*There are NO SPOILERS for Eleanor & Park in this post!*
Instead of ‘actually reading’ Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park using the physical copy of the novel and my own eyes, I chose to use an audiobook so I could listen to it instead. I am a fan of audiobooks already; I love listening to them on drives, on walks, and while doing chores. I bought Listening Library’s version, with Rebecca Lowman reading from Eleanor’s point of view and Sunil Malhotra reading from Park’s point of view. In my experience, the voice (or in this case, voices) of the narrator(s) will decide whether or not the audiobook will be a good one. If an audiobook is not listenable, I tend to give up on them very quickly. Eleanor’s cynicism and intelligence was captured perfectly by Lowman in her vocal inflections; I was able to imagine the character of Eleanor much easier by listening to her voice. Malhotra’s voice was less perfect for the character of Park, mostly due to it sounding like it was coming from a man that is definitely older than sixteen, but his voice was still very pleasant and smooth to listen to. Overall, Lowman and Malhotra did an excellent job in making the Eleanor & Park audiobook a very easy and enjoyable listening experience.
I often use audiobooks to help me read the more dense, uninteresting books that I am assigned in my university classes. I will download the audiobook, press play, and then proceed to clean my room or play a mindless game on my phone while I listen (I recommend the game ‘Dots’ for audiobook listening). This way, I am kept physically busy so I will not accidentally fall asleep (oops), and I am getting chores and homework done simultaneously. Now, I have told many people about this strategy of mine, and a response that I occasionally get is the question of whether or not using an audiobook is ‘cheating.’ My response is always, “DEFINITELY NOT!” because, as an example, I know that if I do not read the dense, boring book using an audiobook, I typically will not read the book at all, and taking in the story using an audiobook is obviously a much better option than the former. If I have to read a book that I am not at all interested in, I sometimes have a hard time forcing myself to open that book and read it. And often, when I do eventually start reading it, I fall asleep in minutes (university is hard, okay? I’m sleep deprived!). In using audiobooks, I believe that I retain the same amount of information that I would if I read the novel traditionally.
University of Virginia psychologist, Daniel Willingham, argues that if “you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology – that is, the mental processes involved – there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it” (Dahl 2). Listening to an audiobook rather than reading the physical copy of a novel is something that should not be looked down upon, for either way the reader is taking in the story. Something unique about audiobooks, however, is that there is always the possibility that the author will choose to narrate their audiobook. This way, the reader or listener knows that they are “consuming the text the way the author intended it” (Dahl 9). When one reads a novel traditionally, there is always the chance of misinterpretation and mispronunciation. If the author is reading the book to you, however, one can be sure that he or she is using the right vocal inflections and pronunciations throughout the story, preventing the reader from making incorrect assumptions.
My only complaint with the Eleanor & Park audiobook is that sometimes the chapters are very short and the quick switches between Lowman and Malhotra’s voices were not always easy to follow. I was able to figure it out after re-listening to the section of the novel I was confused about, except for Chapter 47. In this case, I was unable to grasp the meaning of the chapter without opening the physical copy. Chapter 47 is told from Eleanor’s perspective, and reads, “Eleanor considered her options. 1,” and that is the end of the chapter (Rowell 280). Once I finally saw it written on the page, I was able to understand that because a list did not follow the number one, it meant that Eleanor couldn’t think of any options to remedy her situation. When listening to it, I thought my recording might have been damaged, causing me to lose the rest of the chapter and skip forward to the next. This showed me that although using audiobooks is not cheating, there are benefits and drawbacks of each format.
I have learned from this audiobook reading experience that not everything comes across perfectly to readers through just words and not everything comes across perfectly to readers just through listening. The best way to use these resources is to have them work together. One does not exclusively have to read traditionally or exclusively have to read in another kind of format, for using a mixture of words and sounds allows for a reader to take advantage of everything a novel has to offer. I plan to continue using audiobooks whenever I am in the mood for it, and to read traditionally whenever I am in the mood for that. There are no limits to reading, or to the way one reads, and that is one of my favourite parts about literature – how it can exist in so many different forms.
Dahl, Melissa. “As Far as Your Brain is Concerned, Audiobooks are Not ‘Cheating.’” Science of Us, New York Magazine, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/08/listening-to-a-book-instead-of-reading-isnt-cheating.html. Accessed 18 Dec. 2016.
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. St. Martin’s Press, 2013.