Why Audiobooks Aren’t The Devil

by Stefan Slater

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When it comes to ongoing debates with my girlfriend, there are only two hotly contested issues that come to mind:

1) I’ve told her that Godzilla is a hermaphrodite, but she doesn’t believe me. Even though Matthew Broderick said so. And the Chicago Tribune did too. But still she doesn’t believe me (or Bueller). I don’t feel strongly enough about it to make her watch all those Godzilla movies, so I have a feeling this issue isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. Alas, on to the next one…

2) She doesn’t care for audiobooks. Every time I play one in the car, she cringes. She tells me to change the radio. Play anything, she says, even country.

I must, I must, change her thoughts on this.

Let’s clear something up before I find myself strung up from my ceiling fan with piano wire: My girlfriend is extremely well-read. She read Lord of the Rings in middle school. And I still haven’t gotten around to it (I know, I know). Out of the two of us, she’s the one who picks up on the latest and greatest comics books. And she reads. A lot. And we read most of the same books too. So there.

But there’s one thing that we disagree on vehemently: the true value of audiobooks.

For me, I’m a fervent believer in taking in your literature via headphones and/or car speakers. It adds a different dimension to the experience, for one, and if a story is really good (and I mean really good), there’s nothing better than cruising along the freeway at a good 65 mph and just fading out and falling into the words. You catch small, hard to miss details when a narrator drags it forth to your attention, thus giving you a different reading experience than whatever you might’ve had on your own. In short, you could read a book, and then listen to it on tape, and have two completely different reading experiences. Isn’t that honestly worth something?

(Hell, Stephen King is on the same page, so that’s got to mean something too.)

But my girlfriend looks at literature as a private experience. The narrator’s voice is her own—or at least one that she’s created herself—and she also creates a distinct voice for each character. She values that tremendously, and unfortunately, that’s something that’s taken away when you listen to a story on tape.

And sure, maybe this is all my doing: Her first introduction to audiobooks was the first Game of Thrones novel during our drive up to Big Sur. She’s already read the first four books, and hearing Roy Dotrice voice every single damn character (I think he held a Guinness World Record for that in 2004) threw her off a bit.

But reading is reading. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how you digest the story, you’re still reading and that’s all that matters. So, with that said, I’m going to push her on this. I think the next book I’m going to try with her will be World War Z—she hasn’t read it, and voice-acting cast is brilliant (Mark Hamill is on there. The Joker and Luke rolled up into one gravelly voice!)

There’s no way she can resist that one.

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