Friday, 17 February 2012

Ludic Listening

I love reading.  Now, before you get the wrong idea, this is NOT going to be a post eulogising the joys of relaxing with a good book; we all know that’s a very satisfying and calming thing to do, so ‘nuff said.

No, as I said, I love reading, but of late it’s becoming more and more difficult.  I used to be able to spend several languid hours at a stretch with my nose between the covers and my mind off somewhere completely else. Now (I suppose it’s a function of aging) my eyes just can’t sustain that level of concentration – not to mention the monkey in my head that won’t sit still for anything, curse him! 

So, reluctantly, I have turned to audio books.  I say ‘reluctantly’ because in the back of my mind, on a high shelf next to the Bumper Box of Regrets, there’s a nasty little idea that having a book read to you is cheating somehow; little kids have stories read to them, not adults – at least not adults that can see.

This is nonsense of course; that venerable institution, BBC Radio Four, has ‘Book of the Week’ and ‘Book at Bedtime’ which is exactly that – someone reading a story.  Radio Four is definitely not a station for children.

Anyway, I’ve started listening to audio books and have discovered a few ways that they are actually better (dare I say it) that reading a print book.

You can enjoy the story while you are doing other things like cooking, exercising, doing a crossword or constructing a scale model of St Paul’s Cathedral out of matchsticks.

Sometimes, the makers will add a little music here and there which can, if done properly, really enhance the atmosphere of the story.  With a print book, you’d have to add this for yourself in your head and who thinks to do that?

The reader, if they’ve been well chosen, can bring the story to life with just a few differences in emphasis or vocal tone and pitch.  Actually, here’s a question: when you are reading to yourself, do you ‘hear’ your voice in your head reading the story or do the words just somehow flow into your head and create meaning?  I personally ‘read’ to myself.  My husband does not and, as a result, sometimes does not see puns and other word-play jokes in the text.  What do you do?

More than one person can enjoy the story at the same time.  My hubs and I are currently working our way through a series of audio books – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher – and it is so gratifying to turn off the TV and just sit quietly together listening and responding to the stories.  This is a bit harder with a print book!


Any of the Jeeves & Wooster stories by P G Wodehouse as read by Jonathan Cecil.  These are just hilarious!

The Harry Potter books as read by the ubiquitous Stephen Fry.  Mr Fry’s rich, plummy voice is just right for these and there’s loads more detail in the books than the films.  I’m fairly sure I don’t have to explain the whole Harry Potter thing by now.

The aforementioned Dresden Files books as read by James Marsters (Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer').  These are also about a wizard called Harry, but one who happens to be the only Wizard Private Investigator listed in Chicago’s phone book.   The world that the author describes in these stories is our own, complete with mobile phones, cars, guns, etc.  The stories are fast-paced and tightly plotted. Harry Dresden and the other main characters are sympathetic and believable.  Well worth a go in print or in audio form.  Mr Marsters’s vocal talents are just perfect for this gritty series.

So yeah, I love reading, but now I’m learning to love listening too.


  1. I would be in jail now if it weren't for audio books. I drive 80 miles a day on my work commute & the books are the only reason that I haven't murdered someone in a fit of road rage :)

    The right narrator makes ALL the difference in these books. I especially remember listening to the book Beach Music read by Peter MacNicol (I knew him from Ally McBeal) - I was amazed at how well he did all the voices.

    Here in a few minutes I'm going to quit playing on the computer & get out my audio book while I sort out files here at work.

  2. I've never listened to an audio book; I'll have to give it a try!

  3. Haven't got there yet. My husband, who is partially sighted, is now reading on Kindle. Somehow audio books haven't come up so far.

  4. Food for thought, certainly. I don't think I could do it in the house; if the book's available I still think I'd take the book anytime. If I'm listening to anything, it's always whilst cooking or cleaning, and that's Radio 4 time.

    However, the car is a distinct possibility. The new one's even got a CD player that's never been used yet. So I'll have an Amazontrawl. Something long, I think. Or modern and Scottish, because they infuriate me with the nu-scot-spelling. Might well be better heard.

    And reading? I think I hear myself reading the words, but that's actually a hard question. I obviously read out loud to the children a lot, and when I do, I do 'voices'. Don't do 'voices' in my head though. Weird.

  5. i usually only turn to audio books if i'm ill - i guess my problem with them is exactly the same as one of your plus things - that you can do other things whilst they play. Which ultimately takes away part of the pleasure of doing nothing but read

    And i wouldn't want one on in the car because it would distract too much from driving - music you can always ignore, plots are rather harder.

    But that's not to say i would specifically rule them out and if i had a stereo downstairs in the lounge i would probably listen to much more things than i currently watch

  6. Bug - if only more people would find ways to calm themselves down, the world would be a better place for sure.

    Eva - they are well worth a go.

    Friko - I use the Kindle app on my iPad as well as audio books and print books. I'm also partially-sighted.

    Titus - I don't do 'voices' when reading to myself, it's just my own voice I hear.

    DFTP - the thing with audio books is that you do not have to do anything else if you don't want to, but the option is there. I still love printed books and have just come back from a raid on Waterstones.

  7. If I could have Stephen Fry narrate my life, I would. He has such an incredible voice for narration.

    Also, the Dark Tower series of audio books are incredible. Probably my favorite audio books. I can't name the voice actor, but he's simply amazing and fits the story perfectly (also my favorite series of all time, so that helps too).

  8. BftS - oh, yes, Mr Fry's melifluous tones would be just the ticket! I must check the Dark Tower stuff, too.

  9. I have a pile of audio books that I bought thinking I'd have plenty of time to listen while driving. My problem is a limited ability to divide attention. I can't listen and do something else at the same time. And if I miss a bit of the story, I can't just shrug and move on. I have to rewind and start again. However, if I'm sitting and listening, I love it. Radio drama's are a fave. A handful of sound effects, some good dialogue, and I'm in heaven.

  10. Michael - I don't think I could drive and listen to an audiobook either. As for radio dramas, oh yeah! I think radio has better pictures than TV.

  11. I am a HUGE fan (wait -- does that sound right?! -- of P J Wodehouse.

    I may actually move to audio books myself. I grew up driving long hours, late at night, with my father, and "Fireside Theater" dramas on the radio were delicious treats. I think a good narration may prove the same...


  12. Not owning a TV I have become somewhat dependant upon good old radio 4. They do a Classical series as well ... I would never have managed to plough through all that Trollope on my own - but now I can fool people into thinking I have actually read the Barchester Chronicles etc.

    And listening to Jane Eyre provided the perfect backdrop to matchstick model making endeavours (how did you know?)


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