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Rise Of The Audiobooks

It’s the oldest form of storytelling.

If there’s one thing certain in the history of human civilisation, it’s that we’ve always told stories. And the oral tradition of passing stories from one person to another appears to be something we can’t help but do.

I must admit though I was not keen on audiobooks at first. Not for any valid reason though. Too many memories of long car trips as a child listening to BBC radio recordings can make someone grow belligerently resistant to listening to someone talk when you’re not in the same room as them, let alone the same country. Or even the same decade. The whole thing smelled of mothballs encased in twee doilies.

How wrong child-me was.

It was the recommendation of listening to Stephen Fry’s Harry Potter readings that kickstarted it for me. As it has been the case for a lot of people, I’m sure. Fry nails the tone and sensibility of the books, and you never get the sense that he was actually locked in a small room narrating these ever-lengthening books for hours on end.

But what really grabbed me is that it’s such a different experience to physically reading the book. You can’t read too quickly. You can’t hurry up to the next section because you just absolutely must know who it was in the conservatory with the lead piping. You have to take in each word, each nuanced word, and let the story unfold.

In one sense, it gets you closer to how the author probably had it in their heads.

After that I listened to His Dark Materials, which has the benefit of Philip Pullman’s glorious narration of his own writing, but also a whole cast of actors for each character. Some of these are perfect – Will and Lyra in particular hint at what the failed filmed version might have been – but others are overly stagey and preposterous and make you just wish they’d stop being silly and just read the words.

The best benefit though is you can read two books at once. Read one, and listen to another. The experiences of each are so vastly different that it will never feel like you’re juggling too much narrative in your head. Additionally, you’ll be able to clock up a few more titles on your reading list than you might have planned for.

There’s something in the listening to an audiobook though that is, for an adult me, just perfect. Our first stories, for anyone, were told to us, or read to us, and it’s an experience we generally don’t sustain. Gradually reading becomes a solitary measure, something conducted in private, where once it was a shared experience. And yes, though you are listening to a recording of someone else, it does open up the reading of a book into something other than a communion between you and the words on a page.

For me, I can recommend the audiobook of Consider the Lobster, though I’m not a DFW fan, his own voice does really convey so much in tone and pitch alone. Similarly Raul Esparza’s interpretation of Under the Dome is magnificent, his rendering of an enormous cast of characters is quite staggering.

And I have it on excellent authority that World War Z is not to be missed in audiobook form, and given the nature of the story it seems one well-suited to the medium. So it’ll probably be next for me, listening to it to and from work each day in the car, listening to someone read a book to me from another time and another place.

Everything old is new again.


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