Monday, June 21, 2010

Audiobook Week: Spreading the Aural Love

Devourer of Books is hosting Audiobook Week, and I had no idea it was going on until I woke up at 4am and starting flipping through the Google Reader app on my iPod Touch. Inane details aside, I decided to jump on this event bandwagon because there's a good deal of controversy when it comes to audiobooks and you know I can't keep my nose out of a good controversy.

In the olden days (2001), I started participating in online book discussion groups over at Yahoo! That's how I met my reading soulmate, Heather. At the time, audiobooks were not as accepted as I suspect they are now. In fact, I was a member of one group which tirelessly counted each and every book read during the year, and audiobooks WERE NOT ALLOWED to be counted. Given, it was a decision made by the group when they formed, but somehow it bastardized the audiobooks. It made them second class citizens.

The first audiobook I ever tried for myself was in 2003. I was on a cross-country trip to North Carolina, and I figured it was the perfect occasion to abandon bad radio and delve into a book--hands-free. I picked up that Ya-Ya book, read by the author, and I only made it about 10 miles before I was tempted to toss it out the window onto the highway. Her voice (and overly-thickened accent, I suspect) was grating and horrible. Fail!

This initial failure was enough to make me abandon audiobooks for another four years. Until...

David Sedaris. I always heard how funny his voice was and how much it enriched the experience of his essays, so after reading Me Talk Pretty One Day and laughing until I was downright snotty, I figured the listening experience must be pretty damn good. I was sooo right. I had a 40 minute commute each way to work, and Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim had me veering off the road in laughy-tears.

My second audiobook excursion was a completely different experience, fueled by a completely different motivation. I randomly picked On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, off of my shelves and quickly decided that there was NO WAY I would ever finish reading the print version of that rambly mess. And I really wanted another patch on my imaginary reading sash, so I just HAD to finish it. In walked reader, Matt Dillon, and I finished that booger in no time. I hated the story, but Dillon was a surprisingly good reader and well-suited to the book, so it was OK. And I got my imaginary reading patch. Gold star for me.

Finally, I've experienced some really amazing, jaw-dropping audiobooks over the years. The two that come immediately to mind are: The Stolen Child, by Keith Donoghue and On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. In the case of The Stolen Child, there were two readers who alternated and gave life to two very similar characters whose lives become all mixed up and intertwined. McEwan himself read On Chesil Beach, and I found that his voice brought a whole new level of emotion and atmosphere to the book whether it happened to be awkwardness, love, or heartbreak. Just gorgeous.

While I don't listen to as many audiobooks nowadays because I don't have a commute, I still like to delve into one now and then. My library system that I'm in now has a much better selection than my old one, and I have far less time for physical reading, so I suspect I'll be neck-deep in audiobooks again soon. In the meantime, if you haven't tried them, or if you haven't tried them a couple of times, take a lesson from my flounderings and give them another go. You might find a reason or six why you love them.

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