Reading With Your Ears: The Pros and Cons of Audiobooks

This time of staying at home, sheltering in place, and social distancing is the perfect opportunity to catch up on your reading. Right now, readers are lucky to have so many options when to comes to getting their literary fix. With hardback, paperback, ebooks, and, of course—the main reason we are here—audiobooks, there is a format for every type of reader. 

I am not a seasoned pro when it comes to the audiobook format. Until recently I avoided them, not out of fear, but because I consider myself to be too tactile of a creature to be able to just listen to a book. I like the feel of the paper beneath my fingers, that quiet little shooshing noise as I turn the pages, and the satisfying weight of whatever novel in which I have lost myself. I was also concerned that I would get distracted and lose my place if I wasn’t visually focused.

Yet, as a reader, I didn’t feel that I would be complete without at least trying an audiobook on for size. So, for my first foray into the audiobook arena I chose a novel that I had read before—a bit of a safety net you could say. At the time of my experiment Doctor Sleep was in the theaters (remember when we could see movies on something other than Netflix?), and I figured Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining would be a good one to cut my teeth on (or perhaps I should say perk my ears up) in anticipation of the cinematic adaptation. Based on that experience, I ended up compiling a list of pros and cons on listening to your literature.

Pro #1 – Master of Multi-Tasking

Without a doubt the audio book format gives you a ton of freedom. Need to do some housework? Plug in, turn on, and off you go. Although, I don’t necessarily recommend listening while vacuuming since the two sounds compete. Have to run an errand? No worries, use your car’s bluetooth and be entertained on the ride. The majority of my listening was done in the car, and the only downside was getting to a juicy bit in the story and having to step out.

Con #1 – You’ve Lost That Touching Feeling

The audiobook experience isn’t a particularly tactile one. I suppose you could lovingly stroke your phone or computer or play with your headphone cord (if you have one) but it is just not the same. Flipping pages, and holding a good solid hardback has its own particular joy.

Pro #2 – Perfectly Portable

All of touchy feely stuff aside, it has to be said that hardbacks and paperbacks are not easy to transport. That lovely weight? It’s not as pleasant when you’ve added pounds to an already overloaded suitcase or backpack. The audio book is far more portable, and you can keep a list of titles at the ready. Dragging three or four books around just isn’t as convenient, or good for your back. 

Con #2 – The Voices in Your Head

Do you know that voice you hear every time the main character speaks in a novel? Me too! If you are listening to a book that you have read before the voice actor might not portray the character the way you imagined. It was a bit of a letdown to discover that Dan Torrance didn’t quite sound the way I expected. The narrator could be too animated, or not animated enough; they may be dull, or their pacing may not suit you. You never know exactly who are you getting when you hit play.

Pro #3 – Accessibility 

Like ebooks, audiobooks can be downloaded within seconds. No trip to the bookstore or library necessary! This feature is even more convenient considering the lockdown situation we are all in. The library offers a plethora of titles for the price of just having a library card, and now, local bookstores like Changing Hands offer them! You can check out their system for purchasing and downloading here.  A quick internet search will give you lots of additional options.

Con #3 – The Price Is Not Always Nice

There is a price for all that accessibility. An audiobook can cost you significantly more than a paperback or ebook. A quick search of bestselling audiobooks through various services revealed prices upwards of $24 with some reaching nearly $40. The same novel in an ebook, paperback, and even hardback format can cost you far less. However, if you are an avid listener, many sites offer a membership deal which makes far more financial sense.

Pro #4 – Storytime

Remember when your kindergarten teacher would gather you in a circle and read a story aloud? I view consuming a novel through the audiobook format to be a different kind of experience in reading—you’ve engaged a whole different sense.

Con #4 – Time Is Not On Your Side

Depending on your individual speed, you can actually spend more time listening to a book rather than reading one. You can adjust the speed in which you listen, so that can help, but I can tell you that it took me quite a bit longer to listen to Doctor Sleep than it did to read it.

So, would I do choose an audiobook again? Sure. It added some variety to my reading routine by giving me flexibility to read where and when I wanted. Would I trust an audiobook for a literature class? Never. Was Doctor Sleep some scary fun with Stephen King? Absolutely!

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