What do you think of audio books?

As I hope you’ve noticed, I haven’t been doing a lot at the site lately. I haven’t read any books recently so I have none to tell you about, and I’m behind on checking the latest Stark/Westlake/crime-fiction news which means I have no updates on that stuff at the moment either.

I have a number of excuses for this, but the latest one is that I’ve been on the road–I spent the past several days going to Tulsa and back for a job interview.

Because of the long drive, I decided to do something I’d never done before and listen to an audio book. My selection was the third novel in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, mostly because it was what I had handy. (Maybe I’m not too far off-topic here…it is a crime novel!)

This was my first audio book, barring some books-on-tape I barely remember that my Dad would pop in the tape deck of the van while on family vacations.

It’s also the first time I’ve listened to material I was previously familiar with–I have not read The Prisoner of Azkaban, but I have read the first two books in the series. And this is what made the experience a little strange to me. I had my own ideas about how the characters’ voices sounded, what the cadences of their speech were like, and how certain names and fantasy words were pronounced (apparently, I had “Hermione” entirely wrong).

Partly because of this and other factors I’m sure, while I heard every word of the book, it doesn’t really feel like I’ve actually read it. This may just be a first-timer’s thing, or it may just mean I’m weird.

Another issue, which can’t be helped, is that I couldn’t flip back if I needed to check on some detail to jog my memory. This was frustrating with a long book like Harry Potter and I imagine could be very frustrating with crime novels, where I often want to go back and hunt for a missed clue.

Also, what am I supposed to do when there are 45 minutes left but I’ve arrived home? Sit in my living room with headphones on? Switch over to my hard copy? Listen to the thrilling conclusion in ten minute segments while running errands? None seems satisfactory.

Despite all that, there’s no question that it was a great way to while away the hours on a long drive. I’ll do it again. Maybe now that I’ve done it once, it won’t seem so weird to me.

More on topic, there have been some Richard Stark books released on some audio format or other. Books on Tape released some Parkers and Grofields many years ago. These are long out of print, but a few titles can be purchased used at Amazon and other places. They have never been digitized to my knowledge. There are some other titles available on CD or for digital download, but just how many is hard to tell without a lot of research I haven’t done yet. It seems like a rather fractured market, but I found some titles at BBC Audiobooks America and audible.com. There are several non-Stark Westlakes out there as well.

So here are my questions. Do you listen to audio books? If not, why not? If so, do you think of them as a different experience than reading the book or a different means to the same experience? Have you listened to any Stark/Westlake audio books? If so, what did you think?

(Fellow Parker fan and friend of the site Jesse Willis has a site devoted to audio books, SFFaudio. I hope he chimes in.)

Update: This would be a good place to mention again that you can download an audio version of the Westlake science fiction short story “The Risk Profession” for free.