eBooks, audio and print


shelves of booksAs I now mainly listen to audio books and occasionally read eBooks, I was interested to know how sighted people feel about the different media; a small straw poll brought the almost overwhelming preference for print, with some people taking quite a strong moral stand against audio and ebooks.  However, even for those who do not find print difficult or impossible, the new technologies definitely give a wider choice.  I will be writing a further blog post on this but first of all wanted to post my friend Nicola’s great email reply in full.

“I read much more than I listen. I find audio books are great if I have jobs to do such as decorating or gardening which are time-consuming and physical but not mentally challenging. Listening to a book as I work makes the time go much faster and I stay on task for much longer as I am not bored! I particularly like murder mysteries to listen to. Ironing, however, cannot be redeemed even by a good book. I sometimes listen when I am cooking but, depending on the intricacy of the recipe, this can have a detrimental effect on the end result! I have occasionally missed out an ingredient when distracted by a particularly enthralling chapter!

I don’t think I absorb information as well when listening as when reading. I get confused if there are a lot of characters or places in an audio book and get a bit annoyed that I can’t easily ‘flip’ back to check, when I’m thinking, “who is this?”. I also find that characters ‘sound’ much more varied in my head when reading than a narrator can make them. The other thing that I don’t like about audio is a narrator ‘voicing’ different characters in a way that I find irritating, for example, a male narrator doing a falsetto impression when reading a female character’s dialogue. I find it hard to empathise with the trials and tribulations of a heroine who sounds like a demented Barry Gibb! I prefer audio books read by several narrators when there is a lot of spoken conversation. I particularly enjoyed “Billy Elliot”, which is told from various people’s points of view. Having said that, most narrators I have listened to have been good and sometimes have enhanced my enjoyment of a story through their interpretation.

I haven’t tried listening to a book I have previously read. I’m not sure I would like hearing the characters sounding different to the way I had imagined them, in the same way films are  spoilt sometimes, for me, if the actors look very different to my image of the character from the book.

I am more likely to give up on an audio book than a paper one. Even if I’m not enjoying a book I will often read to the end, but have stopped listening to several audio books after a few chapters, possibly because it takes so much longer to listen to a book than it does to read it. Also, if, as has happened, I’m simply not in the mood for the style or content of an audio book, I’m much less likely to return to it another time, than I am to retry reading a book.

I prefer to read, paper or e-books. I haven’t yet experienced getting completely ‘lost’ in an audio book, in the way I often do when reading, but maybe I just haven’t listened to the right books!”

Incidentally, in a later email Nicola conceded that audio books can be a good accessory to a long, hot bath!

I hope this will prompt readers of this blog to comment on her views and to give some examples of your experience, whether you are sighted or VI.  For one thing, I disagree with Nicola about ironing!  I find it very satisfying to listen to a page-turning story while a mound of ironed clothes gradually accumulates.



Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.  Interesting approach to racism in a small American town.  Well written and thoughtful.  Not for me though.

In Chancery (2nd novel of the Forsyte Saga) by John Galsworthy narrated by David Case.  This is part of a joint reading project and I will review it later.  Interesting comparing listening with reading with the other participants. Full of humour, insight and a certain amount of dated mawkishness.  It takes a really good narrator to get the balance right and  David Case does it.


The Theory of Everything the biopic of Stephen Hawking.  Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones and rest of the cast act their socks off.  Excellent.

Testament of Youth, taken from Vera Brittains’s autobiography of the same name, , Directed by James Kent with a star-studded cast led by Alicia Vikander and Kit Harrington.  Vera Brittain is a great heroine of mine and I enjoyed this movie.

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12 Responses to eBooks, audio and print

  1. As a heavy audio/ebook reader due to my VI, I agree with the majority of Nicola’s comments. Narrators sure can make or break an audiobook. I sped up the playback once I’m used to the narrator delivery, for example, I did this with amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I find I end up finished audiobooks faster than ebooks this way.
    I must try ironing while listening to an audiobook, maybe that will improve the experience of pressing clothes into shape.

    • I like the idea of speed listening but not sure I could carry it off! I enjoy being read to for its own sake so like to relish the process provided the narrator is good. I tend to prefer male narrators but that may have more to,do with the kind of books I listen to, eg classics and thrillers and travel. Good luck with the ironing!

  2. heavenali says:

    I want to like audiobooks but find them rather soporific. I like the idea of listening to them while doing other things but never do. When I go on holiday with my mum I am forced to listen to one (usually a mystery like Ngaio Marsh) and I find I get confused with the characters and drift off in the middle and get totally lost.
    I am saving In Chancery for next week when I am on half term.

  3. Soporific or relaxing! Good point, Ali .

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    I’m another one who’s sent to sleep by audio books, but Matthew loves them for his commutes. I find that if there are two of you in the house, the one reading an audio book can feel a bit cut-off from the other one, more than if they were reading an e- or physical book.

    I don’t have a problem with e-books although I tend to get out of copyright free stuff on there mostly. It’s very handy for reading large books like the Forsytes or the Trollopes I’ll be doing soon, and so handy when you’re away and don’t have to pack half a suitcase of books. But the Kindle will never replace print books for me.

    I’ve read “In Chancery” so I’ll watch out for your review and link it to mine!

  5. Good point about listening v reading when other people are about. There is something very disconcerting about being around someone wearing headphones. Its not like when reading aloud for pleasure was a communal pleasure. Nevertheless I have to defend it as a wonderful resource! e-books are terrific and much less excluding. Bu, if I could see it, I would still prefer print.

    I will be reviewing In Chancery some time this week. Thanks for the link.

    • Liz Dexter says:

      I didn’t mean to give the impression that audio books need to be defended against my opinion – I think they’re great, but unfortunately they just lull me to sleep (probably caused by my old habit of having a radio on low to fall asleep to!). And they’re a great resource if for whatever reason you can’t use print / ebooks. Matthew certainly loves his and we get different things out of the books we read in our two different ways which make for interesting discussions, as they do with you!

  6. You are quite right. Each medium is valid in its own way. However, I do think we interpret the output (sorry, awful word) differently according to how we access it which is great in that it does form a basis for lively discussion! Not that we need an excuse! It does take a lot of practice to avoid falling asleep though. Matthew’s technique of listening on the move is one practical technique. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    • conifor says:

      I’m with Matthew. I’m not VI so I have the luxury of being able to put on a CD in the car and listen to half an hour on the way to work and half an hour on the way back. It takes my mind off everything else (don’t worry, not the driving!) which is relaxing and rewarding if it’s a good story well written. Only problem is if it’s not, particularly when the voice is grating or the acting is bad. Of course I still have to torture myself to the very end, but at least it keeps me company while I’m on my own (and yes, I do talk back to it when it’s really annoying!)

  7. Thanks for the comment and glad you le joy listening and driving. My ipad has a number of books partially listened to and abandoned because badly written or read. I admire your staying power!

  8. Gill says:

    Nicola echoes my thoughts. Having said that, I have never ‘read’ a whole audio book, so am not really qualified to comment! I do love certain voices, though (Stephen Fry, Martin Jarvis and Alan Bennett) and I have enjoyed short stories like Just William and W-the-P on the radio. Will attempt one to gain some empirical evidence for my views.

  9. The reader is vital to my enjoyment of an audio book. It is great when the reader understands the writer’s tone. Martin Jarvis is a case in point. What amazes me is how many fine narrators are willing to give so much time to reading for audio books.

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