Tuesday, November 4, 2008

To Read or To Listen - That's the Question

Over the weekend I posted a blog about Tony Abbott’s The Postcard. I was surprised to receive a response. I think an author that takes the time communicate with his readers is a true treasure. Most of the time we can only guess about the person who created the stories we read. I find my students sometimes have trouble making the connection that authors are real people, because they never see or hear for them. (That’s an argument for setting up author visits at your school.)

Back on topic. Mr. Abbott made some very valid points in support of his book. After some time has passed I will try the book again – this time reading it. I often recommend Abbott’s The Secrets of Droon series to my younger readers and I really enjoyed Firegirl (look for a future blog on that book). For now I want to address a point he made. Abbott says “Listening to the book is absolutely not the same as reading it on the page, especially in the case of The Postcard.” He is absolutely right and it brings up an argument I hear from time to time. Listening to a book on audio does not count as reading a book. My dear sweet husband has actually made that statement to me. Mr. Abbott is right, my husband - not so much.
As far as I’m concerned and I know many educators who will agree, listening to a book on audio does count. Try telling a seeing impaired reader that their listening to the book does not count as reading it. What about children who struggle so much with reading comprehension because for whatever reason, reading is so difficult, but totally get it when they listen to the book? Audio books are a great way to keep them to keep them “reading.” What about the book nut who has way too many books to read and not enough time to read them? Or what about the person who considers much of what you hear on the radio these days to be drivel and would rather listen to a book on CD on long trips?

It’s important to keep in mind one thing when deciding between reading a book and listening to it on audio. Mr. Abbott is right. Listening is not the same as reading. If you miss something important while listening to a book, it is not that easy to go back and find it. With a book in hand you can simply turn back the pages. With a book on audio, you have to search back through tracks – not always easy while driving down a busy highway.
I’ve always felt two readers can read the same book and come away with something different. When you read you create a mind movie and you are in charge of casting and set design. Reading a book is an intimate experience between the writer and the reader. Each brings something to the experience. When you listen to a book on audio, you add another person to the mix and they bring something to the experience as well.

Sometimes, listening to a book on audio may be the only way to “read” a book. I’ve talked before about how sometimes when a book is moving too slowly, listening to it can help you make it to the end. But, sometimes, listening to a book on audio can ruin the experience. The reader’s voice or choices of tone and inflection can turn off a listener. For example: I love the Murder She Wrote books by Donald Bain. A few months ago, none of the local libraries had a print version of the latest book. They only had audio. I could not get past the first few tracks, because the reader’s voice grated on my nerves so much. Of course there are times when the opposite is true. The reader’s voice, tone and inflection can bring something valuable to the experience. I have yet to find an audio book done by Bruce Coville’s Full Cast Audio that I haven’t fully enjoyed. However, even a great voice can be distracting. I’m currently listening to Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. It is one of the books that have been on my list for a long time and I just hadn’t been able to sit down with it. I’m enjoying it, but I have to admit that I am sometimes distracted by the reader – John Ritter. It’s a fine job, but if I’m not careful, I drift off into nostalgia - thinking of how sad it is that he is no longer around.
As usual, I’ve run on and on. What can I say? Most of the time, I’m too hesitant to say anything, but get me started talking about books and I just can’t seem to shut up.

Here are few audio books that I found to be a good experience – that is if you can’t find the time to sit down with the actual book.

Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Series (The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife)
Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Series (I actually read Eragon and listened to Eldest)
Philipa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl
Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember series (The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood and The Diamond of Darkhold).
Tony Abbott’s Firegirl

So if you have a book you’re struggling with give the audio version a try. And vice versa – if a book just doesn’t seem right on audio – add it to your to READ list. Or . . . since life is too short, find another book.

1 comment:

The Lady at the Front Desk said...

Hi Booklady! I told you I'd get around to it! I enjoyed the comparison of audio books with their original written format. My preference is strongly for the written word. I agree wholeheartedly about "mind movies" - my "movies" are so well-produced that when somebody actually brings it to the big screen, it never matches up. My problem with audio books is that somehow I get distracted by what's around me - I suppose if I listened in a darkened room, it would be alright, but otherwise it's difficult. I guess that's a good thing when I'm driving, though. My children have loved books on tape since I recorded "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Doctor Dolittle" years ago, and I can actually get my husband to listen to a book in the car. I also love the "flipability" of books when I'm re-reading them - forwards or backwards - sometimes it's for clarification and sometimes to enjoy a certain "moment" again. Keep up the good work, although I don't know where you find the time!... The Lady at the Front Desk