Crinkly white pages and leather bound spines are the traditional composition of books. Books have been made in this format for centuries, however, the 21st century has revolutionized even this time-worn tradition. It began with ebooks, which allow bibliophiles to download hundreds of books onto one lightweight tablet. Audiobooks are nothing new to the book field. As early as the 1960s, books were recorded on cassette tape. I remember checking out cassettes from the local library, plugging it into my stereo, and spending hours listening away as a child. Today, audiobooks seem to exist exclusively online, and have regained their popularity.
Audible, a subset of Amazon, is today’s most popular platform to listen to audiobooks. Audible has thousands of books, many narrated by the author themselves, or the well-known voices of celebrities. Recently Audible published Andy Weir’s newest space-thriller Artemis, which is narrated by actress Rosario Dawson.
Exactly who narrates the book is crucial to the reader’s enjoyment. When reading in your own head, you can race ahead, and create your own voices for each character. When listening to an audiobook, you are left to the mercy of the reader. I find narrators read too slow, and as such I tend to set the speed at at least x.5 or x1. But not only is speed important, voice inflection is a make or break. I recently listened to We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates has a unique and velvet writing style, but narrator Beresford Bennett was never quite able to pick up this pitch. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood written and voiced by Trevor Noah, conversely excellent matches, tone and inflection, most likely because Noah wrote the book himself.
Audiobooks are able to combine the lightweight appeal of an ebook with a hands free approach. Traditional books require dedicated focus, and likely sitting in a comfy chair for hours on end. Audio Books, however, allow you to listen to a book while driving, working out, or my favorite, doing laundry. While in elementary school I had ample time to spend hours in a book, I don’t have the same easy schedule today, and audiobooks allow me to keep up with all the books I say I don’t have time to read.
One thing the audiobooks will always fall short on, is they simply aren’t books. When a book is merely playing in the background, my mind can too easily wander and and when I come back to the book, I have no idea what has happened over the past five minutes. Audiobooks can never quite replace the feeling of getting so lost in a book, hours pass without notice.
Unless you are sitting down, and all your attention is focused on listening, I just can’t quite slip into the world of the book. For this reason, I tend to prefer informative research books or memoirs for audiobooks, while leaving fantasy worlds to live between the soft pages of a hardcover book.
While audiobooks are not a new invention, they have been rapidly gaining in popularity. This new-found popularity allows for millions to keep up with their favorite books, while in the midst of their busy lives.