Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How do I love thee, recorded books? Let me count the ways...

     I want to say a few words about my love of… recorded books.  “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…” alright, alright.
     But seriously, before you go thinking, “only old, blind, or people who have a 2 hour commute listen to recorded books,” think again, my friend!  I’m a recent convert to the recorded book arena, but I was an instant addict. There were looooong stretches of my weekdays (my weekdays... yes) in which I was listening to the radio.  I very quickly got sick of the top 40 rotation.  I tried other stations, but to no avail.  I even tried NPR (INTERESTING, mixed with long stretches of BOOOOORRRIIING!!!)  I started listening to my CD collection, but even that became old very quickly.  One day in the library, I had a “eureka” moment.  I saw a shelf marked "Playaways."  These little digital recordings take AA batteries (as I quickly discovered, because EVERY time I borrow one from the library, the batteries are dead), and your own pair of headphones or ear buds.  I liked the idea – they were cute, easy to operate, and best of all, inconspicuous!  
     I started with The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I was immediately hooked on Playaways (and by the way, the book was great, engaging and beautifully written, if I little gut-wrenching).  I can’t think of anything bad to say about Playaways, except, there just aren’t enough of them. I can’t afford to buy these things so I borrow them from the library, and there’s just one scant shelf of Playaways in my rather large local library.  But hey, there are books on CD, and those are great too.  Their only real drawbacks are sometimes scratched CDs and the more obvious fact that when you listen to them, everyone can hear what you’re hearing.  "Duh!" you're thinking.  Well, give some consideration to the fact that since everyone in the room can hear what you're "reading." You might not want to have your narrator reading an R rated paragraph while a G rated audience is in the room with you, so if you don't want to limit yourself to G-rated books, keep the volume faily low and position yourself within easy reach of the volume and pause buttons.  
     There are still times when an actual printed book can be indispensible, such as when I was learning the French names of the characters in The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  I had to replay the first chapter of the book about 4 times before I got the important details of the main characters.  Once I had it straight, though, it was easy listening.  I've given up (for now) on the recorded versions of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask because of those French names.  I may start each of them at home with the actual books as well as the recordings, just until I get the characters straight. 
     I had no such issues with these books, though: Angels and Demons, and Deception Point, by Dan Brown, Frankenstein by Mary Shelly, World Without End by Ken Follett, Helen of Troy by Margaret George, Atonement by Ian McEwan.   Pride and Prejudice, Lady Susan, and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin may have been a bit difficult if I hadn’t read two of the three of them in the more traditional way years before (and seen the movies, too).  Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt was hysterical at points, even though his poverty was harrowing.  And I just LOVED that Frank McCourt was the narrator.  I loved his oft repeated line, “they didn’t give the steam of their piss,” especially when I heard it in Mr. McCourt’s wonderful Irish accent.  The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns was also narrated by its author, Khaled Hosseini, and his accent lends a certain authenticity to the descriptions of places that held no appeal for me whatsoever until I listened to these two books.   Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey was fun, easily digestible fluff, as was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austin Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler.
     I just borrowed two more recorded books (on CD) and I’m already well into the first one.  They make boring chores like folding laundry and cooking dinner much more tolerable, and sitting in traffic is almost a pleasure.  Almost. 

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