Vulpes Libris

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.

Talking Books: Audiobooks month – the Foxes Reflect

If you’re thinking that the Bookfoxes had all this month mapped out with time to spare, and gave a cursory glance to each day’s post muttering “we knew that” – not so. We’ve waited impatiently for each day’s post, and have been constantly surprised and exhilarated. The word in the den has been how much we’ve learnt, from our wonderful contributors, and from one another.

So, here are Foxes Moira, Kirsty, Lisa, Rosy and Hilary with their highlights from our first Audiobooks Month, and what they’re going to take away from it.

In spite of being an audiobook fan for something like 40 years, I’d never given any thought at all to how that voice got onto that CD (or – when I first started listening – that LP!); never stopped to ask myself what separated good narrators from bad ones; never paid any attention to the skill needed to differentiate between characters, genders, ages … Never, in short, really listened with my brain in gear. So in that respect alone, it’s been an eye-opening experience. Factor into that what happens on the other side of the glass – the director, the sound engineer, the publisher – and all the decisions they have to make all the way along the line: I’ve developed a profound respect for all of them.

I suppose my real highlight though was the part that almost never happened because we’d overlooked them: the pioneers themselves – the RNIB. I knew there were ‘Books for the Blind’, but vaguely considered them to be the shabby country cousins of the ‘real things’ – the commercially produced talking books. I had less than no idea of what a massive, thoroughly professional operation it is – and how many people benefit from it. Amazing stuff.

Audiobooks Month was an education for me. I’d go as far as to say that I am (or was) an audiobook philistine; it wasn’t just that it didn’t occur to me to listen to them, but I had only the vaguest idea of the sheer work and skill that went into producing one. The technical discussions, and particularly the candid and witty contributions from “our” actors (Jay Benedict, Stephen Greif and Edward Petherbridge) together with the estimable Martin Jarvis, were the highlight of this month for me. Their enthusiasm made me think that perhaps I’ve missed a trick…

The highlight of Audiobook Month for me was undoubtedly Sharon’s review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as narrated by Stephen Fry. All month I have been trying to decide if audiobooks are something I want to investigate further, or if I can live quite happily without ever listening to another one. My first ever encounter with an audiobook, Sum by David Eagleman, was an interesting experience, but also something of a battle. Sharon’s review of the Stephen Fry/Harry Potter audiobook made me realise that there is at least one audiobook that I simply MUST HAVE.

There has been so much great stuff this month. I loved Trevor’s piece on Lord of the Rings and Sharon’s review today was a show-stopper. And Nicolas Soames from Naxos was very inspiring with his passion for the medium.

But my personal highlights were “Where Beagles Dare: Speaking for Darwin?” not only for the chance to put in a cheeky title (thanks Moira) and the chance to raise some really complex and thought-provoking questions but also the ensuing discussion that took place in the comments – which was of such a high calibre.

My other highlight – working with Eve on the first VL podcast! Huge fun, with the added relief that it actually worked! (It was a bit hit n miss about 3 minutes before recording). Mark Buckland from Cargo publishing was the perfect podcast interviewee and I’m looking forward to Vulpes embracing audio a bit more in the future – as a medium for posts as well as for reviews.

It’s hard to know where to start. I think that the revelation to me was the extent to which audiobooks have taken on a life of their own in the publishing world, while I’ve spent so many years thinking of them as just an ‘alternative format’. The playful way in which downloads and an ‘iTunes’ approach are changing the landscape and offering new listening/reading experiences is tremendously exciting.

Like my fellow Foxes, I’ve been fascinated by the wealth of information from readers, producers and publishers on the technical and performance aspects of creating audiobooks. I feel sure that there is a LOT more to say about the theory and practice of abridgement. I’ve been delighted with the reviews and am looking forward to the recommendations. And, with Moira I’m delighted to have found out so much more about the work of the RNIB. I thought it was terrific that we actually got to hear some voices, and I’d like to congratulate Rosy and Eve on their triumphant podcast, and thank Mark Buckland and Edward Petherbridge for lending their voices, literally, to this enterprise.

But the most fascinating aspect of the week for me was the exploration of the variety of responses to audiobooks, and highlights for me were Sam’s piece challenging us to think about the similarities and differences between listening and reading, and the spirited debate between Rosy Thornton and Caroline Green, taking sides on audiobooks, contrasting the power of storytelling with the mental processes of adapting to the pace of someone else’s reading.

So, our first Audiobooks Month, but surely not our last ……? (Prime movers Moira and Rosy reach for the smelling salts ….)

The irresistible banner above, so utterly apt for our Audiobooks month, comes from the Flickr photostream of Manatee County Public Library System, Florida, USA and was created by Jonathan Sabin. It was so perfect for us Bookfoxes that we just had to use it, and we congratulate this excellent public library on its commitment to provide the experience of books, reading and listening in all formats.

5 comments on “Talking Books: Audiobooks month – the Foxes Reflect

  1. Jackie
    September 28, 2010

    Oh, I just love that photo! It’s perfect for this post.
    It was intriguing seeing what the Foxes came away with from our Audiobook month & also interesting seeing some of the highlights overlap. I thought it was well worth all of the work involved & certainly learned a lot myself.

  2. Nikki
    September 29, 2010

    I agree with so much that has been said here. There have been some real highlights this month. Like Rosy, I loved Trevor’s LOTR piece. I really appreciated not only the reviews (loved the Harry Potter one!) but the information about getting it from page to CD. Also, the stories about why people choose audio, why it’s important to them. I think another highlight for me was Eve’s post about audio for kids. You’ve definitely convinced me that audio has a place in my reading world. Now to track some down at the library!

  3. Lisa
    September 29, 2010

    Yeah it’s been a great month. I can’t believe I forgot to mention the LOTR piece by Trevor Byrne and also Eve’s piece on audio for kids, which were both great. And then the RNIB interview, and Moira’s experiment with the DAISY player. There’s been loads of brilliant stuff. Thanks to all of our contributors.

  4. Christine
    September 29, 2010

    As an avid lurker and occasional poster of comments, I just want to say thank you to all of the Book Foxes and their guests for a really interesting and engaging month. I’m one of those people who found audio books on cassette as a great distraction during long car rides and bus trips (this goes back to the original Walkman days), used them for my children when they were small (on CDs at home and in the minivan) and now listen to them frequently via digital download (who has time to read between work and the second shift?). This month has both validated my experience and given me a window into the production side of things. And it has been extremely entertaining! Although I must weigh in on the side of those who don’t care much for abridgments in any form . . .

  5. Sharonrob
    September 29, 2010

    Thanks for the opportunity to be involved in a very enjoyable exercise. Audio-book reviewing is hard work, because you have to look at the reader/cast as well as the writer, but it definitely makes you look at the work from a different perspective.

    I enjoyed reading other people’s reviews, especially those who had much more experience with the format than I do. It convinced me that we need more audio-books as well as downloads and pod-casts, especially of unabridged material. People who use audio formats will only be encouraged to do so if the experience is comparable with paper-and-ink reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



Editorial Policy

The views expressed in the articles and reviews on Vulpes Libris are those of the authors, and not of Vulpes Libris itself.

Quoting from Vulpes Libris

You are very welcome to quote up to 100 words from any article posted on Vulpes Libris - as long as you quote accurately, give us due credit and link back to the original post. If you would like to quote MORE than 100 words, please ask us first via the email address in the Contact details.


  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
  • %d bloggers like this: