I have a confession to make.
Once upon a time, I didn’t like audiobooks.
It’s true. I hate to admit it, but I mistakenly believed that listening to an audiobook wasn’t actually reading.
I felt that if I picked up an audiobook, I would be cheating.
But then while I was in a book club, one of the members talked about how much she enjoyed the audiobook version of our selected reading.
She said that she listened to audiobooks all the time. She found it relaxing. Other members chimed in and talked about how they liked to listen while they gardened or while they cooked.
And they’re not the only one who loves audiobooks.
According to a 2018 Pew research study, 18% of Americans listen to audiobooks (that’s up from 14% in 2016).
When we break that down by age, we see that 23% of people ages 18–29, 22% of people ages 30-49, 15% of people ages 50-65, and 12% of people ages 65+ listen to audiobooks.
That’s almost one in five Americans.
So, wanting to see what the fuss was about, I picked up an audiobook . . . and I fell in love.
I loved the feeling of sitting down and listening to a story.
But why have they become so popular?
When I asked popular audiobook narrator and author of the Oxford Year, Julia Whelan, what she thought, she said:
We have a thing we do as readers, especially experienced readers: we skip over passages or sections that we sense will convey unnecessary information. This can even happen unconsciously. We see a long passage of description up ahead, for instance, and we skip it. But, listening to a book makes it harder to gloss over or skim. So even though an audiobook is an adaptation of sorts, interpreted for us by a narrator, it can actually be the best way to experience a book as the author intended.
Hearing the book as the author intended can truly change the dynamic of the story. To test this theory, I picked up the audiobook version of The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister, narrated, in part, by Julia Whelan.
Now, I had read this book shortly after it came out and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though, embarrassingly, only gave it four stars. This time around, listening to the audiobook, I enjoyed the story a lot more.
While listening to the story, I found that I was caught up in the suspense of the story. Arden’s plight had me on the edge of my seat. Ray felt more dangerous. And I pretty much swooned for Clyde just as much as I did the first time around.
Have you ever read an email and thought that the sender was being rude, when they were just trying to make a joke? Voice inflection and delivery can change everything.
Listening to Julia’s interpretation of Greer’s novel was the next best thing to hearing Greer read me her story herself.
As authors, we’re always told that it is imperative that we read aloud everything that we write. Why? Because what we hear is often different from what we see.
Perhaps this goes back to our most primitive ancestors.
Before we had written language, parents and sages sat around campfires telling the stories that they learned from those that came before them.
Storytelling wasn’t just a means of entertainment. It was how people passed on vital information from one generation to the next. Where and when to plant. How to avoid dangerous situations (a lot of fairytales warned people away from the woods for a reason).
When we listen to an audiobook, we connect to that primal instinct that still resides within us. The one that makes us want to be writers. To pick up a piece of literature. To sit down in a movie theater in the hopes of being transported to another place.
An audiobook is storytelling boiled down to its most basic element: the storyteller and the listener.
We are in an audiobook renaissance, so feel free to indulge in that audiobook addiction guilt free. Because frankly, it doesn’t matter how we enjoy literature, just so long as we enjoy it.
Image: Findaway Voices | Unsplash
Diana Giovinazzo (WNBA-Los Angeles) is the co-creator of Wine, Women and Words, a weekly literary podcast featuring interviews with authors over a glass of wine. She is a board member with the LA chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. Keep an eye on her website for her debut novel, The Woman in Red. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @dianagauthor.
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