I Didn’t Consider Audiobooks Really Reading

From Book Riot:

Confession: until a few years ago, I didn’t consider audiobooks really reading. I know, I know, the science says the effect on the brain is the same. What can I say? I was a snob. Nowadays I’ve changed my tune so much that I would even say there are some types of books that are better as audiobooks.

I first ventured into audiobooks when I moved to a city where walking or standing on a crowded bus were my main methods of transportation. With audiobooks, I could read while I was commuting, even if I was using both hands to hang on for dear life.  I could read while I shopped for groceries. I could read while I was cooking.

. . . .

Not only have I come to appreciate how listening to an audiobook engages my imagination and offers me the same kind of escape as the written word, but I’ve actually come to feel that some books are (dare I say it) even better on audio than they are in print.

. . . .


This one is a no-brainer to me. Which is funnier, listening to a stand-up comic do their routine or reading the transcript of the comic’s routine? Anything that’s intended to be humorous is usually funnier in the author’s own voice, delivered with the comedic timing they heard in their head when writing it.

Audiobooks narrated by funny people are also great conversations starters. Turns out when you laugh-snort soup out of your nose with your headphones in, people want to know what you’re listening to.

. . . .


Over the past few years I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diversely, particularly books in translation and works by authors of color. These books often contain words in languages I am unfamiliar with or have characters with a particular accent or cadence to their speech that I have trouble hearing in my (30-something white American female) mind.

These books are better as audiobooks because listening to these stories in a voice that matches the narrator’s helps to transport me into the setting and to get a better sense of the characters. As an added benefit, I can hear any unfamiliar words pronounced correctly rather than butchering them on my own.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Mrs. PG recently persuaded PG to listen to an audiobook while the two of them were sitting in their living room. This was a first for PG. He must say he enjoyed the experience, but his mind did tend to wander once in a while.

Prior to this, PG’s only experience with audiobooks was enjoying them (including genres he probably would not have read in printed or ebook form) while engaged in automobile trips involving long stretches of interstate travel.  Part of the pleasure was discussing the book and characters with Mrs. PG.

PG has always been a fast reader when reading for pleasure (and, long ago, when reading for academic purposes). In the distant past, whenever he checked his reading speed, it was well above average.

In his pleasure reading, PG likes to keep things happening in his mind at a rapid pace, faster than any audiobook narrator would speak. He will sometimes pause for contemplation, but not usually.

When reading legal documents, statutes or opinions of this or that court, things tend to slow down. While a small percentage of attorneys write well, most do not. In PG’s experience, judges (all of whom are former attorneys) who write well are also rarely encountered.

That said, the purpose of legal writing is not to entertain (although on rare occasion, unintentional entertainment does appear), but rather to use precise words in precise sentences so no one, no matter how highly motivated, can misread or misinterpret a legal document.

With that preamble, PG presents an exception to his observation that legal writing and entertainment are rare and strange bedfellows.

Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1996).

The promoter of boxing match brought suit against restaurant and bar owners for allegedly displaying the fight for patrons without paying promoter for broadcast rights. The Judge rendered his decision (and footnotes) in verse. Here is a sample:

The genesis happened on an April night
When plaintiff promoted a boxing fight
And transmitted it live for the usual fee
For paying subscribers to watch on T.V.

The bout was between Messrs. Holmes and McCall
Whose pugilistic talents are well-known to all.
The match evoked international attention
But the outcome herein shall go without mention.

Defendants allegedly exhibited the match
In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch.
Plaintiff’s complaint is based on that section
Installed in the Code for easy inspection
Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live:
47 U.S.C. Section 605.

14 thoughts on “I Didn’t Consider Audiobooks Really Reading”

  1. For me, listening to an audiobook requires too much attention, or a different type of attention. It’s much harder and less satisfying than actually reading a book. I need the written word in front of me for full comprehension. I’ve never been a good listener, but I’m a great reader. That being said, I do occasionally listen to audiobooks, but I never come away feeling like I’ve read the book, because the words weren’t fixed there in front of me to linger over and savor the way I like to do with a book.

    • Different strokes for different folks.

      I’ve tried audiobooks for both fiction and non-fiction and while non-fiction worked fine for me, fiction didn’t quite work out. It was a good reader, too. I just had a problem with tbe dialogs. The character “voices” didn’t fit my internal expectations from the text and it broke my immersion.

