Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June is Audiobook Month


I’ve been meaning to write about audiobooks and audiobook month for a while now, but as it’s still June I guess it’s still appropriate. (The World Cup is quite the distraction.)

Until very recently I’ve had no use for audiobooks. I enjoy reading in my bed, I enjoy reading on the train. If there’s background noise, it’s probably coming from my iTunes or my new television. The only time I could tune into a narrative was when I was actually concentrating on the page before me. I once tried to listen to Nabokov’s Lolita, which is even read by Jeremy Irons, but I could never stay still long enough; I was always distracted, wanting to pick up the text instead.

That of course changed when I got displaced from my apartment. Currently I have to drive to the train station in order to take a train down into the city. It’s an obnoxiously long time to commute; however, as you can well imagine, it allows for a lot of sitting time, potential reading time. Three hours a day are open in such a way. So I figured that at the very least I could try listening to books, at least during the car ride to the train station.

And what an experience it has been. In the right hands, with fantastic voice actors and talented engineers, the excitement of reading comes alive. In many ways, it’s much more thrilling than hearing an author read from his or her own work, as generally the people who are reading for an audiobook are trained professionals, have directors who are able to assist on cadence and emphasis. It’s like being a kid all over again, having a librarian or a parent read a bedtime story to you; you get involved, you laugh along. It’s brilliant. You just have to make sure you select a narrative that is perhaps more effective when it’s heard, not seen and read.

The first audiobook I was able to get through was Bram Stocker’s Dracula, as read by Robert Whitfield. Whitfield was able to do each voice (it’s quite the polyphonic novel, with multiple narrators/letter writers) with a different lilt so that you knew immediately who was speaking without having to backtrack. It also doesn’t hurt that Dracula itself unravels in such a thrilling and mysterious way. Highly recommended for people starting out in the audiobook world.

I moved on to Ernest Hemingway. I thought back to my high school and early college days, and I recalled that The Sun Also Rises was my favourite of his. So I gave it a go. Hemingway’s first novel was read by William Hurt, who was the perfect choice. His deep voice, his emphasis on the full stop – he made Hemingway’s masterwork sound like a prose poem, gave it a life that I had hitherto not heard. Very highly recommended to anyone, especially those enamoured by Hemingway’s staccato style. I followed this up with A Farewell to Arms, read by John Slattery, which was also a good listen; but I found the narrative to drag along. Slattery makes Lt Henry feel quite strong, against all odds.

This morning I finished the novelisation of Despicable Me: The Junior Novel. Now, you may be worried about that decision, as all novelisations of film fall flat; however, this is read by Tim Curry, which was the obvious draw. It’s hysterical. He handles quite the myriad of voices. All with a grand sense of humour. Especially against the American voices – for some reason they sound more like caricatures than real people. Listening to him is like watching someone perform slapstick.
All in all, I have to say I’m hooked on audiobooks right now. That, or I’ve just been very lucky in my selections. If you have any recommendations, I’d be happy to take them.

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