Simon Says » communiqué 047/September 2020

Simon Says: communiqué 047/September 2020

Hello everyone

One of the consequences of the pandemic is that I’ve been driving rather than taking public transport.

Public transport has one advantage: it gives me time to read. Reading isn’t really practical in the car so, as I’ve found myself driving more often, I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks.

In many ways listening to audiobooks is a deeply primeval activity, hardwired into our psyche by our ancestors who sat around a camp fire listening to stories.

Listening vs Reading

Audiobooks give a different experience to reading. To state the obvious, you listen to an audiobook—in the case of fiction, you listen to an actor telling you the story.

Unlike a reading experience, the listener is not imagining how a character sounds. Instead, they are hearing an actor’s interpretation. This can give a far more immersive experience (if the voice rings true). However, if the voice conflicts with how the listener expects it to sound, that may detract from the experience.

Meeting Characters

One aspect of audiobooks that I appreciate is the differentiation between characters. With a talented actor narrating, each character will have a different speech pattern, a different tone, and a different accent. Sometimes when I’m reading I can lose track of which character is meant to be speaking. With audio, I never have that problem.

However, sometimes speech tags (he said, Jane shouted) can be superfluous with audio. If the actor is using their voice to differentiate between characters, then the inclusion of the speech tag can become annoying (especially in scenes where three or more characters are talking and the author has taken pains to ensure it’s clear who is saying what to whom).


Listening requires a different form of concentration. With an audiobook it’s easy to be distracted, and you’re more likely to be distracted if you’re listening while doing something else (such as driving in my case).

Of course, you can get distracted when reading. However, when you get distracted with an audiobook, the narration continues, so you miss part of the book. That said, with an audiobook, you can skip forward X seconds or back Y seconds which allows for some catching of missed details.

With a paper book, it is easy to jump back to an earlier section—maybe several chapters before—and browse. With an electronic book, it is possible to jump back to an earlier section, but not as easy as with a paper book. With an audiobook, it is incredibly hard to find an earlier element and replay it.


Audiobooks allow for the playback speed to be increased (without the pitch of the narrator being raised). For my taste, listening with the speed increased by 20% allows me to get through a book faster without feeling that the narration is being compromised.


One other aspect with books is technology—this may be good or bad depending on your view of technology.

A book printed on paper is fully self-contained, can go anywhere, and never runs down. By contrast, an audiobook needs to be downloaded onto a device (such as a phone or computer) before you can start listening. If you’re used to electronic books, the process to access audiobooks is similar, although there is more hassle with audiobooks due to the larger file sizes.

However, once you have your book and you are listening to it, there are advantages. One advantage is that your current reading position can be synchronized, so if you listen on more than one device (more of which in a moment), you can switch between the two devices and carry on listening on the second where you left off on the first.

If you have also bought the ebook version, you can synchronize your reading/listening position between your Kindle and your audiobook.

And if you use a smart speaker (such as an Amazon Echo), you can listen to your book on that device (and synchronize your listening position to another device, such as your phone).

One other significant advantage of audiobooks is for those who are losing their sight or have other disabilities (such as a loss of motor functions which makes manipulating a book challenging). In these cases, audiobooks can offer a reading experience which may not be available with paper or ebooks.


If you’ve never listened to an audiobook, I suggest you do. You might enjoy it. If you’re looking for a place to start, can I suggest you check out The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson.

It’s a great book—and if you’re not interested in the audio, you should read the book—but if you are looking for a first audio book to listen to, The Devil in the Marshalsea has a really strong performance by the actor Joseph Kloska.

To End

Audiobooks are not for everyone, but for some people and in some instances, they are another way to read. If you haven’t already, why not try an audiobook today?

That’s it for this month, I’ll be back in October.

Until then, take care.

All the best