Currently Reading: Small Favor by Jim Butcher, Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
I’m always disturbed by the people who say they don’t read. I do understand that, particularly for people like many that I work with that are in school and have to read constantly anyway, that pleasure reading is often put on the back burner. Still, I managed to always be reading something on the side, even when I was buried in school work. Even worse than these, though, are the ones who proclaim that they don’t read in a tone that suggests it is something to be proud of. This, to me, is simply intolerable. If your idea of cultural expansion is watching reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard, then we’re probably not going to see eye to eye on much.
Anytime someone tells me that they don’t have time to read, I always offer the same suggestion–picking up an audiobook from the local library. The general problem with reading, at least the problem everyone else seems to have, is that when you do it, you’re usually just doing it. It doesn’t allow for any other activities you might be doing. With audiobooks, however, you can do any number of things and still be getting a good dose of the literary experience. For example, I do all sorts of things while I’m listening, usually those tasks (read cleaning the house) that I don’t particularly enjoy. By throwing in a good story to take my mind off the mundane thing I’m doing, I trick myself into looking forward to what I don’t really want to do.
Then, there’s the commute. I drive an hour each way to and from work and I often employ audiobooks to break up the monotony and take my mind off the outrageous price I just paid for gas. Listening to a good book as I drive really helps me make the most out of what would otherwise be a large chunk of mostly wasted time. Still, it does have its risk. I got a speeding ticket not too long ago because I was paying more attention to what was going on in the story than I was to the posted speed limit signs. Those dangers, though, are rare and worth the risk.
I’m such a geek about audiobooks that I even have my favorite narrators. A lot of people know of Jim Dale from his fantastic work on the US audio versions of the Harry Potter books. I’m still in awe over his ability to produce so many distinct voices–as many as 125 per book–and keep them all straight. Even if you have read the books multiple times and seen the movies, I encourage anyone who has not done so to find the audio versions and listen to them–they add a whole new depth to the experience. I’ll wager that you will not see (or hear) the stories in the same light after you have heard Jim Dale performing the wide variety of characters in the series.
There are other audiobook narrators that simply draw you into the story with a vice-like grip and won’t let you leave. Frank Muller, sadly no longer able to perform due to a motorcycle accident, is a master of the spoken word. A trained Broadway actor, Muller’s amazing voice in a wide range of works, particularly some of Stephen King’s stories, is a true example of the power of audiobooks. I admit that I had a hard time getting into the Dark Tower series until I found them on audiobook and listened to Muller’s reading of the first three, the ones he completed before his accident. Also, in some of King’s other works such as The Talisman and Black House, Muller makes you a participatory part of the story from the first line. I’m such a fan of Muller’s that, as I’m writing, I hear his voice reading the words, a trick that I believe makes my prose much stronger. If it sounds awkward in Frank Muller’s voice, then it must be really bad because he could read the phone book and it would sound riveting.
Another excellent narrator, George Guidall, finished the Dark Tower series and rivals Muller in his ability to draw the reader in through a combination of his voice and his grasp of what he is reading. In other works, particularly works of suspense like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, show off Guidall’s rich, precise voice and his wonderful ability to portray character.
Several authors, even, make excellent audiobook narrators. I realize that I’ve worn out my love affair with King’s On Writing, but he does an excellent job of reading the book without sounding like he’s reading. He avoids sounding preachy or pretentious simply by believing what he has written and speaking as if he’s having a casual conversation with the reader. Even in narrating some of his other work, King’s odd voice matches up perfectly with the material. Ian McEwan is another author who reads his material probably better than anyone else probably could. He captures the wit and emotion of his writing and, believe me if you haven’t read him, there’s a lot of that to capture.
Sometimes in my idle moments (the two or three minutes I have per week), I wonder if any of my work will ever reach audiobook format. If so, I would like nothing more than for George Guidall, in place of Frank Muller, to read my story. Should that not happen, I would be more than happy to read it myself, just for the sheer experience of doing an audiobook. The only downside would be knowing that I’m not Frank Muller, no matter how much I would try to sound like him.
So, if anyone is reading this, I encourage you to go out and find yourself an audiobook to read today. Just about anyone can work it into his or her busy life. I’m about to start Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale and am looking forward to my myriad of choices beyond that. Also, be sure to check out http://www.frankmullerhome.com to find out how you can help Mr. Muller’s efforts to recover from his near fatal accident.