In Praise of Audiobooks


Given the ever-increasing shortage of time at our disposal for the perusal of books, the accumulation of knowledge, which in turn accords us a greater perception of the world, audiobooks have briskly become a medium in helping to bridge this gap. It is common to find that even students of philosophy entering college, due to the demands of the curriculum (in school and subsequently in college,) have hardly had time to let their minds settle down on a work of Zeno,Cicero, or Plutarch. Although there is the difficulty involved in receiving serious works through the ears whilst on the go to school or work – since it doesn’t allow for the dialogue and the give-and-take process involved in the reading of printed words, there is yet some virtue to be had in the form of an introduction to the said author rather than to not have read the text at all. But these discrepancies shouldn’t distract us in getting to the meat of the matter – which is that some audiobooks – especially, I submit, of short stories, of the dramatization of comedies, and of essays, often end up highly satisfactory in experience.

Take these two forms for instance: what the short story and essay often have in common is that they are contained and are a highly concentrated version of the author’s thoughts and experiences. If written well, the goldmine of experiences in the offering is a small price to pay. Plus, there’s the added bonus of mobility and convenience. We’d be much the poorer without the bewitching beauty of Oscar Wilde’s short stories or John Stuart Mill’s emancipating tract on liberty. There’s no reason why one shouldn’t read the printed text – by all means, do so. But there’s also the satisfaction (that word once again) to be had in the repeated ingestion of these tales and tracts, and what more, whilst on the move.

Secondly, I’d put forth that it makes better listeners of people. The activity demands a certain concentration of the mind and the open receptivity to ideas. It’s important to train our ears to listen with attention to what others have to say. This is conducive to prodding, questioning, and understanding our fellow human beings than to just wait for their uttering to end and have our own preconceptions discharged. A key to developing our individualism is to be able to take the knowledge that one has gained, and turn them into understanding. Thus, the flourishing of human relationships and civilized society demands to a certain extent that we develop our individuality whilst simultaneously acknowledging the individuality of others. To express one’s will and self-determinism is vital to the armoury of the freethinker, and the ears are the antechamber to the birth of new ideas. It is said of Mozart that some of the best tunes he penned were the one’s he picked up from musicians in the streets of Vienna and reworking it for his own purpose, and subsequently, to our profit.

Lastly, I’d also submit that to listen brings back a traditional norm from centuries past when the production of a book was an expensive task. “Group reading” has been quite the trend amongst college students for years, but isn’t it the case that what one gets out of a book is what one reads by themselves? But with the elimination of the visual aspect of printed words, sounds of a narrator enter in through our ears, up into the brain, and strait to the imagination.

This isn’t taking into account the possible talents of the narrator, whose capability to jump in and out of different characters and pacing the scenario as and when it demands. None of this is meant to replace the printed word, but give it a try. You may pleasantly be surprised by Martin Jarvis’s masterful rendition of the Wodehouse classic, The Code of the Woosters. Or Frank Muller’s gloomy recording of All Quiet on the Western Front.

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