Audio Books

July 10, 2009

I know this isn’t exactly a historical post. However, it will tie into next week’s book review and author interview—don’t miss it! Audio books are gaining popularity in today’s technologically advancing world. I listen to audio books all the time. In fact, over half the books I’ll read in a year will be audios.

I’ve found that audio books generally fall into one of three categories:

  1. Individual reader
  2. Individual reader with effects
  3. Full Cast audio

Individual reader is by far the most common, but I think there is a growing trend toward the other two, especially in children’s literature. Individual readers are just that; one person reads the entire book. The majority of audios are this type and a good reader can bring a book to life just through their inflection and use of different voices. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, by Ally Carter and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockheart are great examples. The reader embodies the character and pulls you into their story. Individual readers with effects basically take the standard audio to the next level by adding sound effects and music. I find these audios come to life and really pull a reader in. My favorite example of this type is The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

Full cast audios push the format even further by casting a different reader for each character in the book. Full cast audios usually include sound effects and music too. It’s a complete package. They’re like listening to an old-time radio show. The most creative full cast audio I’ve listened to has to be Fairest, by Gail Carson Lavine. If I’d picked up the book I probably would have gotten frustrated with it because there are massive amounts of song lyrics. I tend to skim over lyrics in books, but in Fairest the songs are an important element of the story telling. In the audio version, they’ve actually composed music for all the lyrics, which are sung rather than read. It is delightful to listen to.

Even though a well done audio can bring a good book to life audio books have their downfall: they highlight bad writing. There’s a reason writers are taught early on to read their work aloud. You can hear every awkward sentence; every annoying adverb and “head hopping” sticks out. Audio books make bad writing very obvious and often lead to the book being put aside for another one.

That said a good reader can make even a bad book a success. I think the success of audios really depends on the reader. A bad reader, even for a good book, can be its downfall. I recently listened to the Little House on the Prairie series, and the reader drove me nuts. I loved the books when I read them years ago, but the reader in this case turned me off the audios. I was going to name some bad audios, but realized this is really very individual. Everyone has something that annoys them and it’s not always the same for each reader. So instead I’ll leave you with a list of audios I think are worth the read.

Good Examples:
The Dark Frigate, by Charles Boarderman Hawes (great use of accents)
The Adventures of Hugo Cabret, by Brain Selznick (awesome use of sound effects)
Fairest, by Gail Carson Lavine (full cast audio and singing)
The Queen’s Thief Series, by Megan Whaler Turner (great reader)
Rules, by Cynthia Lord (good reader, brought out the characters voice)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockheart (great voice)
The Immortal Series, by Tamora Pierce (full cast audio)

So what are your opinions on audio books? Have any favorites? Do you prefer them to hard copies? Why?

Links for your further exploration:
For those interested in full cast audios Bruce Coville has his own production company that focuses on creating full cast audios of children’s books.

2009 Notable Children’s Recording (though this is subjective cause a couple books on the list I’ve listened too and didn’t like)

Booklist Online (Audio book blog)