      Non-fiction is all narration and exposition so I had no issues there but all in all, I prefer my inner narrator. 🙂

      Probably just me…

      • I dread the day when my vision deteriorates to the point that reading becomes an audio experience for me. I can listen and learn from nonfiction okay, but to enjoy fiction, I need text. Audio doesn’t engage my imagination in the same way. I get lost. I lose track. I forget what was said before and can’t keep up with what’s being said in the moment.

        Listening to the monotonous computer voices is easier for me than dramatized audio, just enough that if I really, really want to keep a book going while I’m doing something else, I can sort of make it work with the text-to-speech stuff, but not the actual recorded audio book. I gave up even trying. It just ruins the whole reading experience for me.

  2. Ask any blind person if listening to a book is reading. I wish audio books had been around when my husband was still alive.

  3. Audiobooks are someone reading a book to you. This was a normal way of reading books for many, if not most, people, in the 19th century & before. Just as it was normal for most people to read out loud, even to themselves, rather than silently in the deeper past.

    Personally, I find audiobooks work best for situations in which I am otherwise physical engaged in a mechanical fashion – driving, walking, gardening except I don’t, & so forth.

    I am not able to just sit listen to an audiobook – except at the end of a mystery story – but I do find some books which work for me as audiobooks but not as paper/ebook. Terry Pratchett’s books are terrific as audiobooks, to the point where I simply can’t read them in other formats. The Harry Potter books are absolutely second rate – until you hear them as audiobooks when they are magically transformed by Jim Dale.

    Good mysteries work well as audiobooks. Charles Todd’s Rutlege series is one I like. Spy novels are great on audio – LeCarre, of course, & Anthony Price. Popular history works for me. And The Illiad & Odyssey – I highly recommend Stanley Lombardo’s translation & reading.

    Want to read Moby-Dick? Well, not exactly an audiobook, but check out The Big Read: https://soundcloud.com/moby-dick-big-read At this point, I’m not sure whether I’ve actually read all of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, or just read a lot of it & listened to the rest. (Reading Proust seems to be a never ending project, even it you’ve read it all before. Sort of like Bible study.) I do know that an audiobook helped me through my first reading of Ulysses.

    The reader makes a big difference. Sometimes, as with Harry Potter, it’s a question of the book finding the right voice, but sometimes it’s a question of the reader finding a voice to listen to. I binged through Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series because of Grover Gardner. I will listen to anything Simon Winchester reads to me, probably including the telephone book.

    In short, audiobooks are a dimension of reading that should not be overlooked.

    (An aside – I’m annoyed that the report of Joe Hand Promotions does not replicate the verse structure. You can’t play poetry without a net.)

  4. PG, Thank you for the link to Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 (D.N.J. 1996). That was pretty cool. My warning to the Defendant: Be afraid; be very afraid.

    Myself? It’s okay for someone to read poetry, but prose . . . gimme print.

  5. You either have to read Joe Hand aloud, or you can read this. Not sure where to put the verse breaks, so I didn’t…

    Joe Hand Promotions v. Sports Page Cafe, 940 F. Supp. 102 – Dist. Court, D. New Jersey 1996

    SPORTS PAGE CAFE, INC., d/b/a Sports Page Cafe, Thomas Russo, Joseph V. Maio, 40 3rd Street Corp., d/b/a Lajas Night Club, Las Marvalillas, Inc., d/b/a Las Maravillas, Inc., Manuel Rodriguez, Beerball, Inc., d/b/a Domyon’s Courtside Pub, Richard L. Ruberto, Quinones, Inc., d/b/a Hector’s Sports Bar, Hector Quinones, United Puerto Rican Council, d/b/a United Puerto Rican Council, Virginia Martinez, Frances Velazguez, and Filomena Aponte, Defendants,
    United Puerto Rican Council d/b/a United Puerto Rican Council, Counter-Claimant.
    Civil Action No. 95-5109.
    United States District Court, D. New Jersey.
    August 15, 1996.
    Alan Gelb, Cherry Hill, NJ, for Plaintiff.
    Walter J. Tencza, Passaic, NJ, for Defendants Beerball, Inc., t/a Domyon’s Courtside Pub; Richard L. Ruberto; Las Maravillas, Inc.; Manny Rodriguez; and Hector’s Sports Bar and Hector Quinones.
    POLITAN, District Judge.

