Why Are Audiobooks So Damn Hard to Understand? (Part 3)

Since I wrote Part 2, I’ve figured out one reason ‘reading voice’ is so hard to follow. Ordinary speech has either a consistent volume/energy level, or elevated volume/energy on the most important words. Raising the volume/energy for certain words is like using boldface. Making the volume/energy highest at the beginning of the sentence and tapering off towards the end tells the listener that the beginning is especially important, and the end is unimportant. If the first words are not actually the most important, it throws off the listener. It’s like putting the first three words, and only the first three words, in boldface. Would you want to read a long text like this?

High-quality machine voices are easier for me to follow than professional audiobook narrators. Why? They don’t form a personal connection with the text. They don’t form a personal connection with anything.

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My New Email Newsletter About Binge-Reading Reviews


Every week, I read all the reviews of a book on Amazon and analyze them. I expected to only do it for about a dozen books. By down, I’ve done this for dozens of books. I’m addicted.

To my shock, other people are interested in what I say in my analysis. So far, I’ve been sharing these analyses only in a limited way. Maybe more people are interested?

This is a great excuse to start a newsletter. Anyone with an email address who is interested can now get my digests by subscribing here.

If nobody is interested, I’ll still get practice running an email newsletter. These review binges intrigue me so much I’ll keep doing them even if nobody reads the digests.

Since this email newsletter is brand new, I still have some issues to work through. Also, because it doesn’t have a consistent track record yet, confirmation messages are likely to end up in the spam folder. If you sign up and don’t see a confirmation in your inbox, check spam.


Why Are Audiobooks So Damn Hard to Understand? (Part 2)

Continued from part 1.

Two key ideas from Elaine Clark’s There’s Money Where Your Mouth Is are that a) voiceover artists (including audiobook narrators) must have a personal and emotional connection with the message so that it sounds real and spontaneous and b) they must empower the listener through suggestion rather than demand so that the listener feels the message conveys the listener’s idea rather than the narrator’s idea. Otherwise, the message will be difficult for the listener to absorb.

This explains why so, so much audiobook narration is difficult to follow.

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Why Are Audiobooks So Damn Hard to Understand? (Part 1)

When I listened to a roundtable discussion among professional audiobook narrators, I had no trouble understanding them. Then they put on an audiobook performance. I no longer understood what they said. This is a problem I have with audiobooks.

I was working on a task with my hands. Generally, I can listen to podcasts and talking-heads-videos-without-much-visual-content while working with my hands and understand everything. Audiobooks… not so much. Yes, when I don’t move my hands and pay full attention to audiobooks, I understand them, but if my attention must be undivided, I’d rather read a book in print. Freeing my hands and eyes to do things is the only advantage audio content has over reading, at least for me.

Even though I started learning Mandarin as an adult, I can listen to a Mandarin language talk show like 锵锵三人行 while doing simple/mindless tasks and still follow what they are saying. (I can’t do complicated tasks with my hands and follow 锵锵三人行). Even though English is my native language, I often can’t even do simple tasks and understand the professional audiobook narrator at the same time. How the heck is it harder to understand something in my native language than something in a non-native language?

(Yes, Mandarin language audiobooks also require my undivided attention, but that’s to be expected since Mandarin isn’t my native language.)

Why is narration by professionals so hard to understand? Shouldn’t professional narrators be as easy to understand as a mediocre amateur podcaster? Or is it just me?

This is the question I investigated.

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Why Isn’t the News Screaming About the Guy Who Committed Perjury to Get Julian Assange Prosecuted?

Recently, an Icelandic journalist revealed that the key witness in the trial against Julian Assange committed perjury. Here’s the English version of the original article published in Iceland.

A simple blog post cannot cover everything which has been wrong with the Assange trial even before this information about a key witness giving false testimony became public. So I’ll just address one point: The Espionage Act of 1917, the law under which the United States government is prosecuting Assange, should be taken off the books. Either the Supreme Court should declare it to be unconstitutional (it IS unconstitutional, the government has used the Espionage Act to violate the first amendment many times, including when it was first used in 1917 to put antiwar activists in prison merely because they expressed opposition to the United States joining the war in Europe, as I discussed in this post), or Congress should repeal it. Either way, that law needs to be burned in a blazing trash fire.

However, what truly inspired this post is not the revelation that a key witness committed perjury and the case against Assange has collapsed. It’s the lack of coverage of this development in mainstream English language media. If it were covered even somewhat widely in ‘mainstream’ news media, I would have blogged about something else this week.

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Why I Withdrew from The Asexual Agenda and the San Francisco Bay Area Asexual Community

I’ve debated with myself writing about this for over a year.

Finally, I’m doing it. Maybe this post is terrible, but at this point writing something bad is better than asking myself month after month whether or not to write about this. That I can’t get the idea of writing this out of my mind is a strong hint that I need to write this.

I considered keeping this private and only writing to certain people (I have already discussed this privately in a very limited way). But then I’d have to choose who to contact and who not to contact. What if someone would benefit from this and not be one of my contacts? So this is public.

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