Audio Books do Count!

A couple of Sundays ago, the Oregonian ran an opinion piece in its book review section: Listen here: Audio books don't count as reading by K.B. Dixon.  In the piece, Dixon says "Listening to a book is not reading a book. It is a passive enterprise. When we read, we hear a voice in our heads -- it is a voice of our own imagining, an individual translation of the language, of the text, of the writer's stylistic voice. It is cognitively tailored in a way no other voice can be."

While I find this to be true, at the same time I (perhaps an overly active audiobook listener, I listened to over 700 hours of books in 2011) couldn't disagree more.  I believe that when we read to ourselves, we hear our voice in our head.  My particular voice is that of an overeducated, middle-aged, white woman, so I don't hear the voice of a child who has spent his whole life living with his mother in a small Room, I don't hear a 20-something Gen-Xer struggle to raise his 10-year-old brother (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), I don't hear a black family hanging on to their land in Depression- and Jim-Crow era Mississippi (Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry), I don't even hear Dobby the Elf or Voldemort (Harry Potter series). Or I wouldn't hear these voices were it not for Michal Friedman, Dion Graham, Lynne Thigpen or Jim Dale. (I could go on and on here, and probably will in future posts!)

That's what I most like about audiobooks:  The alternative interpretation of the story, the interpretation that I simply cannot provide.  It's not any more passive than eye-reading is.  I'm thinking; I'm absorbing language, character, setting, plot details.  I'm usually "reading" at a slower pace when I'm listening as well, giving my imagination a greater chance to settle into a book's details.

Sure there's all that multitasking stuff about audiobooks -- listen during a long drive (heck, during a short drive), listen while exercising, gardening, doing housework.  I listen while knitting.  There is no doubt that audiobooks are a great way to get through those things.  But, for me, it always comes back to the voice that is not mine.

For an alternative view of audiobooks, see this article in the online magazine n+1: Listening to Books by Maggie Gram.

If you're looking for a good listen, here's a few things that I've listened to lately (I tried to select those without many holds): Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard, the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

Happy listening!