Friday, 9 July 2010
Why can't I love audiobooks?
I’ve posted before about the fact that I’m a podcast addict. But I’ve never been able to work out why I can’t seem to get on with audiobooks. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of them. I have long wished for a device I could strap to my head so I could read while walking down the street. When you think about it, this is pretty much what audiobooks are all about. Although less ridiculous looking, obviously.
But for some reason they just don’t grab me. While I was walking my dog recently, I was listening to Radio 4’s Open Book podcast about the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It was a great discussion with people like Meg Rosoff, Kwame Kwei Armah and Shami Chakrabarti all talking about the impact the book had on them. Every now and then there were clips from the new audiobook, read by Sissi Spacek. Now I’ve loved our Sissi ever since she had a bucket of pig’s blood tipped over her head in the movie 'Carrie'. And To Kill a Mocking Bird is an amazing book. So why did my eyes instantly glaze over at these bits in the podcast? It was like tripping a switch in my mind and I couldn’t work out why it was happening.
And then it hit me. The reason I don’t like audiobooks is because the narrators read so slooooowly. I read very fast - too fast, sometimes forgetting plots as soon as I put them down. I find it very hard to slow things down and savour what I’m reading and of course, this is exactly how audiobooks should be narrated, giving listeners time to properly digest the story.
I'm obviously not alone in my lack of enthusiasm. Observer books editor Robert McCrum has said, 'I have fairly mixed feelings about audiobooks. At their best, unabridged and read by an author who knows about reading aloud (John le Carré springs to mind) they can be distillations of pure magic; a lovely window on the author's intentions. Read badly, or over-read by an out-of-work actor and horribly abridged, they can do a book a great disservice. Obviously, with a tape or a CD, the reader also loses some autonomy: it's much more difficult to skip.'
I injured my eye a few years ago and discovered that when one eye is in agony, you have to keep both of them closed. This meant lying in a darkened room and I had never needed to get on with audiobooks so much as I did for those few days. But they still didn't satisfy, even then.
Despite all this, I worry there is a whole other world of books out there that I’m missing out on.
So my plea is: how do I persuade my brain to slow down when I’m listening to someone else reading? And also, what are your top three favourite audiobooks? I’d love some recommendations. I’m determined to try and curb my impatience and make use of an art form that really deserves more respect.