Hark! I Hear An Audiobook

Girl wearing headphonesA writer friend of mind recently had one of her print books made into an audiobook, and I went to the website for a sample listen. It was an . . . interesting experience, to say the least. Now, let me preface by saying that in general I’m not an audiobook listener. I like my books in text form, whether on the paper page or in an electronic reader, and I’ve listened to only a handful of audiobooks. Furthermore, the ones I’ve listened to have been mainstream fiction. For example, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, or Frederik Forsyth’s Icon, so I’m by no means a seasoned expert in this format. But I went to have a listen to my friend’s contemporary romance audiobook and came away from the experience somewhat turned off.

There was something, I don’t know, kinda icky about a non-emotional reading of a romance novel when the genre inherently contains so much strong emotion. The reader was just, you know, reading. She wasn’t acting or performing, she was reading aloud the words on a page. Perhaps the thinking is that the listener will want to put her own spin on the emotions of the text so if the reader does so it inhibits the listener. But I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t care for it at all. And on top of that, the reading of the sex scenes was just downright weird. Imagine in your head a robotic-like voice saying, “Come on, Mitch. Just f**k me. Yeah, baby. Just like that. Rub my pussy. Mmmm, it feel so good.” Did you put a robot voice in your head? Creepy, right? And it doesn’t exactly arouse desire which, after all, is a huge part of the fun from the sex scenes.

I decided to pursue the matter further by discussing it with others who regularly enjoy listening to audio books. What’s fun about them? I asked. What distinguishes a good audiobook from a bad one? Is it the story itself? A good story is a good story, after all, so ergo, a good audiobook? Not so, say those in the know. There were two main characteristics of a good audiobook – and this is with the assumption that the story is strong. So OK, you’ve got a good yarn on your hands. It doesn’t necessarily translate to a good audiobook. The two primary distinctions told to me are that the audiobook reader must be a good performer, and the production value needs to be high.

Taking the first point, about the performance, leads me to think that the romance audiobook clip I listened to made me feel squishy because the performance was as enthralling as watching paint dry. Or perhaps, in this case, listening to paint dry, meaning there was no performance whatsoever. The reader made the decision to be dry and unemotional. It may work for some, but for me it was a complete snooze with a dash of discomfort. If the hero is baring his soul and revealing his issues and declaring his love well, damn it, I want emotion.

About the production value . . . clarity is key, with perhaps a little music thrown in here and there for mood setting and to signify scene or POV changes.

In the end, I’m going to stick with the printed text, where I can be screaming in my head when the heroine’s screaming on the page, but I’d love to hear from others. What’s your take on audiobooks, specifically romance audiobooks. Are they a fun alternative from print, or do they just make you want to hit the off button?

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