Books on CD

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but instead of wasting the daily commute time on radio stations, I finally got a library card and began checking books on CD out of the local library. So far I’ve checked out non-fiction books that I own, but have not yet managed to read in my spare time, and I have to admit, this is the best use of that otherwise wasted time spent in traffic.

Though I’ve only listened to about six or seven audio books so far, I’ve noticed a few things.

First, books read by the authors are much easier to understand and more pleasant to listen to. Maybe it is a coincidence and the authors I’ve listened to just happen to be better at reading out loud, but is likely their greater familiarity with and interest in the subject makes for a smoother delivery.

When the authors read their own work, there were fewer changes in tone, pitch, and tempo of reading, and it was more difficult to detect where the different recording sessions were spliced. This smoothness of delivery was most obvious when listening to Malcolm Gladwell reading Blink, and Stephen J. Dubner reading Freakonomics. Both authors were pleasant to listen to and their delivery made it easy to follow the book. I look forward to listening to SuperFreakonomics (Dubner) and Outliers and The Tipping Point (Gladwell).

In contrast, listening to Johnny Heller reading Liberal Fascism was painful. Although the topic was interesting (and scary), the delivery was mediocre or worse. The tone of the narrator changed so often it was difficult to tell when he was reading text from the book or reading a quote from the book. I was constantly changing the volume on my car radio to accommodate the changes in the narrator’s volume. One of the more grating habits was when Johnny Heller imitated a Boston accent when reading a quote from John F. Kennedy, and mimicked the distinct upper class accent of Franklin D. Roosevelt when reading his quotes. Liberal Fascism was difficult to complete, partly because of the narrator chosen.

I loved listening to Jared Diamond‘s Guns, Germs, and Steel, because I am interested in history and, though I own this book in print, will probably listen to the audio book again someday. This was the first audio book I listened to, which may be why I do not recall noticing any problems with either the writing or the delivery.

While listening to a second book by Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, I’m noticing too many style issues that the editor in me just itches to correct.

The use of “in order to” on almost every page is driving me crazy, as is the frequent incorrect use of “due to,” at least one instance of “situated on,” some which/that misuse (at least in America), and a few other wordy, unnecessary phrases.

Another pertinent observation is the use of foreign words. When reading the book, it is easy for a reader to flip back and forth between the pages using unfamiliar foreign words and the pages containing the definition. This is not possible in an audio book. In the chapter about Easter Island and its basalt statues, I was confusing the many Polynesian terms Diamond used, especially when several of the words were used in the same sentence. It would have been easier to follow if he’d used “statue” and “platform” to describe the statue and the platform on which it rested instead of using the native terms.

I enjoy reading or listening to books that combine history, archaeology, and science, but some of these authors with something interesting to say need to work with good editors to improve their writing.

Oct 2009