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Posted in Musings
April 10, 2013

Hark! I Hear An Audiobook

Girl listeningA writer friend of mind recently had one of her print books made into an audiobook, and I went to the website for a sample listen. It was an . . . interesting experience, to say the least. Now, let me preface by saying that in general I’m not an audiobook listener. I like my books in text form, whether on the paper page or in an electronic reader, and I’ve listened to only a handful of audiobooks. Furthermore, the ones I’ve listened to have been mainstream fiction. For example, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, or Frederik Forsyth’s Icon, so I’m by no means a seasoned expert in this format. But I went to have a listen to my friend’s contemporary romance audiobook and came away from the experience somewhat turned off.

There was something, I don’t know, kinda icky about a non-emotional reading of a romance novel when the genre inherently contains so much strong emotion. The reader was just, you know, reading. She wasn’t acting or performing, she was reading aloud the words on a page. Perhaps the thinking is that the listener will want to put her own spin on the emotions of the text so if the reader does so it inhibits the listener. But I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care for it at all. And on top of that, the reading of the sex scenes was just downright weird. Imagine in your head a robotic-like voice saying, “Come on, Mitch. Just f**k me. Yeah, baby. Just like that. Rub my pussy. Mmmm, it feel so good.” Did you put a robot voice in your head? Creepy, right? And it doesn’t exactly arouse desire which, after all, is a huge part of the fun from the sex scenes.

I decided to pursue the matter further by discussing it with others who regularly enjoy listening to audio books. What’s fun about them? I asked. What distinguishes a good audiobook from a bad one? Is it the story itself? A good story is a good story, after all, so ergo, a good audiobook? Not so, say those in the know. There were two main characteristics of a good audiobook – and this is with the assumption that the story is strong. So OK, you’ve got a good yarn on your hands. It doesn’t necessarily translate to a good audiobook. The two primary distinctions told to me are that the audiobook reader must be a good performer, and the production value needs to be high.

Taking the first point, about the performance, leads me to think that the romance audiobook clip I listened to made me feel squishy because the performance was as enthralling as watching paint dry. Or perhaps, in this case, listening to paint dry, meaning there was no performance whatsoever. The reader made the decision to be dry and unemotional. It may work for some, but for me it was a complete snooze with a dash of discomfort. If the hero is baring his soul and revealing his issues and declaring his love well, damn it, I want emotion.

About the production value . . . clarity is key, with perhaps a little music thrown in here and there for mood setting and to signify scene or POV changes.

In the end, I’m going to stick with the printed text, where I can be screaming in my head when the heroine’s screaming on the page, but I’d love to hear from others. What’s your take on audiobooks, specifically romance audiobooks. Are they a fun alternative from print, or do they just make you want to hit the off button?

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15 comments

  • LizEverly

    Interesting post, Elizabeth. I’m not much of a listener when it comes to books, though I have listened to a few and liked it. But not enough to keep at it. I listed to Marley & Me, a mainstream book and the reading was fabulous. I’m thinking the writer might have actually read it. I’m not sure about that. But audio books are making quite a surge and are a good market for writer, so I’m told, As far as I know none of my books have sold into audio.

    Reply to LizEverly
  • cmkempe

    I love a *good* audio book — one that uses voice actors. It’s a different skill set. If you have a long drive or commute, they can be terrific.

    I *LOVE* reading my stories and have a good time doing so.

    Reply to cmkempe
  • elf ahearn

    I once took out “Diary of a Geshia” from the library in audio form. It was so engrossing I found myself sitting in the car while parked in the driveway. Feeling like a fool, yet unable to tear myself away, I purchase a tape player. When audio books are done well, with terrific actors, they are awesome.

    Reply to elf ahearn
  • madelineiva

    I had this experience of trying to read a british classic and stopping after the first few pages. Then trying again a few years later and again stopping. I just didn’t get it really. Then I tried again with an audio book while I was packing up for a move. The dry ironic tone of the reader informed me that this whole wretched book was a satire and I’d missed it on my own.

    I felt pretty stupid. After that I joyously packed for days while listening to it and found it so richly enjoyable. Well done, audio book, well done.

    Reply to madelineiva
  • ellaquinnauthor

    The last time I listened to audio books was in 1992 when I was attending the JAG course in Charlottesville and had to drive to Fayetteville, NC everyother weekend. I have heard that the British actor who does the Georgette Heyer books is fantastic.

    Reply to ellaquinnauthor
    • cmkempe

      Isn’t it Richard Armitage who does the Heyer books? Or was it the Gaskell books? He was in North and South — yum!

      Reply to cmkempe
      • Post authorElizabeth Shore

        I LOVE North and South!

        Reply to Elizabeth Shore
        • madelineiva

          All hail Richard Armitage. I feel another blog post coming on.

          Reply to madelineiva
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    These comments are so interesting. So maybe it’s just that the specific audiobook recording I listened to wasn’t quite up to snuff. Methinks I need to give it another chance!

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Leah St. James

    i recorded one for a novella I wrote a couple years back. My son has a degree in music business, has the software and hardware and knows how to use it. I just had to make him put earplugs in when I read “those” parts…you know. *(Yes, I know he had to go back and listen when he engineered it, or whatever he did to it, but I wasn’t in the room with him!) It’s hard work, but I thought no one would be able to interpret the different emotions as well as I could.

    Reply to Leah St. James
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Ha ha! Well, Leah, an author’s gotta do what she’s gotta do. 🙂 Sounds like you’re happy with the end result, so yours is one I’ll need to listen to for an example of a good audiobook.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Misty Dietz

    I haven’t listened to too many, but I agree; the quality varies widely. I liked the mysteries I heard better than the romances. Interesting topic – especially with sites like audible.com getting more popular. 🙂

    Reply to Misty Dietz
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      I actually enjoyed the two mainstream fiction books I listened to, so I guess it truly is the level of the quality that can make or break an audiobook. And you’re right, Misty, audible.com is getting really popular.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore

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