Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'd walk to the end of the earth with George Guidall.

1997 was a big year for me. I graduated from college, moved into my first big girl apartment, and started my first teaching job. Thanks to the Busken Bakery less than a 100 yards from said apartment, it was a "big" year for me in other ways as well. But anyway, 1997 was also the year I discovered audiobooks, and my life has been much richer ever since. To celebrate ten years of this passion, I dedicate this post to audiobooks. Why and how much do I love audiobooks, let me count the ways . . .

Audiobooks are a wonderful chance to "read" more books.

I know some people who want to get technical about listening to books and to discuss whether or not listening to audiobooks is "really reading." Frankly, this discussion gets on my nerves and strikes me as beside the point. For me, the point is to enjoy stories of all kinds. The listener still has to make sense of what he or she is hearing, follow the threads of the narrative, and make connections just as one does when reading a book in print. Now, these tasks are sometimes made easier by the fact that the audiobook's narrator is offering a certain interpretation in his/her performance, but I usually find these interpretations in accord with the spirit of the text. Audiobooks allow me to experience more good literature. I am always consuming several books at once: a book in print, an audiobook, and the various books that are part of my academic project. (Just to clarify, I do not mean simultaneously consuming, as in I listen to an audiobook while I sit on the couch and read another book. I'm a good reader, NTB, but not that good). Audiobooks are a wonderful chance to "read" in situations when you can't normally read, such as while driving a car.

A good narrator makes listening to an audiobook an absolute pleasure.
I have been listening to audiobooks long enough now to have favorite narrators. Flo Gibson reading Pride and Prejudice is divine. The low-key, but compelling narration of Shelly Frasier is another favorite. Though at times she verges on overdoing it, many of my most awesome audiobook experiences have been listening to books narrated by Barbara Rosenblat. I enjoy Richard Easton, Simon Preble, and the fantastic Ron McLarty. And, as the title of this post suggests, I would walk to the end of the earth if I had a supply of audiobooks narrated by George Guidall to keep me company. His reading of Jonathan Frantzen's The Corrections is sublime. Now, a poor narrator can ruin a listening experience, but I typically find that I can adjust to most narrators if I give them a chance. For those new to audiobooks, beware of audiobooks read by celebrities and/or authors. Sometimes they are wonderful, but oftentimes not so much. Professional audiobook narrators (and such people do exist) are the best. With very few exceptions, I am very happy with the narrators who read for Recorded Books, Inc.

If not for audiobooks, I might never clean.
My house is cleaner when I am listening to a compelling audiobook. Unloading the dishwasher, wiping down the bub's booster chair, folding laundry, tidying the piles of stuff everywhere . . . all these tasks are made more pleasurable when an audiobook keeps me company as I do them. The only task that I cannot do while listening to audiobooks is vacuuming.

If not for audiobooks, I might never exercise.
For me, my monthly subscription to audible.com is a far better value than any gym membership I could purchase. My main form of exercise is walking, and I am always willing to walk longer if I'm listening to a good book.

Audiobooks reintroduced me to the library.
Audiobooks are expensive to buy, and though I happily purchase books, I have never been interested in purchasing audiobooks as physical artifacts. In my post-college years in Cincinnati and Chicago, I learned to re-love the library as a source of audiobooks. Walking to the library is a pleasure, and in my first two years in Chicago, I probably explored at least ten different branches of the public library in search of a greater variety of audiobooks.

