Thoughts About Audiobooks

Since June is Audiobook Month, there have been many posts about new and appealing audiobooks. For us, books on CD have become a big part of our lives, although only in the car; neither one of us can get used to walking around with earbuds connected to a dangling device.


I mostly listen to nonfiction on audio. This is in spite of the fact that my favorite part of nonfiction books is without doubt the visual material: the photographs, maps, and charts, and even the footnotes and indexes that accompany the text. Fortunately Google allows me to supplement my listening.

Jim and I also enjoy listening to nonfiction audiobooks together. We often stop the narrative to argue talk about particular points raised in the book. If I am in the car by myself, I have been known to call Jim up from the car (using bluetooth) to argue about share what I have heard.


But there are some disadvantages to books on audio, even besides the lack of visual material that is so often an important part of a nonfiction book.

One is that tracks are usually too long for me. If a point is complex, I may want to hear it repeated. But to re-start the track may mean going back ten minutes or so, and therefore having to listen to a lot of the book over that I don’t want/need to hear again. I imagine I would need to do this from time to time with fiction as well, since there are occasions in the car when one needs to devote one’s full attention to the traffic rather than plot points.

A second negative for me is the issue of pronunciation. Far too many narrators do not do research on the proper pronunciation of names of people, countries, battleground etc. and it is grating. This mispronunciation is in addition to the plethora of ordinary words that get mispronounced, the most common being “air” for “err”; “of-ten” for “often” (the “t” should be silent); “for-tay” for “forte” (the musical term is correctly pronounced “for-tay” but the word meaning “strong point” is correctly said as “fort”); and “sub-STAN-tive” instead of the correct “SUBs-tantive”). And salmon as a fish has no “l” but Salman as a name is not a fish; the “l” stays in the pronunciation.


Overall I’d say the costs do not outweigh the benefits. But still. Am I the only one bothered by such things on audiobooks?


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25 Responses to Thoughts About Audiobooks

  1. sandynawrot says:

    I was just sitting here wondering what my focus of today’s Sunday Salon will be, and now I think I have my idea that I will steal from you! I’ve really given no love to audios in June. You know how much I love my audios, but there are some downsides. Drives me crazy not to be able to take notes but I figure if it is important, I’ll remember the gist. And I can usually find the best quotes from the book by Googling. I also miss pictures on the non-fiction, but of course that is what the computer is for! As far as the long tracks, I would agree. I think there is a happy medium. Like maybe a 5 minute track. But see, I often will load these on my iPod and if there is no accessible online database, you do NOT want to manually load an audio with 100 tracks per disc. I’ve actually returned an audio to the library unloaded because of this. The pronunciations (or mispronunciations) usually don’t bother me. But occasionally they will. Cassandra Campbell’s GROSS mispronunciations of Polish cities and words in that Iron Curtain audio has irritated me so much I had to stop. I get that they are hard words, but all it would take is a call to a Polish-speaking person to get it right.

    • I know that often producers and even directors are involved. I don’t get why *they* don’t care about pronunciations! And you’re right – it’s so easy to make a phone call!

    • Cassandra Campbell says:

      We worked closely with the author of Iron Curtain to get the pronunciations right. She lives part of the year in Poland and speaks the language fluently. The producer and I worked for weeks on the project. So sorry you found it faulty.

      • Thanks very much for your comment. I have wondered about the involvement of producers. I know that you, along with Simon Vance, are very much the favorite narrators of bloggers, although to date, I personally have not listened to any of your books. I did, however, just listen to a wonderful book that was marred by the narrator saying (over and over again) SAN-dee-ah Labs (in New Mexico) instead of San-DEE-ah. (He said it so often, I began to think, well, maybe the Labs actually *changed* the pronunciation! So I called, and they answered the phone, “Hello, San-DEE-ah Labs!”)

        I tried to imagine, if I were a narrator, how I would know what to check. Because obviously one *must* assume a lot – one can’t check every word. And how would you even know that a word might be one you *need* to check? It must be a very interesting process, involving a lot more than just reading!

  2. Fantastic! You know I love talking audio! (audio… long “O” sound at the end of the word… not “ooh”…. although “audi -ooh” just gave me an idea 🙂
    I agree that I do not like LONG audio books. I like variety and unless the book is something super fantastic I do not want to listen to over 10 hours of one book – and prefer the 7 – 9 range.
    I also agree on the not being able to back track because it is too much of a pain to
    1. find the spot you are looking for
    2. to listen to all the other stuff again
    3. And you are driving so now its just annoying trying to drive and backtrack and probably should not be done 🙂

    I do however find so many plus’s to audio:

    1. I can listen to a book while going to the cabin
    2. I can listen while mowing, cooking, cleaning.
    3. Audio gives me a different feel to my favorite books that I have read
    4. Audio at this point, more than doubles my book count for the year.

    Excellent discussion Jill!

    • I’m impressed you can hear an audio over the sound of a lawn mower! :–)

      • When I put the ear buds into my phone and turn it up I receive a little warning message about sound level 🙂 My phone actually does have great sound for over the mower and is much more pleasant to listen to a book then the constant RRRRRRRRR of the mower. *sigh* I love to mow because of audio 🙂

  3. I love nonfiction on audio, too, but almost always end up borrowing (or even buying) a print copy so I can take a look at charts, graphs, photos, recipes, etc.

