There’s a great conversation taking place on the Socratic Salon this week about the way audiobooks impact our reading experience. Readers interact with audiobooks in so many different ways, and it’s been interesting to read everyone’s thoughts, the challenges they have, and their favorite audiobooks. I decided to expand on the thoughts I shared there about how my engagement with audiobooks has changed over the past few years.
For a long time, I mainly listened to non-fiction audiobooks, memoirs in particular. (With the exception of re-listening to Harry Potter on audiobook over and over again.) This was because I found it hard to focus on novels without reading the words on the page – with just the audio I got too lost. Most biographies, memoirs and non-fiction didn’t seem to give me the same trouble, so those are the titles I usually listened to while doing chores, showering/getting ready in the morning, and walking/commuting/driving.
But as I started to tackle challenging classics from my to-be-read-bucket-list, I realized I was craving something to help me through these dense tomes – I wanted to listen to the audiobooks. But I knew that I struggle with fiction on audio, and didn’t want to feel like I was missing things from the classics I wanted to read. So I came up with a solution: I read along with the audiobook, with the print copy open in front of me. The first book I read via “readalong” (for lack of a better word) was The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien. Rob Inglis is one of the best narrators for high fantasy of all time, and listening/reading together made reading the Lord of the Rings so much more enjoyable for me. I followed the series with readalongs of Moby Dick and The Brothers Karamazov, and now often read classics alongside their audiobooks, no matter the length of the book. Short or long, the experience is made richer with the audiobook.
Many classics that are in the public domain have a variety of narrators to choose from, so it’s important to test out the various editions and see which one you like best. (For books that have been translated, it’s also important to make sure the print & audio translations match up, or you might go crazy.) Here are my favorite classics on audio that I’ve read so far, that have narrators that perfectly fit the mood and rhythm of the book:
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville, narrated by: Anthony Heald (my review)
- The Hobbit by: J. R. R. Tolkien, narrated by: Rob Inglis (and the entire Lord of the Rings series) (my post)
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, narrated By Constantine Gregory (my review)
- The Stranger by Albert Camus, narrated by: Jonathan Davis
- At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft, narrated by: Edward Herrmann
Listening to audiobooks can also be a great way to re-read a classic novel. When it’s a book I’m already very familiar with, such as Anne of Green Gables or Little Women, I don’t always readalong, sometimes I just listen. Here are some of my favorite classics, and my favorite narrators:
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, narrated by: Simon Vance
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, narrated by: Barbara Caruso
- Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, narrated by: Barbara Caruso
- Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by: Stephen Fry
- A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, narrated by: John Bedford Lloyd
I also have a “stack” of audiobooks waiting for me to readalong with – these are classics I’m interested in reading, and I’ve already tested out the narrator. Here are some of the titles on deck:
- The Innocents Abroad: Or, The New Pilgrim’s Progress by Mark Twain, narrated by: Grover Gardner
- The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway, narrated by: Josh Lucas
- Remembrance of Things Past: Swann’s Way, Part 1 by: Marcel Proust, narrated by: John Rowe
- The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams, narrated by: David Colacci
- Middlemarch by George Eliot, narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
- 1984 by George Orwell, narrated by: Simon Prebble
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, narrated by: Colin Firth
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, narrated by: Jasper Britton
I don’t read + listen 100% of the time – sometimes I put the book down and just listen for a while, picking it up if I want to check or highlight something. And sometimes I hit a part with a lot of action and I want to just read for a bit – I’ll pause the narration and then pick up again later. That’s the nice part of having both – you can be flexible.
I now find that if I go too long without doing a readalong, I start to crave it. I really enjoy the time spent being read to, while I read along. It’s relaxing, and it helps me focus more than if I was reading on my own. I also find that I read for longer stretches of time when I read like this. I’ve now expanded the books I’ll readalong with beyond classics: I’ll readalong with modern fiction, or really dense non-fiction that I need to focus on more closely.
Have any of you ever tried this? Or do you find that you can focus on classics on audiobooks well enough to not read along with a print copy? Do you have a favorite classic to listen to on audio?