Audio Books – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

December 1, 2010

Having listened to many audio books over the years I believe that there is a definite list of good points, bad points and very rarely just plain ugly and wrong points.

Five Good things you will find in audio books.

1. A good narrator can turn an average audio book into one you will never forget. You will come to know the names of your favourite narrators and look out for new readings when they are published. For instance Jeff Harding reads the John Connelly thrillers with a deep gravelly voice he seems to instinctively know which phrases to emphasize and in my mind he is forever linked to these thrillers. Will Patton does the same for the James Lee Burke novels.

2. Some audio books use music to separate chapters and to emphasise the mood of the book. The first time I heard this was on “The Strain” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Once you have listened to an audio book with music you will wonder why it isn’t used on all recordings.

3. A good audio book can introduce you to author whose books you normally wouldn’t read. These days the shelves at book stores are full of thrillers, vampire novels and end of the world stories. Too many and too varied in quality to read them all, but sometimes you can be surprised by the audio book version.

4. Having more than one narrator can really improve an audio book. So much so that you will find yourself wishing this was more common. I remember when listening to the lengthy recording of “The Passage” by Justin Cronin for hour after hour when suddenly a different narrator was used for a new character and the whole mood of the recording changed.

5. When reading an exciting book I will often skip through some of the more flowery or descriptive sections. With an audio book you have to listen to all the text and this can bring a new appreciation for the skills of the author.

Five bad things you may find on audio books.

1. Flat sections. Often authors will have what I call flat sections in their writing. The reasons for this can vary from just bad writing to when they try to build up a particular scene or character and the result is a loss of pace and the text meanders as opposed to racing along. With an audio book it isn’t easy to skip these parts and you mostly have to just grin and bear it.

2. Science fiction names. There are some great Sci-fi recordings but one problem is when the author uses ridiculously long and complicated names within the book. When you are reading you will tend to skip over the names but when the book is read to you well it just becomes silly to hear the over complicated names time and time again. The books of Ian M. Banks are a good example, a great read but sometimes impossible to listen to.

3. Sometimes the narrator is just not up to the job. This often happens when there is a large cast of characters and the publishing house have decided not to pay for the proper number of different narrators. I came across this on a recording of “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. The abridged version has 6 different narrators but the longer (26 hour) unabridged version has just two narrators. Not surprisingly they cannot cope with the variety of characters and the quality ranges from excellent to poor.

4. Science books. The popularity of books which seek to explain elements of science has grown fantastically over the last 20 years. However these subjects can be hard to deal with on an audio book. Many have tables or diagrams which can be very difficult to convey or adapt for an audio book. Listening to a long table being read out aloud is not a joy. In addition to this many science books deal with complex subjects and you often have to turn back and re-read sections. With an audio book this is difficult.

5. Terror. This is both good and bad but if you are like me and have to skip through sections of a thriller to get past the frightening parts then an audio book can seem to take an eternity to move through the same paragraphs.


This article was written by Mike Holly. Mike lives and works in Northumberland, United Kingdom and has recently been researching Cottages in Thropton.

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