28 February 2015

Simon won't let me talk about audio books

Jeremy Northam. See number 6.

I keep bringing up audiobooks on The Readers, but I don't think Simon really wants to talk about them. I can understand. Before I became a convert I didn't want to talk (or hear) about them either.

1. I'm counting them on my books read list for the year. I used to think this was totally cheating. But now that I am listening to books on my driving commute since I can no longer read on a mass transit commute, it feels like a much more equivalent activity than I ever would have thought. Plus one still spends a lot of time with an audiobook. 40 hours for a Trollope. One still goes through the ups and downs of the story and feels the emotions of it. And in some ways I think I am even more aware of the prose than I am when I read.

2. I'm still only choosing books that I have already read. In general they are books I read and liked years ago and would like to revisit them without taking away from reading other books for the first time. This has proven quite ineresting.

3. I need plot and/or material details much more in audiobooks than in regular books. Abstract concepts or thoughts are a little too hard to follow when driving. I'm dying to listen to all the Brookner novels I have downloaded, but the car isn't the right place for them.

4. So far, children's dialog in audio books is dreadful. The readers voicing the children make me want to reach in the book and slap the kids silly. They all sound so whiny and annoying. Then again I felt that when I read Pied Piper and What Happened to the Corbetts as well, so maybe it has more to do with the way Nevil Shute writes kids.


6. Our Man in Havana
Graham Greene wrote some unbelievably good books. And OMIH is not a bad book, but you have to be ready for a few scenes that are of the "Who's on First" type of farce. I laughed like crazy at the famous Abbott and Costello routine when I was a kid, but as an adult that kind of farce makes my teeth itch. I first read this book back in 1997 and quite enjoyed listening to it recently on audio book. But the heavy farce scenes were even more annoying on audio than on the page. I largely liked Jeremy Northam's narration, not sure all his accents were very solid, but Northam can whisper in my ear any day. The worst part about this audio book was the use of bad faux-salsa music between chapters.

The only thing more handsome than Jeremy Northam is Jeremy Northam with a beard.
Here he is in The Golden Bowl.


  1. You had me at "Jeremy Northam." He will always be Mr. Knightley to me. I have a strong dislike of anything associated with Henry James, but I guess I have to watch The Golden Bowl now. And I agree with you about audiobooks -- I usually like them best as a reread. If they're a first read for me, I tend to get impatient and read a print copy when I'm not in the car (thus having to fast-forward and find my place, by which time I've already arrived at work -- it's a vicious circle.) I do like them for books that I might otherwise skip, but can tolerate for short bursts of time. I don't think I would have gotten through Moby-Dick or The Pickwick Papers if it weren't for audiobooks.

  2. I'm surprised that Simon is resistant to discussing audio books - my recollection was that he used to listen to quite a few when he had more of a commute (but my recollections aren't always the best. I do listen to y'all enough to know that if I were a publisher I would *never* send him a book about a horse or a boat. ;) ) I still haven't gotten into audio books myself - it's just the wrong season for me. I don't have a commute and have temporarily had to suspend outdoor exercise. I'm looking forward to trying them out as soon as I get back to my long walks - hopefully this week. And, I WILL DEFINITELY COUNT THEM as books read. My dh has really been enjoying The Count of Monte Cristo (50 some odd hours) and has been teaching us how to pronounce all the names we've been saying wrong for years. Your rant in #5 had me giggling. Your point in #3 is one that I'm taking to heart - it doesn't take much to mentally distract me when I'm out walking, so I already know that I'm going to be looking for something plot-driven and suspenseful, but without too much creepiness lest I scream out loud at the first person I see unexpectedly when I round a corner. I'll have to check back in on this post later and see if you get recommendations from readers. Good topic! Happy listening.

  3. I think we need to remember there are a lot of people out there who can only enjoy audio books and are unable to read the printed word. I don't believe in "snobbery" for any type of literary enjoyment. Most book bloggers seem to be younger and can't fully appreciate those who can not enjoy reading the traditional way, Enjoying literature is enjoying literature no matter how we do it and we should not be fooled into thinking otherwise. I have no patience for it.

  4. I don't understand why an audiobook isn't a "read." Must a read use only your eyes? To me a book is read when it's contents have been absorbed by your brain via eyes or ears (or both).

  5. I just resumed listening to audiobooks. Before we had children, audiobooks were the common ground for long trips in the car for my husband and myself ( we barely tolerate each other's music). A couple of years ago, the whole family listened to Sissy Spacek reading To Kill a Mockingbird which was wonderful. I have a boring data entry part to my job and too much car time lately so I am listening to In Cold Blood which I read too many years ago and am so enjoying it! I am glad I picked something I knew and wanted to reread.

  6. I think there is a useful (some will think scholastic) distinction to be mantained between reading in print and listening to a book. This is not a judgement one way or the other, but a distinction that seems to me worth retaining because they are, well, different experiences. When I was very young and living in Easy Africa I kept a list of animals I had seen in the wild, but valued the ones I had seen "not in game parks" differently from those seen in the wild but in game reserves. Or perhaps, better, there is a real difference in having heard a symphony or opera on recording and having heard the same work live - the recording may in many ways be the deeper experience, especially if you follow a score, but the live is in real ways the authentic experience.

  7. If I listen to a book I've already read in print I invariably find whole bits I've inadvertently missed when 'properly' reading ... I'm obviously an unconscious skipper, so hooray for audio books which give me a fuller experience. I agree that some readers are awful, quite a few are on my blacklist ... thank goodness our online library catalogue gives the name of the reader! And yes, many of them are hopeless on children's voices; I also loathe female readers who put on a very deep voice for the men, and men who go high and silly for the women. Finally, how often one finds, because one is listening, a revered author who uses the same words and phrases far too often Thanks for your stout defence of audio books .. they give so much pleasure.

  8. I've recently discovered a massive love of audiobooks. Not so much with fiction I've not read (as I find it difficult to pay attention) but with memoirs and revisiting already read books it's been lovely. I've listened to some wonderful narrations of my favourite books.

    I definitely think it counts on your end of year lists, it takes as much attention to listen to a story as to read it. I think some books are better when read as well, I've no desire to read Tolkien, but I think listen to his books would be devine.

  9. From my brief audiobook experience, I can heartily agree with #3. I also found that I favored first-person narration in the audio books I chose.

    I don't recall listening to audio books that involved children, but I remember I had to halt one audio book because the narrator was so bad in doing the male character's speech and it also seemed like she was trying to add poetic resonance to what was essentially fairly workmanlike prose.


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