Monday, February 12, 2007

Audiobook or Reading?

One of the things about hard copy books, is that they convey a lot of information before you even take them off the shelf. They may be thick, thin, tall, hard cover, paperback, in a fancy slipcase, and so on. All of these things help you make a judgement about how much they are worth, or how well put together they are. By contrast, DVDs are all the same: the printed cover might change, but the box is uniform, and the disc gives no clue (beyond the title!) as to the quality of the contents. There is no bit on the back of the box that tells you how big the budget was, or how much the stars got paid.
It strikes me that Librivox audiobooks have something of the same problem. Once a recording has ended up on your iPod, it is judged in the same way as a commercial audiobook. These recordings have a certain way of being presented, and actors you recognise from the television tend to read them.
Many Librivox audiobooks are indistinguishable from commercial ones. Others sound like a normal person reading a book in their bedroom. And because the recording is right next to Stephen Fry's on your iPod, you compare them. And you forget the vast organisation and staff behind the commercial recording, and the fact that you paid quite a bit for it, and miss the hope, love and courage of the amateur one.
If a friend decided to come to your house and read you a story, what would you expect? Would you be outraged if they cleared their throat? Or coughed? Or mispronounced a word a tiny bit? Would the kindness of the thought be diminished? Perhaps you would tartly remark that Stephen Fry could do a lot better. Probably, you would just sit back and listen to the story.
It seems a pity, to me, that both things carry the same name - audiobook. It invites a comparison that should not arise. This is not to denigrate the efforts of the readers who go to such lengths to produce such professional-sounding recordings. But it is worth remembering, as a listener, that the stated aim of the project is to record all public domain books. With or without sneezes.

8 comments:

Kristin said...

Very insightful comments. I feel kind of silly adding a comment without really adding anything of value, but felt the need to say what I said. Now I'm just padding my post with more words so it seems less insignificant :)

Kara said...

Lovely, Chris :)

ChrisHughes said...

Thanks both. Both wordy and unwordy comments are equally welcome. I have nothing interesting to say at this juncture (indeed, at any juncture), however my lovely wife is reading Pride and Prejudice at the moment (A-Gain), so I will share a little poem we once came across, that summarises the plot nicely:

"Don't misally yourself, Bingley"
Darcy said; "it is best to live singly"
But the lady so spurned
Had a sister who turned
Darcy's head. Darcy wed. So did Bingley.

Kara said...

ROFL. That's a keeper.

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