Ever listened to Moby Dick? Forest Lewis has. In fact, he listened to Melville’s novel (all 21.5 hours of it) 5 times in a row one summer.
Such audiobook jags have helped Lewis to think about the difference between reading books in print and listening to recorded books. And he does view them in distinct terms. For instance, he favors the term “performer” over “narrator” or “reader.” Lewis says this not to bury the audiobook, however, but to praise it. The human voice is what enables the audiobook to transcend the book’s limitations.
Lewis’s most provocative claim is that listening to audiobooks has made him a better reader of other books. Specifically, his own reading has become more of a performance. Here’s how he describes reading Jane Austen to himself: “My own silent reading of Austen is cliché, stodgy and far too 19th century, as if the characters were trying to bore themselves.” Reading Austen’s prose aloud has helped his inner voice to become far more expressive and, at least when reading Austen, downright funny.
There’s also a list of recommendations for when you’re done with Moby Dick:
“Forest’s TOP TEN AUDIOBOOKS OF ALL TIME”
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, performed by Juliet Stevenson
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, performed by George Guidall
Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, performed by Martin Jarvis
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, performed by Sissy Spacek
William Faulkner, Light in August, performed by Mark Hammer
Homer, The Odyssey, performed by Ian McKellen
Zora Neal Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, performed by Ruby Dee
Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, performed by Frank Muller
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, performed by Rob Inglis
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, performed by Davina Porter
The full story is available at The Stake: “Earbud Lit: How Audio Makes Familiar Books Strange.”