenny Henry who was really awesome.

  27. Anonymous /

    I work from home and listen to either podcasts or audio books while I work. For the most part I listen to free audio books from podiobooks where the books are normally read by the author. Although the audio quality isn’t always perfect and the production values can be basic it issurprisingly affective having the author read their own work.

  28. Anonymous /

    I work from home and listen to either podcasts or audio books while I work. For the most part I listen to free audio books from podiobooks where the books are normally read by the author. Although the audio quality isn’t always perfect and the production values can be basic it is surprisingly affective having the author read their own work.

  29. I loved Jim Dale’s reading/voice acting in Harry Potter. I’m now listening to the In Death series by J D Robb in my car on my work commute. Susan Ericksen does a great job. Also agree that James Marsters does a fine job with Jim Butcher’s Dresden series.

  30. Audiobooks are a wonderful way to experience a book. I often prefer to listen to an audiobook after I have read the work in print form.
    Wizard’s First Rule has a lovely audio version. Gareth Nix Adhorsen trilogy is wonderful as well.
    The unfortunant event books are amazing on audio.
    I also adore full cast versions of young adult fantasy. Tamora Pierce’s work have been adapted and so have the Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy.
    The RSC also has some amazing full cast audio books of Shakespeare plays.
    The Pendragon young reader series also have great and engaging audiobooks.

  31. The winner of Andre Norton‘s classic Witch World on Audio is….

    The True Book Addict

    Don’t want this book or Live in the UK? Visit the FanLit stacks.

    Please contact Justin within 5 days after contest ends.

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