Why are audiobooks so popular? One reason (as the article points out) is that people are busy and listen to audiobooks while they're doing another task, such as driving or laundry. While this is true, I think the article neglected an important point: that the quality of audiobooks has markedly improved over the years. Audiobooks have gone from dry atonal readings to full scale productions which include music and multiple narrators. Many people are auditory learners and simply absorb things better by hearing than by reading. And of course, people who are blind or dsylexic listen to audiobooks. I don't think this diminishes the experience of the book at all.
My favorite audiobook narrator is Jim Dale (see this post). I think he's absolutely wonderful. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a particularly good audiobook and possibly the best of the whole series. As always, I think Jim Dale's narration enhanced the text and gave it an additional dimension.
I've recently been drawn in by Bruce Coville's company Full Cast Audio. As their name implies, Full Cast Audio has a different narrator for every character and I think this adds an incredible richness to each of their recordings. I had the pleasure of listening to their production of Kenneth Oppel's Airborn and it was just fantastic. I had thoroughly enjoyed the book when I read it, but I really feel in love with it when I listened to it. Matt Cruse was read by teenage actor David Kelly and this helped me get a much better sense of this character than I have before. I also thought that Bill Molesky, who read Captain Walken, was right on the money with his wonderful magisterial interpretation.
To my delight, there is a new award for children's audiobooks sponsored by the American Library Association. The Odyssey Award is in its first year, and I can't wait to hear the winner and honor books announced in January 2008.