Listening to Books

Listening to Books

Last week I mentioned that I often listen to books, particularly classics. I do a lot of driving, and audio books make the miles fly for me. Some books naturally lend themselves to audio, but the reader can also make a big difference. In fact, the best and the worst experiences I have had with audio books surround the reader. Of course this is subjective, but listening to an engaged and knowledgeable reader makes listening to a book more enjoyable.

A lot goes into a good audio book recording. The reader should know how to pronounce all of the words in the book, locations in particular. Voice texture and tone make a difference too. Production quality, meaning a clear recording that is easy to listen to at a normal volume, is also important.

I usually finish listening to the books I start. One I put down, simply because of the audio, was "This Blessed Earth: a Year in the Life of an American Family Farm" by Ted Genoways. The reader was dreadful. This isn't usually the case. Most readers are just fine, some are excellent.

I have both read and listened to the "Harry Potter" series. Jim Dale reads the books, and over the course of seven stories, developed over 200 distinct character voices. He takes an interesting storyline and adds layers of complexity with his voice acting.

While I don't often pay attention to who is reading the book, actors tend to be excellent audio book readers. Wil Wheaton of Star Trek fame reads "Ready Player 1." The use of him as the reader is kind of an Easter egg because Wheaton plays a role in the book itself. (Easter eggs are when an author hides an obscure reference in a book that not everyone will notice.)

I listened to "The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett, and loved it. Tom Hanks reads it. Unlike many readers, he doesn't use different voices for the characters. He just reads the book to you, kind of like the grandfather in the movie, "The Princess Bride." He uses lots of inflection and interpretation, but no particular voice for anyone. I did a little research and found that the author, Patchett, knows Hanks personally, and simply asked him to read it. Hanks agreed, and magic happened.

I just finished listening to "Daisy Jones and the Six" by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Reid is a best-selling author who isn't afraid to try a different formula for her books.This book is formatted as a documentary about an imaginary rock band from the 1970s. The entire book is dialogue, with no description, just interviews of band members and people who knew the band in the height of their popularity.

I really liked "Daisy Jones," so I scanned some of the reviews when I added it to the list of books I've read on (where I record my reading list). The reviews were all over the place, people either loved it or they hated it. Most of the bad reviews were by people who read the book in print format. That makes sense. I can easily believe that reading 333 pages of interviews might be a bad experience. The audio book is narrated by a full cast, meaning every character is read by a different actor. Each actor brings a lot of emotion to their character, and the result is a fully developed work, complete with deep sighs and choking voices at times. These things wouldn't translate well in the written word.

Audio books do have drawbacks. You miss illustrations, maps and sometimes supplemental information that would have added to the book. When I picked up "Daisy Jones" to see how many pages were in it, I noticed that part of it didn't make it into the audio book. The book centered around a particular album the band released, and the author composed the lyrics for the album. The lyrics are included in an afterword of the physical book, but not read in the audio book.

We have a fairly large collection of books on CD at the Gering Library, but you can also download audio books with your library card using the Libby app. If you don't know how to do that, stop by and someone at the front desk will be happy to get you started on Libby. You may find yourself enjoying listening to audio books as you go about your day.