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This time, a few thoughts on the voices in your head…


Audio books are a conundrum for me.

They are an attractively packaged way to absorb a book. The words are broadly the same as in a printed or downloaded version, often abridged.

Why cut down? They reduce listening time for a not-huge novel to 10-20 hours rather than 30 or 40. A working week for some. Therein lies the nub of the problem, it doesn’t matter if it’s Charles Dance or Benedict Cumberbatch reading the book out and providing a nuanced voice to differentiate between characters’ voices. The problem for me is that it is too slowly delivered. I process a word and race for the next one which I need to carry on the flow. So why not speed it up? Making it 1.5x speed or more just makes it sound like Mickey Mouse is providing the reading voice.

So it’s too slow or too fast.

Either way, it’s relentless.

I sometimes dwell over a paragraph or re-read it in a book. That’s not possible with an audiobook without a great deal of haphazard fiddling with the buttons.

Relentless, like the tapping of the Master’s fingers…

It will keep coming until the charge runs out, and you wake up at 3 am five chapters on. The Voice is still going and you’ve no idea where in the book you lost consciousness.

I don’t know whether it’s a scientific Thing, but the words don’t seem to stick with me as much when I’m listening to them being read. It’s much easier to be distracted because there’s nothing right in front of you drawing you in. I am more absorbed in the pages of a book, paper or otherwise. (Some people can learn how to speak Swahili while listening to a tutorial tape as they sleep, so perhaps it’s the way my brain is wired.)

Why have audiobooks? Why are they so popular?

They give the gift of time.

When driving a car or gardening or doing something else active, an audiobook nearly allows the luxury of multi-tasking which, from my perspective as a male, is an alluring and usually unattainable prospect. But it comes at a cost. Keeping up with the story. Driving a car and listening to an audiobook, especially at a gripping bit, has to be one of the most dangerous ways of getting from A to B, when you want the gripping bit to be the tyres on the road. That Voice requires concentration and focus, not things one typically wants to divert from pointing a couple of tons of metal and plastic along some tarmac.

It’s a compromise, then. But sitting in a hammock on a lazy afternoon in the blazing sunshine and floating away to the past or the future or simply somewhere else without squinting at dappled pages and battling a wasp for a good view of the next paragraph is a wonderful thing, while swaying in the breeze.

It’s like having a radio station follow you around dedicated to telling you stories. A kindly nanny reading you bedtime stories. Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime on tap. It shouldn’t replace a book but, like most things, at the right time and in the right place, it can be perfect.

I am currently listening to The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter (main picture above). It’s War of the Worlds 2 with more tooled-up ETs. Like Independence Day 2 but set in Surrey. Bertie Wooster fighting off Martians. More likely, Jeeves fighting them off, having invented a fiendish secret weapon while spit-and-polishing some brogues. Unlike Wodehouse, there is strictly no humour in MoM, which is a shame, and there’s precious little soul. A little too much stiff upper lip for me. The pace is – like the audiobook – relentless, but at the same time also rather sedate. Only five hours to go, and I’m sticking with it.

What ho!

Alan

Alan Camrose

Martians, pah! Meet Dogzilla…

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