Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Audiobook Week

June is National Audiobook month and Devourer of Books has designated this week as Audiobook Week! You might recall how I smashed the Audio Books Challenge, earlier this year. I also contribute to the monthly AudioSynced Audiobook review round-ups hosted by Stacked and Abby (the) Librarian.

In my review yesterday of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, I admit I am finally going to give up on fiction audiobooks. I'm not sure why, but I just can't get into them. Even when they're truly excellent like that one was. So from here on out, I'm going to stick to nonfiction. Unfortunately when I look up nonfiction audiobooks, I usually get a list filled with business, self-help, and religion, all of which fall into my categories of What I'd Least Like to Read. Memoirs, history, and behavioral economics are my bailiwick when it comes to nonfiction. And the most important factor: Unabridged.

I hate abridged books and have one ever listened to them if A) they were free B) they were the only option for a book I really, really wanted to listen to or C) I was unaware it was an abridgement until too late. The absolute worst was 1776 by David McCullough (which fell into category A), as it's a 400 page book, but it was a 4-CD audio. This wasn't just abridged - this was seriously condensed. It was more like reading a long summary of the book. Two other books I listened to abridged - Babyproof (A and B) and Manhunt (B and C), I loved, but left me feeling gypped. What had I missed out on? Was it worth rereading the physical book? Didn't that just mean then that I'd wasted all the time I'd spent listening to the audio? The only abridgements I can tolerate are books like Naked and Assassination Vacation, where the book is more of a series of essays and so instead of shortening the stories, they've just skipped some. That way if I do want to go back and reread the physical book I can skip the stories from the audio and only read the ones that were omitted. But either way, I just don't understand abridgements. What's the point? Sure, some of these audiobooks are long - but they're nearly that long when you read them in physical format unless you're a speedreader. I hate them and want to ban them from my life. Although not all are well-marked, and still you can end up with an abridged accidentally. That really ticks me off.

Luckily I haven't yet run across any narrators that I hate. It can be interesting when the author reads the book him/herself, but that doesn't always work. If the author is also a performer of some kind (Steve Martin, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris), it can improve the work, but not always. A notable winner in this category for me was Al Franken reading Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, as when he quoted from notable politicians like Condoleeza Rice or Dick Cheney, the were often able to use an excerpt from the actual speech so you could hear it exactly as it was. And alternately, when they couldn't get an excerpt, Al Franken would do an impression of the person reading their speech, which was hilarious. This is an example of when the audiobook actually surpassed the print book. Similarly in Steve Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up, I have kept one audio segment on my iPod for the last 2 years and occasionally listen to the song that he sings, and here's my favorite part:

"Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
be dull and boring and omnipresent
criticize things you don't know about
be oblong and have your knees removed.
Be sure to stop at stop signs
and drive 55 miles an hour
pick up hitchhikers foaming at the mouth
and when you get home get a Master's degree in geology.
Be tasteless rude and offensive
live in a swamp and be three-dimensional
put a live chicken in your underwear
go into a closet and suck eggs."

There's no way in the world that this song is as funny in print as it is when he sings it.

Audiobooks are perfect if you have a long commute. Also great for long-distance drives, and for walking/jogging. I even listen to them while cleaning as it's very helpful for me to have a distraction while scrubbing the bathtub or it's liable to not get done. With a few exceptions, audiobooks are mostly books I probably never would have gotten around to otherwise, so they also expand my reading horizons. Personally, I have a subscription to Audible, but I have in the past also bought audiobooks in CD (my current car has a tape deck. Yep, you read that correctly.) They each have their advantages/disadvantages.

My one big complaint is that I don't get the photo-inserts on history and biographies. I know the book has them. If music companies can include a 16-page booklet of lyrics with a CD, why can't publishers do that as well for the photo insert? And I can download a digital booklet when I download an entire music CD - again, why don't I get that with the photo insert for audiobooks? Not only am I paying the same price as someone buying the print version, mine often costs much, much more.

Do you like audiobooks? Hate them? Where do you listen to them? Any pet peeves like mine?


B said...

When I drove from the Midwest to California by myself I listed to "A Year in Provence" by Peter Mayle. That audio book made the trip seem much quicker and got me through Utah, where I had no cell service, without being board to death! Other than long road trips I don't listen to audio books.

Shelley said...

Abridged versions do leave me feeling like I'm missing out, so I avoid them unless it's the only thing I can can. A lot of times I will check out the book I'm listening too at the library so I can see and structural things that might get missed or any photos. That's a good idea about the photo insert though!

Carina said...

I've been purposely avoiding abridged versions since I started reading audiobooks. It just seems silly to me - if I wouldn't read an abridged print copy, why would I read an abridged audio copy?

caite said...

I wish I could listen to audiobooks and get more books 'read', but I just can not keep from getting distracted when I listen to them.