The Case for Paperbacks

I love my local library. This past Summer, I spent every Friday afternoon there slowly browsing the shelves. I would check out a stack of books each visit and have them all read in time for the following week’s trip.

Then I had to join the real world, and my weekly library visits (and my free time) disappeared completely. I took to downloading audiobooks from my library’s digital collection so that I could “read” while cleaning and cooking or doing other mindless tasks. For the most part, audiobooks have been nothing but a positive experience. I’m so happy that I listened to Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on audiobook, because hearing the different voices, fluent foreign languages, and accents really brought the stories to life. David Sedaris has become my trusted companion on long car rides.

The most recent audiobook I’ve listened to is Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, and it was almost a book that I was going to call it quits on. I was bored, confused, and frustrated with how slow the narrator was reading. Its only saving grace was the fact that I had some free time this past weekend to make a much desired trip to the library, and that the colorful hardcover spine of the book jumped out at me from its shelf. I decided to give it one more shot.

I began reading the paper version of the book from the place I left off in the audiobook. I’m glad that I gave the book a second chance, because I found the story to be much more enthralling in print. I finished the story in two days because I searched for every opportunity to read it, whereas it had taken almost two months to get through the first 3 hours of the audiobook.

I thought initially that the audio version confused me because I was too distracted while listening. With the print version in hand, I realized I was confused because the audio gave no indication of flashbacks. In print, the jumps in time are clearly marked, which made transitions seamless.

While it seems standard these days that every printed book eventually receives an audio version, I think this does a disservice to some books. Certain things are lost when you don’t have the text in front of you, especially in the case where time is manipulated. I wonder how many people have given up on a book because the audiobook ruined the story for them?