Thoughts of a Reader

Posted on July 28, 2011 by | Posted in about LibriVox, Blog, For Volunteers, News, Uncategorized | Comments: 5 Comments on Thoughts of a Reader

One of our newer readers writes in the forum:

On the nature of audio books and “reading”

I am fairly new to the world of audio books and very new to reading within Librivox. The bother of keeping track of stacks of CDs, which might scratch if not handled with care, and the equipment one might have to tote to listen to them always kept me at a distance from that activity (shudder the thought of cassette tapes!). About a year ago our library started to offer MP3 audio books, downloadable on the Internet, and so began my journey into listening rather than reading. I now have come to appreciate how lucky I am to be a reader/listener and now so many years later, the enjoyment seems to increase while other things…well, they do not.

From my perspective, the experience of listening to an audio book starts with the intimacy. It is as though the author were speaking to me of secret, often personal things, back from countless years ago, on a one to one level; the author is here now with me, just me, to tell the wonderful story of long, long ago. The teller has no thing to be gained except my enjoyment of the eloquence, of what he or she has to tell me, at my beck and call, day or night. There is a solitude in this intimacy, one soul in touch with another. It is a fine thing to read, but the walls of the chamber are echoic and sometimes not so reliable. When I am listening all is made quiet, but the author speaking to me. I mostly walk in the mornings to listen and eventually start to feel my legs grow heavy, only then to notice that I have been out over two hours and begrudge the need to rest and go back. It is so wonderful to escape the cacophony.

Of course, the reader of an audio book is there and, in my view, their sole occupation should be to interpret the work and become the author for the listener. A digital device, saying each word as the electronic signal is received, can easily accomplish the saying of individual words without interpretation. But the interpretation of the words, including what has passed and what is yet to come in the script, is so far beyond any digital talent as to be unworthy of discussion. Most audio devices are used to listen to music, most times a product that comes forth from a sophisticated studio employing multiple people and the breathless world of electronic enhancement. A reader, on the other hand, stands fairly alone, having to interpret difficult text sometimes and then deliver a fairly accurate rendition without additional explanation. The saying of the words needs to be accomplished, but their meaning has to be presented too. I think this is best done through pace, tone and pause, but only after the reader is acquainted with the message of the passage and of the work. The unstated presence of fear, humor, melancholy, joy, love, hate etc all need to accompany the saying of the words. Unlike the musician, there are few (if any) knobs to adjust in doing this and volume can be used so sparingly as to be pretty useless (unlike some musicians apparently).

I should enjoy hearing from others on these points and if this is all old hat, why, I do hope that I will be excused. One last point: all the above is subject to my 80/20 rule; i.e. this is true only about 80% of the time, and otherwise not!

This has stimulated a heartfelt discussion on the topic, which you can read here. We welcome your thoughts too!



  1. Leoglas says:

    To wonderful you, to be one with the author is only advisable if your sympathies are with the work.

  2. Gail says:

    Thanks, will check out the discussion soon.

    The iTunes subscription link is gone again from the new releases. Is the recent iTunes update causing problems for you?

  3. Ursula says:

    Thanks to all for giving us their time, their concern about literure and their efforts to perform. Because, and this I would like to answer to your thoughts, because reading is a performance, similar to the performace of a musician or even an orchestra. When I have a book in my hand and read, it’s just me, my (subjective) imagination, my mind’s eye, in fact a lot more. A reader on the other side not only conveys the text but also his interpretation (understanding, feeling…). So, his or her influence can be great. And not unimportant for me is the reader’s voice, the timbre and a clear articulation.

  4. Colin says:

    I listened to a book from Librivox recently and then lost it, it was about a man living in the south of the UK who rescues the captain of a ship wrecked on the coast and in gratitude the captain tells him about a buried treasure, the man cooperates with another to have a yacht constructed and they set off to discover the treasure…. Can anyone tell me the name of the book and if it is still available on Librivox. Thanks,
    Colin Lehmann, Pai, Thailand

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