I hate audiobooks. I listen to two or three of them each year, usually when I’m doing something with my hands, like washing the dishes, or rewashing the dishes. I’ve never moved the relationship beyond the “just friends” stage with the aural medium. For one thing, they’re too long. When you load up your iPod with 29 hours of some author’s gift to mankind, it’s already clear that the publisher inserted at least six hours of random content just to see if anyone gets that far.
Still, if it was only the length that was beyond expectations, I could deal with that. The true problem with audiobooks is my ears, or at least the lack of processing power that my brain grants to those input devices. For reasons I can’t fathom, I am unable to retain much of any content from an audiobook. It literally (or possibly even figuratively) goes in one ear and out the other, slowed down only by the $14.99 folding headphones mounted on each end.
Let’s say I’m listening to American Prometheus, my most recent audiobook selection reviewing the tragic life of scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The famed “father of the atomic bomb” met a lot of people in his tragic existence, some of them tragic figures all their own. And by a lot I mean a lot, as in hundreds, possibly billions. You would think that the authors, understanding the limits of human memory, would cull the majority of those names, or at least replace them with generic one-syllable placeholders, like John or Wilt. But no, they have to insert those names as if they were part of some vast chronological narrative, where people enter the story and leave it quickly, only to show up twelve chapters later. So when authors Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin decide to insert names like Vannevar Bush, Lewis Strauss, or President Eisenhower into the story, that can’t seriously expect me to recognize them or understand their importance in the story, can they? I’m washing dishes here!
I once read (wait, it’s “listened to,” not “read”) the book Freedomnomics, by John R. Lott, Jr., a book that provides a response to the popular Freakonomics, by Levitt and Dubner. When I finished, I wrote a review of it on my website. I was delighted when the author commented back on my review, although he said that “I didn’t get it.” Didn’t get it? Doesn’t he realize that I was doing yard work while listening to his magnum opus? The bushes got trimmed; what else does he expect?
My point is that audiobooks are deceitful. Sure, they are convenient. They allow you to engage the mind when your body is elsewhere occupied, be it driving a car or performing brain surgery. But from what I can tell, they lull you into believing that you will actual comprehend a book when, in reality, your brain will treat them as the type of background noise you hear on the grocery store speakers when you’re trying to choose between paper or plastic.
[Image Credits: freeimages.com/Craig Rodway]