A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
When first this audiobook month was proposed I was confronted with the truth that I know next to nothing about audiobooks. Although as a child I remember listening to Just William in the car, as well as Beverley Naidoo’s Journey to Jo’Burg and countless others, I have rather lost the habit as I’ve grown up. I downloaded (stole) some of Stephen Fry’s reading Harry Potter while at university, and a friend copied some individual chapters (Woolf, du Maurier, Dylan Thomas) onto my ipod a few years go which I enjoyed, but that is about it. I don’t listen to them, I don’t particularly want to listen to them, and I don’t have the concentration to do so even if I did. I don’t hate them; they just don’t register on my consciousness at all.
I suppose my instinctive sense is that listening to an audiobook is somehow cheating; that reading is the only way to fully appreciate a work of literature. This is in part due to the sheer number of classic works on audiobook that are abridged. How can one claim to have read a book, without actually encountering the entire text? Abridgements may convey some of the story, but like movie adaptations they tend to exclude character and setting, not to mention some of the lyricism of a great work.
Yet I am aware that many audiobooks are unabridged and that my judgement is excessively and unfairly negative. What about all the good audiobooks do: providing a means of engaging with literature for those who may not want or be able to read in the conventional sense, entertaining on a long car journey, interpreting and re-interpreting as with theatre. In spite my instincts, I believe strongly that audiobooks are a good thing.
But is there a difference between information gained with the eyes and that with the ears? The Oxford Shorter English Dictionary appears to say yes, defining the verb ‘to read’ as to:
Inspect and silently interpret or say aloud (letters, words, sentences etc) by passing the eyes or fingers over written, printed, engraved, or embossed characters.
This seems a rather narrow definition. How can we favour the gaining of information and enjoyment through the eyes or fingers over that which we gain through the ears?
But what do I know? I’ve already said that I don’t listen to audiobooks so why should I sit in judgement upon them. I’m ducking out of this firing line and passing it over to you, Vulp readers. Is there a difference between reading a book and listening to an audiobook? Or are they two sides of the same coin?