Sunday, April 26, 2009

Audio books

Dad, me, and my cat, Birthday, reading The Hobbit, 1957.

Well, since we're talking about reading, I'll comment on the book I'm currently into: March Violets, by Philip Kerr. It's a detective novel about Nazis. Now, if ya'll know me, you'd know that - for me - that's going to be about as good as it gets: detectives and Nazis in the same novel! Woo hoo! As good as detectives and Indians, but Tony Hillerman is dead and won't write any more Chee/Leaphorn novels.

What started me with March Violets is that another novel about the same detective is about to come out. I heard about it on NPR, I think, and, like Ricë, I like to read an author in sequence, if possible. The only way this novel is available from the fabulous Austin Public Library is as an audio book, and so I've spent the last two days listening to it and trying to figure out what is different about listening to a book from reading a book.

This book is read by John Lee, and in googling him, I find that he reads a lot of books, which is cool, because he's really good at it. With just slight nuances in his voice he can shift characters.

My big problem with listening to books is that it puts me to sleep. Yup. If I need a soporific, just hand me some headphones and a cd player and I'll be out of it in thirty minutes. Better than Benadryl, Tylenol PM or Ambien! It's one of the reasons I'm kinda scared to listen to these things in the car, like my sister does when she drives from NC to OH. Of course maybe if I was doing something else at the same time, I wouldn't fall asleep. But what happens is I start to doze off, wake up a bit, and then doze off again and end up having to re-listen to the part I dozed over or I'm clueless. And that's ok, truly it is, because I like being read to.

My Dad used to read to me when I was a kid. He did it because he liked it, first and foremost, but also because he insisted that we NOT have a TV. He believed that if we had one, I'd never learn how to read properly and to love books. My Mom worried that I would grow up culturally stunted and deprived from not seeing TV shows that my peers were watching, so it was perfectly OK for me to watch TV at other people's houses... Just not my own. Not even when we sublet a house with a TV in it for a year!

And, of course, I didn't mind a bit, because I was about the only kid I knew whose Dad spent an hour or so a day with them. It was a family thing. Mom would sit in the living room with us and do something like darn socks or sew on buttons or mend things, and Dad would read. I would act out all the parts, zipping around the living room.

But that's not what I meant to write about.

What I was wondering was if anyone else notices the phrases in a book more if they listen to it than if they read it? It seems that certain phrases pop out at me in this book. Is it Philip Kerr's writing, or John Lee's reading?

How is listening to a book different from reading it?


journalrat said...

Wendy, I loved hearing about how your father read to you as a child! (And I love the photo of you, him, and Birthday—what a face on that cat.)

I have trouble listening to books on tape too. I was listening to one while driving in Wisconsin. It was a famous dog writer, he also announces at Westminster Dog show, or did, anyway, a famous radio/announcer type person who loves dogs and writes about them and has a fabulous voice.

So I'm riding down the road in the middle of nowhere (dairy country I suppose) and thank god for that because the story was SAD and I started to sob so badly I had to pull over. I think if I had been in traffic I would have been in big trouble!

I popped in a tape by Something Fierce and got my mind cleared and moving forward again. Which is odd because their lyrics are rather narrative.

So I don't listen to books on tape/DVD in the car any more.

But I do love to READ OUT LOUD. I love the way words feel on my tongue. I love the way a great writer can make all the words seem as if there were no other arrangement of those words every possible.

And long ago, when Dick and I were having an argument about older books I read the beginning of "Pride and Prejudice" to him and he totally got it. And was laughing.

And I love reading Mark Twain and Dickens aloud also. In fact I don't think anyone should bother reading "Huckleberry Finn," unless he reads it aloud.

Melville's "Moby Dick" is made bearable when read aloud. "Bartleby the Schrivner" is a delight.

I think the sounds resonate in the brain and connect us to other sense memories. And like music, words spoken have tones that hit other chords in us and create moods.

Great writers always make this happen.

It's like being around that communal fire pit and hearing a story for the first time.

I just can't do that and drive!

wendy hale davis said...

I'm glad to hear about Moby Dick, Roz... Maybe I'll be able to get past the first three chapters if I read it out loud.

Amy in Austin said...

Wendy - loved the story. I think that different parts of our brains are activated by the visual sense versus the auditory sense. For instance, when I am reading - unless it is a really bad bad book - I lose all sense of external events. I don't hear anything, I don't notice time passing.. it all goes away. If I'm listening to a book, I am not immersed the same way. Even if it's a really good book. I'm engaged in a completely different way and it's a way which can be interrupted much more easily.