    The length of the track was a pet peeve of mine, but now I mostly listen on my phone through the audible app and they have a “30 second rewind” button. I use it often!!

    And you don’t want to get me started on mispronunciation 😉

  4. I am really bothered by all the mispronunciations as well — “of-ten”with the “t” pronounced is one of my pet peeves as well! But there’s no better way to make use of otherwise wasted hours in a car. I have a 16-hour road trip coming up (alone) and am trying to decide what audiobooks I’ll bring.

    • For road trips, I have really enjoyed these:

      The Road to Quoz by William Least Heat-Moon which is actually about a road trip he took with his wife;

      anything by Bill Bryson – lots of fun anecdotes and it doesn’t matter if you stop and pick it up later;

      any comedy tapes, like by Dave Barry – keeps you awake while driving;

      I personally like history tapes, but they’re not for everyone. Two I thought were particularly excellent were Caro’s latest on Lyndon Johnson (The Passage of Power) and Command and Control by Eric Schlosser. I also see that Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King (about Thurgood Marshall) is out on audio now – I read it as a book, but it’s an excellent story.

  5. BermudaOnion says:

    I really like nonfiction on audio as well. Mispronunciations and bad accents can drive me to distraction. I just listened to a book and the narrator mispronounced the author’s name.

  6. Heather says:

    The only thing that can really bother me on audios is an narrator’s tone. I can’t explain it, only to say that some narrators simply bore me and I tend to lose focus if they are monotone or equally boring in other ways. I literally can NOT continue listening to an audio book when this is the case, I won’t pay attention at all and it will be completely pointless.

    • I know what you mean. I even find that I can’t listen if the narrator’s voice is too “relaxing,” since I listen while driving, and don’t want to be lulled to sleep!

  7. aartichapati says:

    That is so funny about the pronunciation, because often (silent T) when I hear a word on audiobook that I do not regularly come across, I will think, “Oh, is THAT how you pronounce it?!” It has never occurred to me that maybe they are pronouncing the word incorrectly.

    I generally do not like when the narrator is not from the same culture as the story being narrated because then the names are mispronounced a lot. This happens a ton with Indian books. I also realize that for a lot of audiobooks, most recently the Wales-set How Green Was My Valley, I totally have no idea how to spell the names.

    But I generally love audiobooks! 🙂

  8. Beth F says:

    Mispronunciations pull me out of a story — and that’s so annoying. I don’t often listen from CDs, so I don’t have the rewind problem. We hardly ever listen to audiobooks together because we always have to stop the book to “discuss” — that can turn a 6-hour book into 12. And, like others, I usually have a hard copy of nonfiction with me when I listen so I can see the visuals.

    • Recently we listened to the Timothy Geithner book on the financial crisis and that definitely turned into twice the time because we kept having to stop the book to “discuss”!

  9. Athira says:

    I could talk (and complain and yell and get mad) about this topic for days!! I read a few audiobooks about characters with non-English names and that caused quite a lot of headache for me. There are so many audiobooks out there read by the wrong people entirely. Even accents bug me sometimes – there are people doing it all wrong. I now try as much as I can to stick with American audiobooks or even European audiobooks, since my understanding of European languages is sketchy for now.

    Your comment about the name Salman reminded me of an incident that happened a few weeks back. We had a new Indian employee named Salman join us and a few people came by to introduce him. As “Salmon”. Yep, the fish. I actually shook my head there very confusedly. Because I had not heard of such an Indian name. It’s only when they spelled the name out for me that I figured out the real name. Most of the time, I’m okay with mispronunciations in the real life. It’s impossible to get it right when you didn’t grow up hearing those names. But I guess this is one name I didn’t want mispronounced. Seeing a salmon swim by whenever I see this guy is NOT the image I want in my head. I had to give my colleagues quite the lesson on how to say sal-maan and not saal-man, with the stress on the first word.

    • Regional accents bother me too (some midwesterners, for example, say “yooj” instead of using an H for huge), but at least they have an “excuse” for pronouncing such words in non-standard ways! :–)

  10. Okay, the “often” with a hard T is no good, and neither are the other things BUT I am pretty sure that you can pronounce “err” to rhyme with “purr” or with “pear”, and either one is correct.

    (I don’t like audiobooks because I can’t read the end.)

    • Err as “pear” wins out in terms of usage to be sure, but only those dictionaries that give up in terms of overwhelming (mis)usage agree that err can sound like “pear” as well as “purr.”

  11. Ti says:

    I listened to audio books on my iPod and it’s usually not easy to replay a section in the middle of a track. I just thought they were all like that until I downloaded one from Simon & Schuster that had bookmarks. I was like…wait a second, why don’t they ALL have bookmarks?

    For me, the reader can make or break it for me. If the voice is irritating in any way, too high or too low or not enough feeling, then I can’t listen to it.

  12. stacybuckeye says:

    The mispronunciations probably don’t bother me as much since I probably don’t say them correctly either 😉

  13. Rachel says:

    I only listen to audio books in the car too only I’m the opposite, I prefer fiction b/c I like to highlight and use post-its in my non-fiction. Makes me feel like a college student! I haven’t noticed much mispronunciation but I didn’t know the correct pronunciation of a couple of words on your list so maybe that’s why? I do hate it when narrators do bad accents (like in Rob Lowe’s new book – accents are not his forte. – which I now know is pronounced as fort!)

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