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Does listening to audiobooks lead to better comprehension or retention compared to a physical book, like a paperback? This differs from individual to individual. Some retain spoken word better than what they read, while many do better with books they can hold and read physically. I used to be a voracious reader, and have the requisite walnut-colored book rack at home, with paperbacks spilling over the sides, and prized hardcovers taking pride of place. But over the last few years, I find myself depending on audiobooks to get my reading done. From quick book summaries to well-read novels, biographies and non-fiction books, audiobooks have made this voracious reader fall in love with literature in a whole new way.
Perhaps it’s the skill of the reader evocatively bringing to life the world the author has crafted with care - the emotional nuances of the narrator’s voice as it takes me through the protagonist’s journey, walking every step with me, feeling every whiff of the breeze, the swell of a small victory and the trough of a defeat or heartbreak, the reluctant joy of finding new love, the searing loss of a loved one, the sudden and cruel silence that follows an untimely demise, or maybe a call to adventure, the energy and trepidation of exploration, the excitement of discovery. Hearing a human narrate these stories, and resonate with the feelings they awaken in us, makes each audiobook a rewarding experience in itself. We read books, especially fiction, to be transported to a different world - worlds where many more things are possible, and worlds holding out a promise of adventure and/or emotional fulfillment. A well crafted audiobook captures all of this - like an audio movie, if you will. Audiobooks, in my experience, are a heightened form of listening - the listener is enveloped by the world the author has created. And he is transported, nay, dropped into that world, experiencing every word, deed, and thought in the story like a real-time adventure.
We read books for the same reasons - every time we open a book, we expect to be drawn into the world it contains within. We expect to sail through a storm of emotions, to explore the tapestry of its intricate human connections, coming out the other side redeemed but changed in a deeply rewarding way. (Except some self-help books, which are meant to be acted upon immediately - do they even know most book readers are proud procrastinators?) And once it’s done, on we go to the next story that captures our imagination.
I’d think physical books are better for educational purposes - we can go back to a page we want to refer to again and again, until we’ve mastered the skill we’re seeking. Otherwise, as a reader, the transition to listening to audiobooks, while cumbersome, can be beneficial. You save on physical space, on paper, money (audiobooks are usually less expensive), and you can listen to them at any time. That last bit is important to me - these days, no commute or travel is wasted because I always have an audiobook on my phone. My work with Timbre Media has meant that I have benefited from audiobooks immensely. They produce and distribute audiobooks as well, so the writer in me hopes to seize that opportunity quickly as well. (P.S: If you’re a writer, you really should get in touch with them about your audiobook.) The downside? I do miss rummaging through old, worn, dog-eared books in second-hand book stores. They’re always fascinating, - a peek into a brief moment in another person’s life that they’ve chosen to give away. I miss bookstores (and the pandemic hasn’t helped either) and being able to touch a book, feel the font on the cover, speak to the store owner - who is inevitably a kindred soul that treasures books and storytelling the way I do. So what I gain in terms of the human element in audiobooks, I lose when I do not visit a bookstore. Because truth be told, visiting your favourite book stores always feels like visiting an old, trusted friend. I’ll most likely keep both in my life, but for purposes of reading, audiobooks have added a whole new dimension to my “reading” - I’m no longer a bystander, I feel like a witness to an unfolding adventure! And such experiences stay with us for a long time. It’s hard to beat a well-told story, isn’t it?
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