Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In Praise of Audiobooks

Before anyone gets too upset, let me start with a disclaimer: In no way do I believe that audiobooks (or e-books, for that matter) will ever take the place of a real, hold-it-in-your-hands book. Do I hear an "amen"?

That being said, I think audiobooks are great. Most of my university education was acquired as a commuting, non-traditional student. As an undergrad, I drove two-and-a-half hours one-way from eastern Arkansas to Delta State University in Cleveland, MS, some semesters five days a week. I’ve spent the last two years driving, at least once a week, from central Arkansas to Ole Miss in Oxford, a three-and-a-half hour trip, one-way.

During those years, it took all the time I wasn’t driving, or working, or doing all the things necessary to keep a household from total ruin, to get the books read and the papers written for the classes I was taking, which left no time for recreational reading.

Enter audiobooks. Every week I’d pick out the latest novel from the Times Best-Seller List or something I’d been meaning to read for a while but had never gotten around to. Usually I chose detective fiction, but sometimes I picked the latest non-fiction work, sometimes a memoir or biography, occasionally even a collection of short stories.

This kept me current and connected when I was often otherwise buried in centuries past. It also made the long drive pass more quickly. Occasionally, though, it caused a weird mental disconnect. Once, I was “reading” a novel about a woman trapped in a mountain-top cabin during an ice storm with a supposed murderer. As I drove past a bank sign, I noticed that it was ninety-seven degrees, and for a moment I couldn’t figure out how it could sleet when the temperature was that high. Those of you who are true-born readers will understand. Others will simply think I’m crazy.

I know that some students who struggle with reading, or who are aural learners, substitute audiobooks for the books they are assigned to read. They think it’s easier, and it may be for them, but I’m not sure it makes them a better reader. A better solution, I believe, is to listen to the book as they read. This can be especially helpful with Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, when students often struggle with unfamiliar language.

Books and audiobooks. There’s room in my world for both.

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