Earbud Lit


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:



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.”

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