Voices in Our Heads

“’With a digital audiobook you don’t always notice how long a book is, and something that might look experimental on the page sounds totally natural when read aloud.’ In a way, she [Laura smith, senior acquisitions editor at WF Howes, company publishing the audio edition] says, Ducks, Newburyport may be perfectly suited to the format. ‘The idea of listening to someone’s innermost thoughts is intriguing. The further we get into the protagonist’s head, the more powerful the experience becomes. It gives a surreal sense of immediacy, and an intense need to keep listening – to stick with her and find out what happens’” (from “Surreal immediacy: how a 1,000-page book became a 45-hour audiobook).

When I checked out Lucy Ellman’s novel Ducks, Newburyport with my hoopla account and loaded those 1000 pages, I had just read the article in the Guardian. As soon as I saw the fields of words bounded by slim borders of white, I realized that I would be saving Ellman’s tour de force for our road trip this summer. What better way to be doubly transported than to drive the Pacific Coast highway while swimming in a sea of redoubtable prose?


Audiobooks? Personally I’ve hardly explored the medium. And what a shame. Yesterday, while making dinner, I finished The Tatooist of Auschwitz, my tears adding salt to the spinach searing on the stovetop. Here’s what I know now—it’s easily as hard to return from this form of storytelling as from the eyes-across-the-page mode. A recent article  from Discover says:

” …the most recent study, which compared brains when they were listening and reading, showed that words tend to activate the same brain regions with the same intensity, regardless of input….The subject’s brains were creating meaning from the words in the same way, regardless if they were listening or reading. In fact, the brain maps for both auditory and visual input they created from the data looked nearly identical.”

I remember my son arriving home from college for vacation looking somewhat dazed. As I appraised him post-hug, I asked, “How was your trip?”

“Well, mom, I just listened to The Road. Now I have to read it.” I waited. “I’m not sure that the way I feel about it hasn’t been too influenced by the way the reader read it, so…” These are words every book-loving mom—person—wants to hear.

I’m thinking about them now as I watch too many kids in the schools where I substitute discount reading. Many of them do love art, so graphic literature does capture some, but I am often touting the great audiobooks that are out there for them, for us. And I guess that’s at the heart of this: I need to do more “pushing” toward audiobooks.

Maybe you could help?!

6 thoughts on “Voices in Our Heads”

  1. Thanks for raising this in your slice. I love audiobooks, my library is virtual out of necessity (no real libraries around here) so I either read books or listen to them on a device. Audiobooks are perfect for car trips.The kids here will take anything… they have no books at home, so they love to borrow from our little library.

  2. That’s so terrific! How wonderful the wild and free imagination is at the prompt of story, no matter how it’s delivered. Great thoughts triumph; kids are hungry for them.

  3. I know many people who listen to audiobooks. I have yet to try them. Don’t know why I am holding off. My kindle is always offering me free trials. Maybe I will just take them up on it next time.

  4. I used audiobooks in the classroom – Wiesel’s Night was especially powerful for kids to listen to. We know how much younger kids like to be read to, older students like it too and audiobooks kind of serve that purpose. I do agree with your son that the voice reading the story can influence our thoughts about a book differently than if we read the book ourselves. (A number of people in my book club like to read our book of the month on audiotape and it’s interesting to hear how the reading has influenced their take on the book.)

    1. The reader for the version of Night that we listened to was mesmerizing. I sobbed by the end. Thanks for reading!

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