One reason is an assumption that because audiobooks are "easier," you get less out of them. I found little data to support this theory. It hasn't been well studied, but Forbes reports on one study that indicated no retention difference between audio and visual books. "In some cases, listening offers major advantages over reading, even with material as tough to parse as Shakespeare," the article states. "That’s because an audio book pre-determines an aspect of language called prosody, or the musicality of words. Prosody is how we known that someone is being self-reflective when they ask aloud if they left the gas on (or when Hamlet asks whether 'to be or not to be')."
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The difference between reading and listening can come out in other, odder ways, too. Recently, I was reading The Good Lord Bird as I was hiking a snowy trail. There's a particular scene in that book, a gritty situation involving slaves being hanged for attempting a rebellion. I can picture exactly the spot where I was stepping as I listened to those events unfold. When I return to that spot—the 10-foot-tall rocks on the side, the patch of ice that never melts in the shadow, the way the trail curls around the rocks like a cat's tail around its paws—the scene from the book replays in my head. This happens to me frequently when I listen. The heightened emotional state seems to cause me to take mental snapshots of the scene around me, which probably has something to say about the relationship between emotions and memory.
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A final drawback can be terrible narrators. If someone last dipped into the audiobook world five or more years ago, you may remember some pretty bad renditions of novels. Try again. Narrators are usually professional actors, and while there are some stinkers in the bunch (review before buying), most narrators really add to a book. Some of my own favorites are Davina Porter (the Outlander novels), Fanella Woolgar (Life After Life), Jim Dale (Harry Potter), and Neil Gaiman, who narrates his own novels. Um, I just realized these are all Brits. Yes, I think I have a preference for those narrators, but I'm listening to the very American Oliver Wyman narrate an Iraq-war novel right now, and I can tell you: he is just as talented as any of my beloved UK-folk.
So what about you? Do you listen to audiobooks, or do you think they're "cheating?" If you like them, how often do you select them over a visual format? Do you have any favorites?