Monday, September 5, 2011

Read more efficiently: Audiobooks

Whether you believe in Evolution or an intelligent designer, you should agree that the eyes were not made for long-term reading.

If you're an evolutionist, you are convinced the eyes are there to comprehend a world at multiple layers and depths, watching out for the predator in the bush, or the berries, or the grain.

If you're a creationist, you believe the eyes were formed by God to interact with the world he created - a world full of light and color and depth - different levels of focus, things to see to the side, and to the front.

The ears, however, in both cases, are for hearing - and primarily for hearing human voices. The ears are so good at human voices, they will actually detect them in random samples of sound. (

It is puzzling and saddening, then, that visual reading is far and away the most popular sort of reading, and having a book read to you is much more rare - often relegated to the long car trip.

I, for one, find audiobooks to be a wonderful way to read, while resting my eyes. Vocal performance adds another layer of meaning that can be analyzed and learned from. I especially enjoy listening to Faulkner on tape - in book format, he's a bit difficult to understand, but with the right reading, he's lucid, thunderous, and awe-striking. If you've ever wanted to understand Faulkner but been unable to, I heartily recommend 42 Short stories by William Faulkner. You'll actually get the jokes, and they aren't even the best part.

Game of Thrones, on the other hand, even with a good reading, is too thin on the ground with real creativity.
Why is it that every fantasy book must have:
Named swords.
Estranged royalty.
Scary dreams.
and all the other cliches that are too boring to name here?

Really? You get the chance to create  whole world. You have people trusting enough to read volumes of your work, and you aren't interested in doing more.

It's rather sad, really.


  1. It has always seemed to me that authors of fiction always fall into one of two categories: either they write with an emphasis on the linguistic artistry of their work, or they write with an emphasis on the expression of a complete set of raw data about the content of their fictional universe. In the first case, the words themselves matter; the sound of the words as they are read matters; each individual word is chosen with care and the arrangement of the words in relation to each other is important. I would say that Faulkner is perhaps a supreme example of such a writer. In the second case, the words themselves matter only incidentally, only according to their measure of success in that end to which they are employed.

    It is my experience that in reading the first type of literature, I often either actually read it aloud, or I take care to vocalize it mentally, and I can imagine that listening to an audio book of such a work would be a rewarding experience. In the second case, however, I have found that in reading it, I do not vocalize at all, but rather merely allow my mind to take in the information without any attention to the actual words, and from that information to construct an image of the imaginary world, within which image I then move, or am moved, as the reading continues. I do not think a vocalization of the second type would be enjoyable at all, at least not to me. Also, I think that both types of work have merit; the first as an exercise in the art of language and the subtleties of expression, the second as an exercise in imagination and virtualization. Needless to say, I think that most fantasy works fall into the second category, although I do agree with you that it is unfortunate that most authors of fantasy continue to return to the same objects in order to lend specificity to their worlds.

  2. I do, to a certain extent, agree with you - that said, I very much prefer books that are both at the same time.

    Perhaps it's just that I can't remove myself completely from the sound of the words, but I very rarely get past the words and into the world, and if I do, it's usually after the words sound right.

    But I think there is a lot of sense in the basic division.