Ramblings on Audio Novels

Earlier this week I finished listening to the novel Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom. I liked it for the most part, despite flaws. Here’s my brief review.

I often ask myself, when I consume an audio book, (one does not “read” them of course) if I would have liked reading it as much as I enjoyed listening to it. Or more, or less? There’s no way to be certain, because once I’ve gotten through a book in one format, I’m not likely to then go through it again on another format. Even if I did, it’s only new once.

Yet I want to look closer at this concept. How does audio affect my enjoyment of a book?

To begin with, no matter what book, I get through it faster when I listen. I am a notoriously slow reader. So if time is in any way a factor, it’s the audio version hands down.

Yet a poor reader can dampen the experience. If I have to listen to someone with a terrible voice or no sense of vocal variance read me a novel, I’d probably be just as happy to read it to myself, albeit slower.

However, a good actor cannot save bad material. I may stick with a lousy novel a little longer on audio if the reading is good, but I’ve come to believe that no matter how talented the vocal artist is, they cannot make up for a lousy novel. Lousy will come through if it’s there.

You might ask the reverse question; can a poor vocal performance ruin what would otherwise be a good novel? That’s a bit more difficult to say. Though even Hamlet would  probably be tortuous if Gilbert Gottfried yelled it at me, I suspect I’d be more patient with great material read poorly, than I would poor material read expertly. (Though I’d probably end up switching to a hard copy if I found the book that good, and the reader that bad.

Glory Over Everything was made more palatable by the decent performances. But it’s one of those books that I admit I probably wouldn’t have finished had I been reading. It does get wordy at times, as many novels do. I’ll put up with wordy for longer on audio, assuming the narration is at least adequate. The wrong kind of wordiness on paper either gives me a literal headache or puts me to sleep.

A poorer narration would have probably done me in as well.

A common complaint I hear from people who don’t like audio books is that they like to hear the voices in their head. Characters talk a certain way in their imagination, and hearing a book read to them ruins that. That’s a fair enough point for those it applies to, but I’ve never had that problem. I guess I’m not as in love with the voices I create in my  head when I read a book. Sometimes the voice I hear  narrating is my own anyway, if I hear any at all.

In short, being read to doesn’t ruin my imagination of what is happening in the story. I find it somewhat less distracting than when non-fiction is read to me, actually. 95% of any audio book I listen to has been fiction.

Often I wonder what a reader would do with my novels. With time I suppose I could narrate them myself, given my acting experience, but I lack the equipment to make that a reality, and I lack the money to hire someone else to do it.

Besides, acting skill and reading skill may not be exactly the same thing. I’ve thought about it before. Even if you are reading a novel that is first person, you’re not generally performing that character, even if you are emoting. The distance of most fiction probably accounts for this. You may be telling the story “as though” it happened to you, but in the end, you are reading something from a distance of the event. Acting is the event.

Yes, I know. Fine line. Probably one only a neurotic actor/author would consider. But this is my blog, isn’t it?

To sum up these meanderings, I’d say that I go with audio about half the time, and paper about half the time. The longer a book that interests me, the more likely I will look for the audio version first, so I don’t spent months reading.



  1. I’ve listened to some audiobooks where I HATED the reader, and it made it an arduous task to listen. The better the reader, the more I enjoy the book.

    • The reader in an audio format certainly has a lot of power, don’t they? While I maintain that they are not everything to the experience, they certainly are capable of turning things to mush quite early on.

  2. I’ve wondered about that before. When I do audiobook reviews, I generally separate the rating of the performance from my rating of the book. Some audiobooks leave me wondering, “Why would she do the inflection that way?” I felt like that with ‘The Monsters of Templeton,” where the reader had clearly decided that the main character was mopey and depressed. Everything — even witty zingers and self-deprecating or sarcastic internal monologues — were read with the same mopey, depressed tone because the author had decided that that’s what depression/existential crisis “should” sound like. I would have liked it waaaay better as a book, even though the narration worked for other parts.

    • I agree it’s best to review the audio aspects separately from the content. I’ll confess that in some of my reviews for an audio novel I don’t even mention I listened to it, I just review the writing itself. Probably because I often view the vocal artist like a theatre techie; if you are too aware that they are back there doing everything, they are not doing it well.

      • Laura W.

        Ah. I rate them separately because the production — with the performer(s), director, and producer — is an entirely different beast from the book, and may have been made with little to no author input. It’s a performance of the author’s text and, to me, doesn’t even register on the same level/as the same art form as a written book/reading a book alone.

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