    Before the Court comes a matter of moment
    Deserving of lengthy, unusual comment.
    Sanctions are sought in various forms
    For alleged violations of discovery norms.
    Defendants[1] are asking that this Court now impose
    Sanctions on plaintiff who failed to disclose
    Materials they say are vital to their case,
    If plaintiff’s claims they must eventually face.
    The matter arises from the alleged display
    Of a boxing match, which plaintiff does say
    The defendants screened while not bothering to pay,
    Which they oughtn’t to do, but they did anyway.
    The genesis happened on an April night[2]
    When plaintiff promoted a boxing fight
    And transmitted it live for the usual fee
    For paying subscribers to watch on T.V.
    The bout was between Messrs. Holmes and McCall
    Whose pugilistic talents are well-known to all.
    The match evoked international attention
    But the outcome herein shall go without mention.
    Defendants allegedly exhibited the match
    In their respective taverns for their patrons to catch.
    Plaintiff’s complaint is based on that section
    Installed in the Code for easy inspection
    Which forbids such transmissions, recorded or live:
    47 U.S.C. Section 605.[3]
    Plaintiff, the promoter, is asserting his right
    To receive compensation for transmitting the fight.
    On the night in question plaintiff sent out
    Detectives to find who was showing the bout
    Without paying for the privilege as they properly ought
    In the vain expectation that they wouldn’t be caught.
    Investigator Mesis was among the hired legions
    Who searched for non-payers in several regions.[4]
    He sought out bar-owners at many locations
    To detect, if he could, ongoing violations
    Of Section 605, i.e., screening the fight
    Without paying their dues as they ought to, of right.
    On detecting a sponger at each new location
    He’d vacate the premises and begin recitation
    Of his recent detections on a micro-recorder
    Or he’d jot down his notes — we’re not sure of the order.[5]
    He later transcribed these in legible form;
    Then mislaid the cassette(s), as may well be the norm.[6]
    So his taped observations are no longer around
    Be they lost or destroyed, they cannot be found,
    Because Mesis transcribed and failed to preserve them
    Or otherwise keep them, or hold or conserve them.
    So now come defendants with their formal epistle[7]
    Seeking several sanctions, including dismissal;
    Or, alternatively, they ask for a jury instruction
    Adversely inferring intended destruction
    Of relevant evidence; or else that the Court
    Preclude any mention of the Mesis report;
    And, finally, they ask — along with preclusion —
    That monetary fines be imposed in profusion.[8]
    The Court, however, must now be objective
    Because sanctions imposed are always elective[9];
    As a judicial measure they’re not taken lightly —
    Imposed only sparingly, fairly and rightly.[10]
    In the instant case the horse has not bolted;
    The status quo has merely been jolted.
    With Mesis deposed, his notes readily available
    His memory processes are clearly assailable.
    The lawyers have failed to brief the concern
    As to what, if anything, the jury might learn
    About Mesis’ notes — be they paper or taped;
    Be they celluloid, crumpled, or curiously shaped.[11]
    Counsel fail to acknowledge the rules of admission
    Which ever have governed evidential submissions.[12]
    As such, thus, and therefore, and ergo, and hence,
    The Court cannot presently rule for defense.
    Was this spoliation?[13]
    Or a calculated ruse
    Designed to obstruct, to mislead, and confuse
    The Court and the jury in their search for what’s true?
    Or was it maybe an innocent simple snafu?
    The Court is not satisfied that perfidious antics
    (Rhyme is not easy — excuse the semantics)
    Are afoot and affecting the within litigation —
    Not the most monumental in the courts of the nation.
    Therefore, the Court is now forced to conclude
    That, with all of the parties’ submissions reviewed,[14]
    Insufficient showing has thus far been made
    That Mesis, the investigator, intentionally strayed
    From the `sacrosanct’ rule that the tapes be preserved
    And then, in discovery, appropriately served
    Upon the defendants deserving of same.
    These are the longstanding rules of the game.
    But sometimes the Court is asked to decide
    If a party has intentionally plotted to hide
    Relevant evidence the other side needs
    To disprove allegations of civil misdeeds.
    In this case the issue has arisen, though sadly,
    Because defendants contend they’ve been treated so badly;
    And seek all these sanctions in retaliation
    For plaintiff’s allegedly planned spoliation.[15]
    The Court, on this record, cannot properly find
    That plaintiff and Mesis were each of a mind
    To destroy the recorded detections, though gone,
    Which in Mesis’ affidavits in essence live on.
    That Mesis shall testify, the Court does not doubt
    And the truth, by the jury, shall be fully made out.
    The jury will know if there’s something to hide;
    Accordingly, motion for sanctions DENIED.
    So, on with the case, although sans the recorder;
    Attached can be found an appropriate Order.


