Saturday, May 30, 2009

Aural Neophyte

I've never listened to an audio book before, and considering the amount of driving I do, that's a shame. I took the plunge last week and checked out two audio books from the extensive collection at our local library: BROTHERS, by Da Chen, and THE MASTER, by Colm Toíbín. I decided to listen to BROTHERS first and have made it through three of the ten discs so far, listening only while in the car.

I've always preferred reading to listening to the radio, so I wasn't sure how much I'd like following a story by ear. Add to my natural disinclination for auditory media the distractions of driving in rush hour traffic with a toddler in tow, I expected the experiment to be an "epic fail," as my teens would say. However, I have found myself completely caught up in Da Chen's story (so much so that it's easy to forget that I'm supposed to be driving!). I haven't had any trouble following the plot or keeping the characters straight, and my fear of missing important details h
as not materialized.

BROTHERS is the story of two half-brothers who grow up in China during the end of Mao's cultural revolution and the years immediately following. I've always had a fascination for that period in Chinese history ever since reading André Malraux's LA CONDITION HUMAINE (MAN'S FATE) in college. Da Chen tells the story by alternating chapters between the two brothers, using the first 
person point-of-view for each. On audio, a different reader reads for each of them. Two voices make the listening experience a lively one and aids in keeping the story lines separate. (Given my limited experience with audio books, I'm not sure if using multiple readers is typical or not.) One thing I do find irritating is that one of the readers adopts a breathy almost-falsetto when he reads the lines of female characters, a ploy I feel is completely unnecessary.  I do notice, too, that the audio format draws attention to clichéd sentences or images. Shifts in register or wooden sentences interrupt the narrative flow and distract me from the story, probably to a greater degree than if I had encountered these weaker lines in print. Listening to the story being read highlights, for me, the sound and style of the language. This observation validates one of the strategies I rely on when writing my own fiction--I read each and every passage aloud to check the flow and rhythm. I'll be curious to see if I focus on language to the same extent I have with that of BROTHERS when I listen to my next audio book.

Have you listened to audio books? What has your experience with them been? I'm certainly glad I finally tried. If nothing else, I feel like I'm making a stand against the discouraging truth of there being "too many books, too little time"!


Ms. Lucy said...

Hi Julianne,

I've never tried audio books particularly for reasons of distraction. But then, someone told me how she loves listening to books as she cooks and cleans up around her house..and I thought- ok, I could do that without being distracted;) I might give it a try someday soon:) Thanks.

Arleigh said...

When I had a longer commute I listened to audiobooks and enjoyed them. It is annoying when a male narrator reads a female character with a high pitched sort of voice. Hermione in Harry Potter is read very irritatingly on the audios. I'd much rather read a female narrator because they can usually pull off the male 'voices' pretty well. I listened to Sense and Sensibility last year and I think I enjoyed it more than I would have reading the written word because of the complicated wording that Austen uses.

Catherine Delors said...

Never gave it a try!

I did listen to MCLE tapes (Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, required to keep up my law license) while driving and I didn't mind it at all. But then here I have no commute to speak of.

AndreaZ said...

I have never tried audio books as I was concerned about not being able to follow the story by listening too closely to other things such as the voice of the narrator, etc.

Thanks you for sharing your experience! I may just give this a try.

Dara said...

I listened to the first two Harry Potter books via audio book. They're great ways to pass the time on a long drive.

I have to admit though, not too fond of when the male readers attempt the female voices but meh, one downside :)

Shauna Roberts said...

I listen to audio courses on the long drives one needs to make in California, but haven't tried a book. I doubt it would work for me because I often stop while reading to think about the scene or back up to remind myself who a character is.

Julianne Douglas said...

Hmmm, sounds like the Harry Potter reading wasn't too successful. I wonder why the narrators feel the need to use different voices for male and female characters. I mean, it's a reading, not a dramatic performance.

The most frustrating thing I've found about listening in the car is that when I get to the end of a disc, it's too difficult to insert the next one while driving. Then I forget to do it when I get home, so I face the same problem (only doubly irritating this time) the next time I go out. The story's been on hold for several days now!