Audiobooks are less cumbersome than they used to be.
When I first started listening to audiobooks, they were called books on tape. I would walk around with a walkman on and then have extra batteries and the next tape in a ziploc baggie in my pocket. When I got into the car, I would bring the tapes with me. When the libraries started shelving books on cd, I temporarily tried listening to audiobooks on my discman. I found it frustrating because the discs often skipped as I walked and the discman was too big for a pocket. For a while, I would wear a hoodie with a pouch in front and store my discman there, but I got tired of feeling like a kangaroo. I went back to the walkman, which I proudly sported until the fall of 2003. At that time, I got my first ipod and discovered audible.com.* A monthly subscription to audible.com runs me about $21 a month and includes two audiobooks a month. I download these audiobooks onto my ipod, and I am ready to go. Once you download an audiobook, it remains in your online "audible" library and your itunes so that you can re-read it anytime. I think you can also share it with other listeners in your household (my husband is not interested, however). I look forward to choosing my audiobooks each month and make a game of trying to get the maximum amount of listening time for my book credits. I also have a complicated thought process about which books to listen to and which I would prefer to read in print. Generally, I try only to listen to unabridged audiobooks, but many books come in abridged versions as well, in case any of you would prefer a shorter listen. I also want to point out that some large public library systems allow cardholders to download audiobooks for free. The Chicago Public Library offers this service, but it is not available for ipod users yet. I think you need a PC as well, and we are a Mac household so I have not been able to take advantage.

Audiobooks are a great way to widen your reading tastes and take risks.
I have listened to many books that I might never have read on my own. For example, March by Geraldine Brooks was a beautiful novel, which tells the story of Mr. March, father of the famous Little Women, as he serves as a chaplain in the Civil War. I can't explain why, but March is not a novel I would have jumped to read in print and yet I am so thankful to have experienced it. The same can be said for Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, now one of my favorite novels. I also listen to mysteries and thrillers, but I never read them in print.

Audiobooks are a totally new (or perhaps an ancient) way of experiencing a great story.
I associate times and places in my life with audiobooks. When my husband and I were first married, I explored our new neighborhood during walks while listening to Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons and David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. I walked down Lincoln Avenue with tears streaming down my face as I listened to the ending of Audrey Niffenager's The Time Traveler's Wife, set in Chicago. I unpacked and cleaned our first home while listening to Marian Keyes's The Other Side of the Story (actually not a great story, but okay). I got the bub's nursery ready while listening to Jennifer Haigh's Mrs. Kimble. After a long winter of new motherhood, I took my first steps outside for sanity and exercise while listening to The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank. I painted our bathroom with the company of Gregory Maguire's Wicked (and no, I still have not seen the musical). I could go on and on. I'll just say reiterate that I love audiobooks and feel fairly confident in my ability to give customized recommendations if anyone is interested. NTB.

It's been a good ten years and I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. I've got to go now. The kitchen is a mess, and Freddy and Frederika by Mark Helprin is waiting for me.

If you have a memorable audiobook experience, please share it in the comments!

*NTB, but our car also allows me to hook up my ipod for easy listening while driving.


Anonymous said...

The audiobooks do encourage MEP to clean more. So fellas, if you are looking to motivate your wife to keep the place clean, get her hooked on audiobooks.


LAP said...

I am skeptical that I could embrace the audiobook (certainly not with as much passion as you), but if you had a top recommendation for a novice like myself, what would it be?

Anonymous said...

Alas, I had forgotten how enjoyable books on tape were. For many years friends would catch me putting a headset on (illegal of course)as soon as I got in my car even if I was driving only a few blocks. I suspect it was the technology that got the best of me. Couldn't adjust to the difficulty with the combo of walking and listening to a CD(a little bump in the road and you're starting all over0. I am inspired, but crazy as it sounds, I do not mind cleaning. M

Anonymous said...

I am also a devoted fan of audio books. George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblat, Davina Porter and Simon Prebble are my favorite audio book performers, although I have enjoyed many others as well. I own about 75 and have listened to several hundred. I prefer tapes, even though they do take up more space, as they do not skip ever, stay where they were when you turn them off, and transport from one player to another without losing one's place. Also it is easy to scroll back just a few words to rehear a word or phrase, a tone of voice or an expression. Nonetheless, cd players are much improved and do not skip nearly as much they did and many folk swear by their Ipods. A fine actor can not only enhance one's enjoyment of a book but point out things in it that a print reader may miss. It is much harder to page ahead.

My recommendation would be to search on any one of AudioFile's Golden Voices (especially my favorites) on your library's search engine and look for a book you would enjoy in print but have not yet read. On the AudioFile website you can hear clips (as you can on the Recorded Books site) so you can be sure that the narrator's voice is appealing to you. Personally I cannot imagine anyone not liking George Guidall's voice, but someone here did.

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