People usually listen to radio when they are commuting. Since I always commuted to work by train, I never did get into the habit of listening to the radio. So I never got on to audio books until recently. It’s been a mixed experience.
The first audiobook I tried was about Roman History. It was interesting but it was accompanied by booklets giving a synopsis of each lecture. Anytime I missed something while listening I found myself referring to the booklet. Pretty soon it struck me that I was referring so much to the booklets that I must as well read the booklet and forget about the tape.
The next set of tapes was The Greek Legacy: Classical Origins of the Modern World. This went much better. Since there were no accompanying booklets, I concentrated harder and was able to follow along much better. But there were still some problems. An audiotape plays at a steady pace and that is not how most of us read a book.We read at varying speeds depending on what we are reading. When I read a book, if there is a difficult passage I go back and re-read it before progressing further ; if a passage is uninteresting or unimportant I’ve been known to skip it. If I want to tie it in with something that went before I go back to understand the connection. With an audio tape, that isn’t easy and it is sometimes impossible. Sure you can re-wind but you don’t know how far back you have to go; sometimes the passage you want may even be on a different, earlier tape.
Currently, I’m listening to The Perfect Mile, a thrilling account of the breaking of the four minute barrier by the British miler, Roger Bannister.The book was written by Neal Bascomb and is read by Nelson Runger, an experienced broadcaster with a marvelous voice.The narration is superb as Runger imbues the words with a dramatic flair that is superior to reading them on the printed page. There still is the difficulty of finding an earlier passage when one wants to re-read it .
I still haven’t listened to a novel on tape. I wonder how a narrator can keep the voices of the different characters separate espescially when some of them are of the other gender. I suppose I’ll have to try one to find out.
The bottom line is that audiotapes are a good substitute for a book when one is on the road, but only if the subject matter is not too complicated . There is however a certain pleasure in handling a book and that is why a book will always be my first choice.