Is the written book always better than the audio book?

I listen to audio books sometimes while I’m driving. I’ve never actually listened to a book that I’ve already read, but I’ve tended to find that I don’t tend to like the audio books I pick out as much as I like the written books I pick out.

I’m beginning to suspect that what’s going on is similar to the book-is-always-better-than-the-movie mentality: that hearing the book read aloud by someone else takes away some of the imaginative aspect of the book. In other words, if I don’t like the author’s tone of voice, or the words they emphasize in a sentence, or the speed at which they read, or something like that, it detracts from how much I like the book.

Another thing I’ve found is that if an author drones on too long on a particular subject, it’s easy to skim a section until the reading gets interesting again, which you can’t do very well with an audio book.

Just wondering what everyone else’s experiences are with audio books in comparison to regular books that you read with your eyes.

I enjoy some audio books more than written books. A good reader can pull me into a book, make me experience it more fully. Sometimes going through every section at a measured pace, instead of having the ability to skim ahead easily, enriches the experience. And sometimes not, it definitely depends on the author.

I first discovered Larry Niven with ‘Ringworld’ on, but they didn’t have the next two Ringworld books at the time, so I got the paperbacks and flipped through most of them, but never really felt like I’d read them until I listened to them all the way through.

Some things I’ve preferred on audiobook:

anything by David Sedaris
Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels read by Patrick Tull
World War Z - the “full cast” version

some people are good listeners and some people are good readers.

also you can be an engaged listener depending on the situation. i might pay close attention to a speech or lecture but find myself easily distracted by some audiobooks, such that i’ll miss stuff.

I think that there will always be a subset of fans who prefer the written to the audio book, because they have imagined the voices of the characters, and the audio book narrator (or sometimes characters) just don’t “fit” with what their imagination tells them the sound should be.

Most books are written to be read, which is a different experience from hearing it read. I think most good novels are already structured as if being told by a good storyteller, so a good reading could be as good or better than a good… um, reading.

But most nonfic, even the most gripping subject, turns into a droning lecture unless it’s motivational or self-help crap that reads like an infomercial anyway. :slight_smile:

Never have found a place for audiobooks, even though I worked for one of the original large providers of them.

It depends a lot on the narrator - Katharine Kellgren and Simon Vance are two of my personal favorites! I generally stick to fiction with audiobooks, as I’m more likely to skim or jump around more with non-fiction.

I found The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness a little easier-going/more engaging as an audiobook, as The Noise (a type of telepathy) was more effectively portrayed audibly than in print, IMHO. And I never would have gotten thru the unabridged print version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but was entranced by the full cast recording available at (conveniently featuring Vance and Kellgren!)

The experience of reading is very different from the experience of listening. Different parts of the brain are used, and they just feel different. So if you go into an audio book expecting to get the same kind of pleasure you get from reading, you’re likely to be disappointed. But I’ve found that, after having listened to a LOT of them, you can enjoy audio books in their own way without making that comparison. I have listened to some books that I’ve read many times, and found with a few of them that I liked the audio experience more.

My recommendation: When you pick out audiobooks, seek out books where you’ve specifically been recommended or read good things about the audio version, not just the book itself. Or at least listen to a sample of the narration ahead of time.

Some books work a lot better as audiobooks than others. And even if the book itself lends itself to being read aloud, it takes a really good narrator to bring something to the book that I wouldn’t get by reading it myself. Fortunately, there are enough such examples that I don’t run out of things to listen to.

We’ve had previous threads in which people have discussed or recommended good audiobooks. Here’s one recent one: Audiobookers: Titles That Were Better in Print?

Amen, amen, amen. Everything of his is better when heard with his actual voice.

I enjoyed the hell out of The Help as an audiobook, mostly because of the amazing performance of the readers. I wouldn’t have liked it half as well if I’d read it to myself.

Another audiobook that got a huge boost from the reader: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb, read by George Guidall. I just looked for it on Amazon and they only seem to have the version by Ken Howard…this makes me want to run to the local library and steal the Guidall cassettes! The man is awesome.

Oh, good example! I heard the first of the Bloody Jack series read by Katharine Kellgren. Now I want to go on, but my library doesn’t have any more of the CDs and I won’t like the books as well on my own. :frowning:

I almost didn’t read the Flashman series for the same reason. The reader (David Case) was that phenomenal.

Exactly what I came to say. If I could do such wonderful accents in my head as I read then maybe the book would be as good as the audiobook.

Dr Strange and Mr. Norrell was like that for me too.

Lots of audiobooks are better than the written version IMO. There’s something about a book written in a women’s voice that seems better when a women reads it, for example, rather than the single deep voice in my head. Books with unusual names or diffcult to pronounce words are better read to me. I tend to skim over such words while reading.

I listened to the third Ringworld book a long time after having read it, to the point where I was a ways into it before I could be sure I had already read it. I think I liked reading it more.

One thing that stood out to me was his (assuming it’s the same reader for all three) pronunciation of Louis Wu’s name. He always said Lou-ie, and I had always read it as Lou-iss. Louie never sounded right to my ears. (A quick search of Wikipedia didn’t give me an answer for which is correct.)

I would much rather read than listen to an audio book. Sometimes I will reread a passage and sometimes I will skim. But I find audio books indispensable for driving. I can only listen to so much music so it’s audio books or talk radio.

My absolute favorite audio book is the unabridged reading of Lord of the Rings by Robert Inglis. I bought a copy years ago which came on forty-five(!) CDs.A Shakespearean actor, he creates different voices for each character and even sings the songs. The gold standard of audio books IMO.

More recently, I’ve been getting into listening to podcasts on my phone. I’m subscribed to Clarkesworld magazine podcast and have listened to some of the short stories. Not all of them by any means but if I like the author. For example:
Our fifth piece of audio fiction for January is “Utriusque Cosmi” written by Robert Charles Wilson and read by Kate Baker (~1hr):
As a Robert Charles Wilson fan I jumped all over that one and was quite impressed.

the HP books were read by Jim Dale and he did an excellent job. The Harry Potter and the Methods or Rationality free fanfare version is read by various people who donate their time. It’s hard to listen to for a number of reasons. There are skills involved in professionally reading something and even if someone is good at it their voice may not hit the mark.

Which reminds me of a guy I was listening to on the radio years ago. His voice was so melodic I could have listened to him read soup can labels. Can’t remember his name but It felt like a melodic brain message to hear him speak.

I cannot read William Faulkner to save my life. I struggle with the words on the page and they start running together and i start skimming and i get nothing. But I can can listen and enjoy the hell out of the prose. And understand it. Try “A Light In August” read by Will Patton. That is the most beautiful book I have ever read.

For efficiency in delivering information to the human brain reading is broadband. Movie/TV is 56K. An audio book is mailing floppy disks. It’s understandable if you’re occupied with a monotonous task, but otherwise? I just end up making the “hurry up” motion.

I have listened to A Savage War of Peace (about the Franco-Algerian War) about a half dozen times and I have always enjoyed it. I tried to read a copy and I kept falling asleep.

Any more unless the reader is very terrible, I always prefer audiobooks over reading them.

I love books, but would no more listen to someone reading them than I would watch a podcast.

This might interest you. See post 31 and thereafter, especially: