Audio books are usually associated with children’s stories or with learning languages. They do come in useful when you want to keep a toddler quiet for a few minutes. They are irreplaceable when you need to bend your tongue around the vowels and consonants of a foreign language.
For some people, the benefits of audio books stop there. However, there are more ways that audio books can come in useful. They can be an excellent media for conveying works of fiction too.
One good reason to pop an audio book disc into a CD player is the pleasure of sharing your favourite play or another literary work with your family and friends. As we learn from Jane Austen’s novels, people used to entertain themselves by reading out loud to one another before TV was around. Today, reading aloud is confined to the bed time story tradition that stops as soon as the kids learn all the letters of the alphabet.
Radio probably abolished the reading gatherings, but it provided a good substitute in the form of radio dramas. With listeners presumably relieved to have professional actors read the text, families went on to pass many a cosy evening huddled around the radio receiver. Except on one occasion, when the listeners reacted with panic to Orson Welles’s adaptation of “The War of the Worlds” and rushed out of their cosy homes, convinced that Earth was under a Martian attack.
We of course know better today. We have no need to strain our imagination. We get it all ready-made – the sound, the pictures and the special effects – from the scores of TV channels and from DVDs. We would probably even find it somewhat embarrassing to be discovered just…listening.
Or perhaps not, as a friend of mine recently found out, when she and her family re-discovered the joys of listening.
Holiday-bound, the family was to spend several hours in the confined space of their car. The father of the family was at the wheel; my friend was in the front passenger seat, and their twin teenage sons in the back. And as is usual for my friend’s family on all lengthy trips, the twins were separated by a pile of suitcases strategically arranged between them. In spite of that, the first hour of the drive was regularly punctuated by thumps, whacks, screams, wails and loud accusations from the back seat. My friend was constantly turning around in vain attempts to broker a peace deal, worriedly observing the throbbing vein on her husband’s forehead. Desperate for any distraction, she opened the glove department and rummaged through the pile of CDs. An unfamiliar cover caught her attention. It was an audio book someone had given her ages ago. She put it into the CD player – and after the second sentence the noise from the back subsided.
For that particular family, there never was a more peaceful trip. Absorbed in an Agatha Christie audio book murder mystery featuring the brilliant detective Hercule Poirot, the twins forgot to fight. They even urged the parents to make the stops shorter, while on similar earlier expeditions they had to be coaxed, chased or bribed back into the car.
It is no wonder that audio books are now a necessary requisite on any trips my friend makes with her family. She has learned what many of us have forgotten: never to underestimate the power of words and the ability of purely aural sensations to command attention and fire the imagination.
In that name, give your imagination a treat. Get yourself an audio book – it may come in handy for that long trip during this Christmas holiday season.