The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak (Audiobook Review)

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My library had a dozen reserves on Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. I didn’t feel like waiting yet longer to read it, so I bought the audiobook from (I can’t explain why in this case I got the audio instead of the physical book, but I did.) I hadn’t read many reviews of this book, so I didn’t know what to expect, as I explained in my review of it.

From the first moment of listening to this book, which was read by Allan Corduner, I knew it was going to be a good experience. The reader’s voice was pleasant and his intonation, rhythm, and speed were incredibly appropriate. I felt like I was listening to a poet presenting his work.

I was so intrigued by how it was read, I found the book and looked at it to see how it was laid out. It was published with bullets, titles, and facts; the reader had read it just like it was written.

If the reader hadn’t read it so well, I may have been turned off by the overdramatic prose in Zusak’s novel. I think I may have loved listening to it more than I’d have loved reading it, but I will never know; if I read it now, I’d hear the reader’s voice. My experience with this book has been changed forever. As it was, I loved it.

Is Listening to an Audiobook Reading?

When I was 12 and 13, I read the comics page of the Sunday newspaper. As I got older, I gradually began to search for more in the paper each week: the “magazine”, the political cartoons, the main page, and the headlines of the other sections. I became newspaper literate.

I believe that reading is anything that encourages literacy and understanding. Comics—even wordless political cartoons—encourage literacy and cultural understanding. I’ve never read a “graphic novel” but I imagine it is similar in its grasp. Although an individual may not physically hold a book (with covers and pages) between their hands, they may still be reading. I enjoy all varieties of reading: online/digital books via Project Gutenberg or Daily Reader, hardcover books, soft cover books, newspapers, magazines, and, yes, audiobooks.

Personally, I often choose the audio format because then I can experience my books while I’m cooking, ironing, driving, or doing any number of my daily tasks. I’ve listened to many audiobooks, although I usually listen to nonfiction. I choose nonfiction in audio because it’s often easier to stop and come back to, and often the reader’s voice is easier to ignore and doesn’t seem as integral to the words. I have had bad experiences with audiobooks: when the voice is horrid, I try to ignore it and listen to the words. The words are why I’m listening in the first place: I am listening to what the author has written. I should be able to ignore a voice just as I’d ignore the typeface of a physical book.

I consider listening to a book to be “reading” it, although I concede it is a different experience. I have just finished a great audiobook, so I’ll use it as an example.

Have you experienced audiobooks, and was your experience good or bad? Obviously, I’ve made it clear that I feel listening to a text is a form of reading it. Do you agree with me? If not, please explain why; I want to know why my reading of The Book Thief wasn’t. To me, it was more than reading it: it was experiencing it.

Reviewed on May 30, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I am currently publishing my novel as audiobook in weekly episodes (prior to the print version) and strongly believe this growing and evolving format is providing a valuable and real alternative form of experiencing a book. Audio brings stories to people who have got out of the habit of reading and as a media creator, I am very enthusiastic about the format.
    However, I personally find audiobooks for the most part difficult to absorb. I find by only having sound that my concentration drifts while I want to give the words as much focus as they deserve. Having so many audiobooks released as abridged versions of the original text is also a negative for me, and very rarely will I dip into an abridged recording.

  • Since the author’s words are being read, then I think it counts. It’s not like a film version. That’s why I hate abridgements. It’s not the author’s words but an edited version. I don’t like that.

  • @ndixon: I think that’s why I usually listen to nonfiction rather than fiction via audio because it’s easier to listen to sometimes. But a good reader makes the difference! @Chris: I see a huge difference between movies and audiobooks too. Audiobooks still are the author’s words, simply being read aloud. I have to internalize them and connect them to make meanings. I guess we could consider movies as abridgments: the movie makers are putting their own visual interpretation to words and taking out the things they don’t consider necessary. Thanks for your comments!

  • @Ann Darnton: When I was in some political science classes in college, I went through a political cartoon kick where I “read” dozens a day. I’ve since become bored by it, but I certainly they are a form of reading. Thanks for sharing. That is so interesting that it’s actually be studied!

  • I just noticed that you’re reading The Discoverers: are you enjoying it? It’s on my list of possibles for the science book challenge, but I haven’t come across any book bloggers who have read it.

  • What you say about the cartoon is interesting. I did some research some years a go that suggested that in many instances a cartoon was either the climax or denouement of a story and that if you couldn’t reconstruct the rest of the story in your mind you didn’t see what was funny about it. The best part of that was that it was research suggested by a group of ten year olds who had intuited the fact for themselves.

  • I love your definition of reading as anything that increases literacy and understanding. I completely agree. (I also appreciated your thoughts on The Book Thief. I LOVED that book!)

  • I like your definitions.

    I’ve only listened to a few audiobooks. If I don’t like the reader’s voice I do find it difficult to overcome being distracted by that – but usually I’ve got used to it. One audiobook I listened to was “Simisola” by Ruth Rendell a mystery that I’d seen on TV – I hadn’t read the book. The audiobook was read by George Baker who played Inspector Wexford in the TV version. It was so funny because he did all the voices, but he did it very well and I enjoyed listening even though I knew the outcome.

    I haven’t read your full review on The Book Thief as I’ve only just started to read the book, but I was very interested to read how listening to the audiobook was an experience, not just reading. It’s impossible for me having seen a dramatisation or listened to an audiobook not to visualise or hear the reader’s voice – I completely agree that this changes my version of the book forever, which is why if I’ve loved a book I don’t want to see a film version.

  • @Eva: I am very much enjoying Discoverers–I’m reading it aloud with my husband and we make very slow progress, so I anticipate we’ll enjoy reading it for many more months. It seems more like history and social development than hard core “science” thus far so it’s very approachable for a non-science person like myself.

    @Jessica: it’s hard to think of reading as not “processing” something …

    @BooksPlease: I think reading a book with a particular type face, chapter headings, etc. makes a difference like an audiobook reader could in terms of making memories of the book. Silly example, but I read Harry Potter 1-6 in the US from the US version. I read the last one here in Australia from the UK version. The book is a difference size and the format/font, etc are different. It felt like a different type of experience….

  • Thank you for your thoughtful review of the audiobook, The Book Thief. I will definitely put it on my list. Listening to audiobooks is new to me. After purchasing an iphone, I began listening to books while taking my daily walks. Very soon thereafter, I started listening to audiobooks while working on my various crafts. I find it a different experience than the actual act of reading; it is more like listening to a radio or television production. For me, and I’m sure many others, a good narrator is the most important factor; alas, if the narrator does not appeal to me, I cannot get into the story and would rather read the book myself. So far, I have found very few narrators that hold my attention and I am always on the look out for good recommendations, so thank you once again for your review. I am just finishing Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I highly recommend it.

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