I’ve become a fan of audiobooks, mostly because I can listen to them while folding laundry or weeding the yard or while auto-piloting my way through the grocery store. I’ve thought about writing an article like the one that just appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. One book, sampled four ways — paperback, audiobook, Kindle, and iPhone. Ann Kirschner beat me to it — and did a fine job. She seems surprised at how much she enjoyed the audiobook:
Soon I was looking for any excuse to stay plugged in just a little
bit longer. In fact, if I made a graph of total reading time on Little Dorrit, I bet that the audiobook would win (though not for the most pages).
You can listen while you are walking around.
You can listen while driving.
You can listen while applying makeup.
You can listen while you are cooking.
You can listen while you are in the dentist’s chair.
Audiobooks also impose a certain discipline. I think of this as
real-time reading: The author and narrator control your pace, and it is
impractical to skim ahead or thumb back to another section. For
Dickens, so naturally cinematic and plot-driven, that can have a
breathtaking effect. It was my good fortune to be listening when Little
Dorrit and Maggie spent their long night wandering the London streets.
I shivered with them, I shared their exhaustion, and I sighed with the
dull relief of returning to the Marshalsea prison.
Kirschner notes that young people who grew up playing hand-held games will have no problem reading from small screens. She’s right, though of course when those young people start losing their eyesight, they might appreciate larger displays.
Right now, I’m struggling through a text-to-speech version of the Illiad, and I’m not enjoying it as much as I have enjoyed some more modern stuff. I don’t think it has much to do with the content, but rather the fact that the past few weeks have been a bit hectic, with my wife having an operation and me needing to take care of her and supervise the home-schooling, while at the same time trying to wrap up the loose ends of the semester. So I’ve been hitting the sack pretty late and pretty tired, without the benefit of any commute time or solitary-walk-around-the-quad-with-headphones time. When I fall asleep during a chapter, I’m more inclined to jump ahead then back up and re-listen, since I know it will take me forever to find out what happens if I try to study each chapter.