I’ve listened to two audio books in my life. One by Stephen King and the other by Chuck Palahniuk. Both were much more brutal than I imagined they possible could be. At times I wanted to tear out my ear balls, turn off the radio. I squirmed while hurtling down the interstate at 75mph.
Granted, both were brutal stories. Palahniuk is not for the faint of heart, at least in places. You know what King is like. I know what King is like. I’ve read his novels and short stories extensively. And I’d read Plahniuk before, though not as much.
But the two I read–heard–in the car, their words assaulting my ear drums. It was an auditory hell. Wincing, brutal. It was a particularly bad physical performed by Al Queda torturers. Seriously, seriously disturbing and creepy. It was so bad I had to wonder: was that King novella that much horrific than all of his others I’d read? Had a lucked out in reading Palahniuk’s most accessible and mainstream works before this one?
No. The difference was purely in matter of form. When you read, you can skip over the bad bits, skim over the lines about bones breaking and blood. You can hold your breath in your brain and move on. But not when you’re listening. No, with an audio book the words come unhindered, unstoppable, and the reader/actor lets each one drip and emote. The words and their timbre and connotations are free to pinwheel through your consciousness, aided by the superb diction of the faceless voice coming from your speakers. There’s no avoiding it, no closing your eyes like in a film.
And the imagination is free to roam when listening in a way different than reading. When reading, your attention is always on the page, the little black lines intersecting and curving toward each other, the spaces in between. Reading is visual, and when the images the words are drawing forth are too intense–well, you really are only looking at lines on a page. You are always seeing the page, and the imagination must work to distance what your eyes are seeing and what your brain is telling you.
Not with an audio book, not with a story told dramatically. There is only sound then, the sounds of dripping blood and flesh, the sounds of terror and anxiety, the sound of the breath drawing in, waiting for the next horror.
For the Next Post:
Why an Audio Book Holds your Attention but My Sermons Do Not.