Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Taking the Long Way (The Audiobook Experiment)

On Wednesday of last week I found myself at the Wood County Public Library here in Bowling Green. Brandi had some books that needed to be taken back, and I felt like browsing around a little bit, so I drove over there. I wasn't looking for anything in particular--I've got plenty of my own books already in the on-deck circle--but I thought perhaps something might catch my eye.

After a bit, I found myself in the audiobooks section, checking out the books on CD. Not long ago, when I was lamenting my loss of reading time to my new job, my friend Josh suggested I give audiobooks a try. I wasn't entirely sure if I would like it or not. My only experience in the area previously was the Stephen King story LT's Theory of Pets. When it first came out, it was only available as an audiobook (it since has been published in the book Everything's Eventual), so I picked it up.

I did enjoy listening to that particular story, but I didn't know that would automatically translate to other works. For one thing, I didn't, at the time, have any other options. I had to listen to it, or just not know the story. Aside from that, it was recorded at a reading that King was giving, so he was actually performing for an audience. I didn't know how much I would like a recording made in an empty studio. I also didn't know if I could get used to listening to someone else, adapting to their pace and pronunciations. I worried about being able to get the subtle nuances of the story without seeing the words and how they're formatted. I also wasn't sure if I could enjoy the story in such a linear fashion, without being able to glance around the page from time to time, to look back on something I may have missed, or just to check out other words used in the context of the story. Finally, I just didn't know if I could get past the idea of sitting down with a book and savoring the sheer pleasure the whole reading experience provides.

To get a better feel for how I'd like audiobooks, I thought it might be a good idea to start with a book I've read before and know fairly well. I checked out Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis, which I've read a couple of times and like a whole lot. I thought hearing a story I already know well would give me an idea of how well I'd be able to get the subtle nuances of the text through the reader's voice. The reader in this case is William Hurt (with King himself doing some later sections), and so far so good. I don't always love his pacing, or the voices he assigns to the characters, but I do really like hearing the story. I don't feel like I'm missing a whole lot by hearing it instead of reading it.

There are exceptions, of course. The library discs aren't in the best of shape and will skip occasionally. Usually it isn't too bad, and rewinding a few seconds and playing the section over again will generally take care of it. There was one short section, perhaps ten seconds long, that I absolutely could not get to play. Since I know the story already, it's no big deal, but with a story I was hearing for the first time, this would cause some problems.

Still, this is definitely something I can see myself getting used to. I've only been listening in my car, and it's nice to have a story read to me as I get to wherever I'm going. It's definitely more engaging than the sports talk radio shows I normally listen to in the car, although I'm sure I'll still switch over to those from time to time. Stories are a much bigger addiction for me than sports, and that's saying something. Now I find myself driving slower, taking the long way to wherever I'm going, and sitting in my car for a moment after I park so I can catch a few extra minutes of story.

In fact, I like it so much that I'm seriously considering taking full advantage of Josh's suggestion and getting an MP3 player for myself so I can rip the CDs to digital audio files and take the story with me wherever I go. I got Brandi an iPod for Christmas, and it's pretty sweet. I'd like to have one of my own. I could take it to work with me to listen to a few minutes of story during my lunch and my morning and afternoon breaks, and I could listen to music while I work. I could also listen to story or music each day as I work out. I don't know; I'm thinking about it. I'm a little leery just because I'm thinking about it based upon my current job situation, and if that changes anytime soon, the iPod usage may or may not change with it. I know I would still use it a lot, though, so I'm trying not to let that affect my judgment one way or another. For the time being, I'll keep listening in the car. Next time I go to the library, I think I'll try to pick up a story I'm not familiar with and see how that goes.

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