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March 20, 2007



"Assuming that listening to a book is a somehow inferior experience to reading one is the result either of faulty logic or a lack of experience or both. Get over the faulty logic and provide yourself with the experience -- you'll be happy you did."

Barry I couldn't agree more. I've experienced both and find that neither experience diminish the full effect of the story. Both can still stimulate your mind and creativity. Didn't we listen to our parents when they were telling us bed time stories? Can anyone honestly say that the find the story less stimulating when they started reading it on their own rather than listening to our parents read to us? For me, it's just as exciting as when my Mom read me bedtime stories as oppose to me reading it on my own.

Lee Child

"Assuming that listening to a book is a somehow inferior experience ..." feels like part of the "home cooking is better than fast food" type of argument, as if it's a shoddy, lazy, late-twentieth-century type of aberration. But ... we know, for instance, that representative art in humans might be 50,000 years old, and that music might be a little older - possibly 63,000 years old, at least ... and we're entitled to guess that oral storytelling might be even older, involving, as it does, no technology, not even sticks or bone flutes or anything. Whereas mass access to reading is about 150 years old. Thus listening to a story is way more authentic in terms of the way our brains are wired.

Having said that, reading a book aloud doesn't exactly match oral storytelling - no room for improvization, or accommodation of the specific audience, etc. And for me, sadly, listening seems to dominate the same part of my brain as using a cell phone, so I'm not comfortable listening when I'm driving.

But in principle, I'm in favor, big time.


"Besides, there's a side benefit to audiobooks that I almost hesitate to bring up because it'll make me sound like an infomercial: audiobooks are good for your health. I hate wasting time, and I used to get stressed from impatience while waiting in traffic or at a red light. Now, not only do traffic and red lights leave me untroubled, they actually make me happy -- more time to listen to the story! "

I couldn't agree more. Audiobooks have improved my quality of life greatly over the past 2 years. Have to clean? Put on the book. Walk to work? Same. Boring one hour drive through Iowa country to daughter's skating? Book, book, book. I'm such a fan, I've made sure my kids are hooked up to good audio books they can listen to when we're traveling and it is too dark to read.

That being said, it's always important to consider which books are better to read and which are better for audio. Richard Ford was not so good in audio (1 day in 600 pages does not a good 18 hour audio make). Plot heavy books are BETTER in audio, because you can't skip ahead and cheat by reading the ending.


A favourite memory of mine is the very first time I was exposed to E.A. Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.

It was being read on C.B.C. Radio (Canada), and I sat on my bed, absolutely mesmerized by the tale, and the constant thum-thump, thump-thump that served as soundtrack to the story.

I've read the tale since, of course, but after having heard it that first time, it never quite measured up.

Stephen King's The Mist is another example, albeit in reverse. I read it first, and loved it. When I listened to it, it was given a whole new dimension, but the characters remained largely the same for me in my imagination. It's only been enhanced for me.

I see no reason why audio and print books can't exist as complimentary entities, as long as the importance of reading is kept in sight, and audio doesn't replace it altogether.


Dear Barry,
Why would one experience have to be 'better' than the other. They are just different. I am one of those people who prefer to read a book but I would simply say that for whatever reason I have a harder time 'living in the story' when I hear it than when I read it for the first time. It's easier to dive in if I've read the book first. It also depends on who's reading it. I could listen to Laurence Olivier read a phone book.


Great post, Barry. I'm a huge audio fan. I've posted a lot about how great audio is here at the blog.

And Lee Child - Jack Reacher on audio rocks.

Actually it's interesting, I never though about this before, but I listened to Reacher book before I read one. And now when I read one, I hear that actor in my head. It works though. He did a great job.

David J. Montgomery

I like audiobooks, but would never prefer to listen to a good book rather than read it.

I would, for example, gladly listen to Tom Clancy on audio -- a format that suits his books well. But I would never choose to listen to a Barry Eisler book rather than read it. (I might, however, listen to it AFTER I've read it.)

I'm not sure I can articulate the reasons adequately. But there is just something about the experience of enjoying the beauty of written language on the page, as it enters your mind and allows your imagination to create the images and shape the story.

I don't get that when listening to an audiobook. For me, the experience is far more akin to watching a film than it is to reading a book.

I believe they are fundamentally different experiences, and the two are not substitutes for each other. I don't believe that one is superior to the other. I enjoy both.

But I do find it odd when people say they "read a book" when they really listened to it on CD.

Michael Jacobs

Speaking as a parent, Barry, I have to disagree. Listening may not be difficult, but it's not passive.

For a demonstration of passive hearing that involves no actual listening, I am freighting you my 13 year old son for the week. Frankly my budget can use the relief of not feeding him. Try to make sure he finishes his homework, bathes regularly and contributes to the household. You may send him back as soon as you're willing to concede the point.

Best Wishes,


Charles Sheehan-Miles

I'm with you. Twice a month I drive from Raleigh to Washington, DC, about a 10-12 hour round trip. I always stock up on a good audiobook first -- lately from

I'm in the middle of an experiment with doing a free podcast of one of my novels. It's had a very substantial positive impact on sales, so will be doing the same with the next one as well.

Also, we can't forget that some folks just can't read any more. My great aunt and grandmother are both pushing into their nineties, and neither one of them can see well enough to read a book anymore. Being able to pick up a book on CD has made all the difference in the world to those two older book lovers.

Nat Sobel

Barry, I agree with you , but please tell me what book takes 25 disks to complet?.Have I missed who
Gregory David Roberts is?
I can't wait to Reacher,s voice in Lee's coming novel


For some reason I retain details of a story and am more likely to have a positive impression of a book if I listen to it rather than read it. Maybe because it forces me to slow down and absorb every word instead of skimming. It's a richer experience somehow.


I am an avid "listener" and oddly, when I love an audiobook I almost always go out and buy the paper version. if you love literature, you have to have the tangible, margin-notable form in your hands eventually.

Particularly good for audio are the mega classics: Les Miserables, Atlas Shrugged, Hunchback, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment.... A good narrator will bring life to the "boring parts" and keep you awake. Victor Hugo loved to ramble on about Napolean. You know what? Had I been reading words, I'd have skipped much of it, but lo and behold hearing it told like a story kept me open to seeing the metaphorical and parallel relationship to the battles in the war and the battles fought by Jean Valjean.

Audiobooks are great for non-reading teens too!

I always defend my choice of audio by asking the person whose eyebrow has raised in disdain: If I were blind, would audiobooks be acceptable to you? Well of course it would. Even though there is braille, most people will allow the "handicapped" any advantage available.

As a busy person, my longing to fill every waking hour with important activities is satisfied by listening while I drive, walk the dog, clean the house.. anything that engages my hands.

PS: How is Frank Muller? He was the first narrator I came to look for when searching for books on It's a shame how badly things went for him.


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