The pros and cons of audiobooks

Posted: April 22, 2013 in Books & Reading
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Alice's Adventures in WonderlandYesterday at my check-in for ROW80 I told you guys I started listening to audiobooks. This is actually my first experience with audiobooks, and…I don’t know how I feel about them just yet.

I’m having that same internal struggle I had when I started reading eBooks. I feel like it’s cheating in a way, but at the same time, it’s still the same information. I’m still experiencing a story, even if I’m not reading it myself.

I’ve made a list of pros and cons to figure how I really feel about audiobooks. (The lists are pretty much dead even.) Feel free to chime in and let me know what you think about them or if you have any points to add to my list.


  • More visual: When listening to an audiobook, the story seems to come more alive for me. The verbs are more visual. You can’t focus on the words and the way they look, which I guess is what I often do when reading. Instead, you have to focus on the images those words produce in your mind. Now, I always picture a book as I read it, but I realized that with an audiobook, the images just seem to be more vivid.
  • Multitasking: This is probably my favorite thing about audiobooks. There are some things I have to do for work or otherwise that, frankly, don’t take a lot of brain power. So I can put on an audiobook while I do these tasks, and not only am I getting work done, but I’m reading too! It’s really a great way to keep myself occupied.
  • Personality of the narrator: The personality of the narrator enhances the story a great deal. Sometimes there are multiple narrators, which is always fun, and sometimes it’s just one person. Either way, it’s nice to hear someone else telling you a story. The people who narrate these books are always enthusiastic about them, and it makes for a more interesting experience.
  • Read the classics: I have trouble reading all those classics, but I’ve started listening to them as audiobooks and it’s made the experience a lot easier. Not only can I get through one of them a lot quicker (in a couple of hours instead of weeks at a time), but it makes the story come alive in ways I have trouble with when I read it myself. I actually have a lot more to say about classics and why they’re so difficult for me, so look for that blog post later this week. For now, suffice it to say that this makes reading everything I should have already been familiar with a lot easier.


  • Repetitive: When you read a book, as opposed to listening to it, you don’t notice all the he said, she said dialogue tags. Your eyes just sort of skim over them. But when you have a lengthy dialogue exchange, the repetition of these dialogue days can be quite annoying. This is especially true when you have multiple narrators, because you don’t need this information repeated. Additionally, I find the use of adverbs – when totally necessary in the story – is unnecessary in an audio book. When a narrator says, “The cat climbed up the tree,” he said wryly, his voice already sounds wry. Therefore, the adverbs just get annoying because the narrator’s tone has already implied what a reader would need to know if they were merely reading the book.
  • Not good for visual learners: I’m a visual learner, and listening to audiobooks has proven difficult. I have a hard time keeping track of characters, even when there are different voices to help ease the transition. There’s just something about seeing the character name written out that makes it a lot easier to file that information away in my brain.
  • Narrator’s interpretations: This does sort of go against what I sent in the list of pros, but I think it is a separate occurrence. Or, at least, it’s dependent on the narrator. When you read a book, that experience is all your own. The voices of the characters fill your head, and you control the way they sound. However, when a narrator reads the book to you, they interpret the inflections and tones of the characters, and this can be a little jarring if you don’t quite agree with them about how a character says some of their dialogue.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

  • Cheating: I can’t help it. It DOES feel like cheating to me. Or, at the very least, it feels like something completely different from reading a book. Have I truly read Alice in Wonderland? Technically, yes. I’ve experienced the same story everyone else has, despite the fact I’ve listened to it as an audiobook instead of reading it for myself. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with listening to audiobooks. If it gets people to experience a story they would’ve otherwise avoided, then I’m all for it! Perhaps this point goes back to the fact that I’m a visual learner and I have trouble cementing the details into my brain when I just listen to the story. I don’t feel as closely connected to it.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you think it’s “cheating”? Are there certain books, like the classics, that you’d rather listen to as an audiobook?

  1. Gloria Weber says:

    When my son was a baby the only way I could get any reading done was to listen to it. While I cleaned, cooked, fed him, and so on. I fell out of the habit when he got older and part of me wants to resume it for many reasons. But I agree with you. It feels like cheating.

  2. I do a lot of traveling by car so audio books are a Godsend to me. They make the time fly by and keep me alert while driving. But I don’t listen to them at other times because I too am a very visual person. Auditory is my weakest sense, so if that’s all I’m getting I either tune out or fall asleep (unless I have the driving to focus on also).

    And I totally agree about the narrator’s interpretation being a problem sometimes. I listened to one JD Robb “in death” series book and vowed to never do that again. Her narrator makes Dallas’ sexy Irish husband sound like a leprechaun and makes her female police partner, who’s a bit of a girlie girl, sound like a man in drag.

  3. Jess Witkins says:

    I am a HUGE fan of audiobooks! I think you hit why right on the nail with your Pro list. It does allow you to multitask, and especially with classics or international books I enjoy them more hearing the words and accents in a native tongue. Love love love em!

    • Karen Rought says:

      The accents are always fun! English accents always make the story sound classier anyway. 🙂

      • Jess Witkins says:

        Well it helps with books that have certain foreign language words in them too. For example, I’ve listened to Unaccustomed Earth by Jhampa Lahiri on audio and Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The native speaker helps place me in the world of the characters, be it India or China.

        But oh yah, Jane Austen on audio all the way!

  4. Julie Glover says:

    First of all, I have to say that Jess Witkins should be narrating audiobooks. She has a beautiful speaking voice, and she does awesome accents!

    I like audiobooks for certain times, especially traveling in the car. I drove to a writer’s conference last year and, on the way there and back, listened to a full book, But you’re right that the narrator matters a lot. Sometimes, I’ll start listening to a book, and it’s not the content but the narration that turns me off, and I don’t end up finishing the book. Also, the book has to be reasonably short or I can’t get through it by audio. Short stories, middle-grade books, and shorter novels are perfect for audiobooks.

    Great look at this topic, Karen!

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s awesome! I envy people who are great at accents.

      I don’t mind the length so much, although it is a little intimidating to see how long you’ll be reading the book. I’m into War of the Worlds right now and that’s about 6 hours long. But I do it here and there, so it’s nicely broken up.

  5. Azevedo says:

    Those are basically my pros and cons 🙂 The biggest pro is certainly the multi-tasking. I just came from a run and I was listening to an audio-book. I feel much more productive than just running and listening to the same Mumford and Sons album ad infinitum!
    The thing I do is: I download the audio-book but I still read the printed version. I pick one by convenience and I end up reading much faster than I would because I’m not limited to sitting down and reading.
    And I don’t feel like cheating 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      That’s a great idea! I have Pride and Prejudice in paperback form, and I was thinking about going between the two and seeing how that works out, but I definitely think, for me at least, I’d get through it a lot faster just listening to it. But I also find I don’t absorb as much detail and information. There’s definitely a give and take there.

  6. […] I liked one of the comments to the article, that audioo books feel like cheating. It does feel like this to me as well. I do not know why. […]

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