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Focus on the Frightful: Audiobooks

When I was younger I never liked listening to audiobooks. I never put down anyone for using them instead of reading a physical book but they just weren’t for me. I could concentrate better if I was focused on the written word in front of me. If I were just listening it felt like I couldn’t fully take in what was being said without zoning out.

The only two audiobooks I remember listening to in my teen years were The Diary of Jack the Ripper: The Chilling Confessions of James Maybrick by Shirley Harrison and Blood and Smoke by Stephen King. And we mostly got Blood and Smoke because it was only released on audio at the time. That may have been one of the reasons I was turned off of audiobooks, actually. One of its main selling points at the time was that it was read by Stephen King himself. And as talented an author he can be, reading aloud is not his forte.

Blood and Smoke audiobook cover

They were also quite expensive at the time so it was hard to justify the price of a paperback versus the price of an audiobook which could be upwards of twenty dollars or more. It wasn’t until more recently with Audible and various other audiobook sites that they started becoming more available.

Listening vs. Reading

In my opinion, the argument that listening to a book isn’t the same as reading a book is asinine. The same material is being consumed. The story does not change one iota when you listen instead of read. It also seems like a pretty douchey move to tell someone that can only listen to it that they haven’t actually read the book because they didn’t physically read it. Are the visually impaired or blind supposed to not read because they are limited to audiobooks? That’s insane.

My mother uses text to speech (which in itself has come a long way in not sounding too much like HAL) because she has rheumatoid arthritis and it’s hard for her to enjoy reading because her hands hurt very much when she holds onto her e-reader so she prefers using audiobooks or text-to-speech to listen to books. Are people with physical disabilities not considered as having ‘read’ the book simply because they prefer to listen to it rather than read it?

It can also immensely help with teaching children to read and learn the proper pronunciation of a word. Hell, not just children but adults, too. There were certain words that I didn’t know how to pronounce because I’d only read them, not heard them aloud (calliope was a big one).


I noticed that I tend to prefer listening to books that aren’t dialogue-heavy but narration heavy ones. Obviously I do still listen to books with dialogue but when I do I am much pickier on the narrator. A narrator can get away with being slightly flatter while reading a nonfiction book as opposed to reading a more dialogue-driven book. It can be hard to fit a certain voice to a certain story. Some voices just don’t suit certain stories or characters. To me, it’s similar to voice acting. A reader has to really bring the scenes and the characters to life. To make them there and present to the listener.

A good narrator can also make you think differently about a certain character or scene in a book. Sometimes I can look at them from different angles if the reader gives the dialogue a certain inflection that I may not have in my head.

For instance, Bernadette Dunne narrates The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle both by Shirley Jackson. Her voice perfectly captures both characters of Eleanor and Merricat. She also narrates the biography of Shirley Jackson. It’s a perfect fit. I also enjoy Juliet Stevenson’s readings of Jane Austen’s books. She does the dialogue for both men and women very well.

It’s so subjective that it’s actually hard to quantify whether a voice is good or bad per se. I mean, unless they’re really, objectively bad. What one person finds to be a perfectly acceptable voice could sound utterly horrible to another.

Small Sci-Fi and Scary Divider

There are so many books and stories in the world to share. Let’s not deride another person for the way in which they consume them. Reading a book over listening to one does not make you superior. However, if you mock another for the using an audiobook instead of reading a physical or e-book then that does make you superior. A superior ass.

Published inFocus on the Frightful

One Comment

  1. For what it’s worth, most Classical works (other than plays, obviously) were meant to be read aloud. That’s why Tacitus sticks an epigram into the end of so many chapters of his Germania. So you could argue that an audiobook of them would be CLOSER to the way they were meant to be read.

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