Audiobooks vs. Humans:  Do You Read Aloud?

I must confess, I do not listen to audiobooks.  Years ago, I rented an audiobook of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar, and thought I would listen to it while I washed the dishes.  I opened the box and was astonished to find 25-30 cassette tapes.  I spent only 10 minutes each night on the dishes,  so I made little progress with the tapes.  Eventually, I read the book myself.  It was faster and more enjoyable that way.

Although I am not a fan of audiobooks,  I do remember fondly the days when my husband and I read books aloud to each other.  We would walk to a scruffy urban park and sit beside a dead lake.  Neither of us ventured into the lake.  We were not suicidal.  Instead, we amused ourselves by reading to each other.  We enjoyed the humor books of Betty MacDonald, who is best known for The Egg and I, a comic memoir about life on a chicken farm. 

Of course our fondness for Betty MacDonald got us into trouble at the library.  One day we received an overdue notice for Anybody Can Do Anything.  “We took this back ages ago,” we insisted.  The cross librarian (yes, they used to be cross) had records, but we had our memory. The system had made a mistake, we said. We were a sweet young couple, so she couldn’t really find fault, though she looked as though she wished to banish us.

Months later we found Anybody Can Do Anything under the couch.  “How did this happen?”   The cats couldn’t have done it.  They sit on books, but they don’t move them around. We didn’t do it.  We don’t kick our books, so knew we were innocent.   The whole thing was a mystery.  Every old house has a ghost, yes?  It must have been the ghost. Laughing, we returned the book to the library.

We have known people who make their way though Trollope or George Eliot by reading aloud.  We tended to read aloud lighter books.  When you’re sitting by the lake under a scruffy tree, I Capture the Castle makes a charming read.  “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” Cassandra Mortmain, the narrator, writes in her vivid diary. She describes her family life as practice for the days when she will write novels. The fascinating Mortmains live in a chilly, dilapidated castle: there is even a moat. Her father is a blocked writer; her stepmother, a former artist’s model; her older sister Rose has practically never seen a man so she flirts a inappropriately, batting her eyelashes like a character in a romance, and alienates her prospects; and only the younger brother, who is still in school, seems normal.  But life becomes more interesting at the castle after an American woman and her two eligible adult sons befriend them. It helps that they love Mr. Mortmain’s book (which is compared to Ulysses).

Kurt Vonnegut is good to read aloud.  For one thing, his books are blessedly short, and are also very funny.  John Dos Passos’s U.S.A is a great book, but perhaps better read to oneself.   My husband read half of it aloud to me when I was hooked up to IVs in an infectious disease ward. I was comforted by his voice but so groggy I didn’t take much in.  Still, we kept up the custom even at the hospital.

Some years ago, Edward Gorey in a Christmas interview at Amazon recommended Sylvia Waugh’s morbidly comic novels, The Mennyms series.  To quote Goodreads: ” A family of life-sized rag dolls live quietly and happily in a British village, secure that everyone takes them as human, until a letter from their landlord’s relative in Australia threatens their existence.” We read all five of them aloud. They were published as children’s books, but they are definitely for adults – we think so! Edward Gorey had excellent taste.

When did we stop reading to each other?  We truly enjoyed it, but it became difficult to fit in everything once we got “real jobs.” And yet what a good habit it was, and it brought us so much joy. 

Audiobooks are wonderful in their way, but it is not quite the same.

6 thoughts on “Audiobooks vs. Humans:  Do You Read Aloud?”

  1. Jim and I had a period where we tried to read aloud to one another. The first year of our married life. We did enjoy it because we enjoy the same books and sharing thoughts was so good. But what happened was we were swallowed up by full-time jobs and graduate school and found one or the other of us would fall asleep.

    I love listening to audiobooks — it’s another kind of experience, diffferent also from reading silently. I just emphasize different parts of the text automatically, respond more visually too, more aurally. Less meditatively

    1. Yes, it’s best to have leisure for reading aloud. Some people keep it up all their lives, others fall asleep, as you say! If I commuted, I know I would listen to audiobooks. I’ll have to give them another try.

  2. Dickens was famous for reading his books aloud and they were read aloud in the family home or pubs as they came out in parts. I think other Victtorian novelists were treated similarly.
    One audiobook I wholeheartedly recommend if you can spare the time is Nick Sullivan reading William Gaddis’s JR. I came across it here: and it is an astonishing feat.

    1. Oh, that would have been charming to read the latest Dickens aloud! I wonder why we never thought of that. Maybe that would be a means to get us going again. Thanks for the link to Neglected Books. I keep meaning to read William Gaddis. I’ve never heard of Nick Sullivan, but will definitely look for his audio work.

  3. I know a wonderful older couple (older like me) who started reading the Nero Wolfe books to each other when they were in their late 50’s. They loved it. Must check and see if they are still doing it.k

    1. That sounds like great fun. I’ll see if my husband is interested, and if not I’ll read them myself! Can you believe I’ve never read Nero Wolfe?

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