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.