On audiobooks

From my email, from Robert Kwasny:

I imagine you listen to audio books rarely but, still, I wonder if you have any new thoughts on this topic.

Few thoughts of my own:

1. Shakespeare audiobooks are excellent. Much better than watching blu-rays. Unlike on real stage, Prospero (voiced by Ian McKellan in one production) can actually whisper softly to Miranda without worrying about people in the back rows. Stage directions are already included in the dialogue.

2. Pop psychology and self-help are terrible. Once cannot easily skip or skim the boring parts.

3. History books written by academics (e.g. The Sleepwalkers) are tough unless one already knows the necessary context. Otherwise it’s easy to get lost in the thicket of background facts. That’s probably true for all dense books. For example, Piketty’s books are available on Audible but I didn’t even bother sampling them. It’s just a wrong format.

4. I’ve had great experience with books written by authors with journalistic experience. Robert Caro’s works are excellent in audio form. William Manchester’s Churchill biography is good as well. Lawrence of Arabia by Scott Anderson too. Good audiobooks can’t be just one fact after another, they need to tell a story.

5. If the book’s author does the narration it’s usually bad. Voice acting is hard.

Unfortunately I don’t know of any book created specifically for audio. Where are biographies of Bob Dylan with songs included? Or books on rhetoric with audio of great speeches included? Audiobooks (and ebooks for that matter) don’t seem to be a new medium, at least so far. 10 years ago I would have not predicted that.

I have no new thoughts on audiobooks!  Though for my next book (which is co-authored), I was asked to read at least part of the AudioBook.  I will thus develop additional thoughts over time.

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