    THIS MATTER comes before the Court on defendants’ motion to dismiss and/or for sanctions for plaintiff’s failure to preserve certain cassette recordings allegedly pivotal to defendants’ defenses; and the Court having fully reviewed the parties’ submissions and having decided the matter on the papers without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 78; and for good cause shown as set forth in the accompanying Opinion;
    IT IS on this 15th day of August, 1996,
    ORDERED that defendants’ motion be and the same hereby is DENIED.
    [1] The moving defendants herein are Beerball Inc. T/A Domyon’s Courtside Pub, Richard L. Ruberto, Las Maravillas Inc., Manny Rodriguez, Hector’s Sports Bar, and Hector Quinones.
    [2] Specifically, April 8, 1995.
    [3] 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(i)(II) permits one injured under Section 605(a) to “recover an award of statutory damages for each violation … in a sum not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000….” Section 605(e)(3)(C)(ii) permits enhancement of each award by as much as $100,000 per violation on a finding that it was “committed willfully and for the purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain….”
    [4] See Exhibit A to Plaintiff’s Opposition Brief, page 4, lines 10-12.
    [5] See Mesis’ deposition transcript, pp. 6-7.
    [6] Id. at page 7.
    [7] See Defendants’ Letter Brief in Support of Motion to Dismiss, for Sanctions, for Suppressing Testimony and Evidence, and for Drawing an Adverse Inference at Trial.
    [8] Id. Presumably, defendants’ motion is premised upon Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. The Court notes, additionally, that the sanction of dismissal is particularly severe and ought to be employed only sparingly. See, e.g., Hicks v. Feeney, 850 F.2d 152, 156 (3d Cir.1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1005, 109 S.Ct. 786, 102 L.Ed.2d 777 (1989). See also Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d Cir.1984) (listing six factors to consider in imposing sanction of dismissal).
    [9] See generally Rogal v. American Broadcasting Co., Inc., 74 F.3d 40 (3d Cir.1996).
    [10] Id.
    [11] See generally Federal Rules of Evidence.
    [12] Id.
    [13] Spoliation, under New Jersey law, contemplates violation of a party’s duty to preserve evidence where there is “(1) pending or probable litigation involving the defendants; (2) knowledge by the plaintiff of the existence or likelihood of litigation; (3) foreseeability of harm to the defendants, or in other words, discarding the evidence would be prejudicial to the defendants; and (4) evidence relevant to the litigation.” Hirsch v. General Motors Corp., 266 N.J.Super. 222, 250, 628 A.2d 1108 (Law Div.1993) (treating of spoliation generally). See also PBA Local No. 38 v. Woodbridge Police Dep’t, 832 F.Supp. 808, 833 n. 25 (D.N.J.1993); Viviano v. C.B.S., Inc., 251 N.J.Super. 113, 597 A.2d 543 (App.Div. 1991), certif. denied, 127 N.J. 565, 606 A.2d 375 (1992).
    [14] The Court has decided the matter on the papers, without oral argument, pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 78.
    [15] See Fox v. Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp., 281 N.J.Super. 476, 482, 658 A.2d 732 (App.Div. 1995) (concealment or destruction of evidence must be intentional for spoliation to be found) (citing Viviano, supra, 251 N.J.Super. 113, 597 A.2d 543).

  6. Audio books are not reading. They involve listening. Books can be consumed by reading, listening, or feeling (Braille).

    McLuhan would tell us the media is the message.

  7. I find “read by the author” to not always be such a good thing. Case in point: Scott Adams. Dilbert is funny. Adams’ writing is, often, funny. Adams speaking is often funny. Yet somehow, Adams reading his writing just isn’t funny. His timing is off. Punchlines fall flat. Listen to The Dilbert Future, if you want to know what I mean.

    And there was just no way I was going to listen to a book read by Steven Hawking.

    • Agreed, John.

      Performing a book by reciting it word for word is a talent by itself and not something that can be done by just anyone who can read out loud.

  8. I listen to about 40 audiobooks a year and have since the mid-1990s. I’ve always had long commutes. A great narrator can make the book. Scott Brick doesn’t do character voicing but is excellent for fiction.

  9. As Felix said, different strokes …

    Unless it’s very well done (very very rarely) I can’t stand having someone trying to read something to me. Far too often I hear a part that makes me want to go back over what was already said. My creative mind sometimes hears something and goes off on a tangent – blowing away what was being said and/or losing the next several words. It’s the same for sci-fi or training, give me the docs and let me go at my own pace, when training a model of whatever it is I’m learning how to break/fix would be nice.

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