When my wife was alive and commuting daily at least 45 minutes to work, she loved recorded books, mostly mysteries and usually abridged. For a few years I joined her in the commute and it was obvious how the recorded books relieved the tedium of the drive and I had to agree with her, the abridged versions left out a lot of boring description and made the trip more pleasant. Due to the number and size of the abridged tapes, she was enjoying a typical novel in just two days. Recorded books were, as they say, better than mayonnaise.
I knew a few readers that used recorded books to cover the hours washing dishes, weeding the garden, or ironing the sheets (they still do that?). Being an avid reader myself, I tried recorded books, thinking it was another avenue to expand my reading. What a disaster!
First, I was bored listening to the tapes. Even exciting stories drug on to the last syllable of recorded text. I suggest two reasons: first, the readers were slow and methodical, reading much slower than I would if I was reading the same book, and second, I found my imagination disengaged from the story and lazily allowed the reader to interpret it all for me. Yawn. As you might surmise, I actually gave up on recorded books because I kept falling asleep and then spending more time trying to find my place back on the tape (or worse on CD) and to re-listen to the parts I snored my way through initially.
Now that I am old and having some eyes trouble, I have shifted from ink and paper books to digital versions on my iPad. I recently got the big idea to subscribe to an online source of recorded books to further save my eyes. Looking through the catalogue I was quite excited: they had recorded copies of big fat books and older classics that I had not found or purchased in digital form. I started with The Golden Notebook and just dipped into Doctor Zhivago.
But I quickly realized that I still needed to have the printed text in front of me to fully ingest the entire import of the text. At first I wondered if I needed the audio version if I was still reading the printed text? I rationalized that, despite the tediously slow cadence of the reader, the recorded version functioned as a sort of metronome that kept me reading and helped me to focus my attention and not wander around in my head. Also, I tried using the digital voice on the computer to read the digital texts with varying results; the audio recording at least seldom butchered the pronunciation of less common words.
But as fate would have it, I fell asleep listening to Doris Lessing and later discovered the almost impossible task of trying to resynchronize the text with the recording and to resume the narrative at the spot I last remembered as I drifted off to sleep. I did this more than once and realized I was never sure I wasn’t rereading great chunks of prose or even worse, skipping over some important part of the story.
My current analysis is much as I concluded back in the ’90s: recorded books might be good for long car trips but they suck as a replacement for any kind of reading. I’m going to increase the font size on my iPad and consider increasing the strength of my reading glasses. If it gets really bad I can always stream my digital book to an app that reads text even if it means some words will be undecipherable (like covfefe?).