Some Books Sound Better Than Others

Followers of this blog know that I read a lot of books, mostly fiction but some good non-fiction as well. There are always more books that I want to read than time to read them in, even now that I’m retired. (Why don’t libraries let you check out four or five hours of reading time along with the book? Just a thought.) Plus, I read a book a month for my book club and read/edit chapters of novels and short stories from other writers in the Spacecrafts writing group and critique them for our regular meetings.

So Many Books, So Little Time

The Art Forger, B.A. Shapiro, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, art heistOne of the ways I add reading time to my schedule is by listening to audio books in the car. Not only has this expanded the number of books I can read, it has introduced me to new authors I might otherwise never have tried. That’s because I pick up the CDs at the library rather than purchasing them, which means I work with the selection the library has on shelf. But some libraries have a larger focus on audiobooks than others so I go to different libraries to explore their collections or order what I want through two regional library networks. I just received a notice to pick up “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro, which is our book club selection for September.

When I’m in the mood for a fantasy novel, I often scan the Young Adult collection because there are far more fantasy audiobooks for YA readers than for adults. Or, it may be that librarians just don’t purchase adult fantasy audiobooks because they have more conservative taste themselves. Folks with a “mundane” mindset can’t imagine why a grown-up would want to read about direwolves and dragons, vampires and zombies, or angels, wizards and magic.

To Keep or Return?

For new authors, and some well-known ones, I have a process. I listen to one CD and decide whether I like the book. If not, back to the library it goes. If I’m enjoying it, I load the CD player with the next six discs and keep going. The ideal driving book is engrossing enough to keep my mind occupied but not so dense that I’ll lose an important plot point or piece of dialog while I decide whether to turn left at the next corner.

Some books lend themselves well to the audio format but others do better on the written page. I love listening to the Maisie Dobbs mysteries because they are narrated by Orlagh Cassidy, whose marvelous crisp British accent brings Maisie and post-WWI England to life. Ms Cassidy also handles Cockney, French, German, and Scottish accents with aplomb.

The Harry Potter books are all read by Jim Dale, who is an absolute genius at creating voices so distinct that the listener can tell immediately which of the huge cast of characters is speaking. We listened to the last book in the series while driving through British Columbia, which offers miles and miles (and miles) of highways for uninterrupted hours of listening time. (Unless there’s a moose in the road.)

The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory, Anne Neville, Richard IIIPhilippa Gregory’s novels of the Wars of the Roses (“The White Queen,” “The Red Queen,” and “The Kingmaker’s Daughter”) as well as those of the Tudor period are wonderful audiooks because of the expert actors who read the various roles so well that they make the people real. And the novels of Elin Hilderbrand, which are all set on the island of Nantucket, are terrific driving books. There’s nothing better than being magically pulled onto cool Nantucket while negotiating Boston traffic on a hot July day. If you don’t mind laughing out loud in the car, try Neil Gaiman’s wickedly funny”Anansi Boys” as narrated by the rich, melted-chocolate voice of Lenny Henry.

Better on the Page

Other books, like the novels of Robert Parker, work better on the written page—and I have read them all. The late Mr. Parker had a very crisp, minimalist writing style that moves along in print but sounds almost bald when read out loud and his repeated use of the word “said” grates after a while. I enjoy reading Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels but can’t listen to them because the narrator uses tone of voice to ratchet the silliness factor to a point that annoys me. Stephen King is an author whose books I test gingerly because I’m never certain I want to deal with the subject matter and the narrator’s tone might not match that of the book. I loved “Lisey’s Story” on audio book but dropped “The Cell” before the first CD was over. “Under the Dome” went for five CDs before I scrapped it.

I belong to the Facebook group called Books I’ve Read, Books You Have Read and we trade recommendations. Please keep in mind that my selections reflect the fact that I’m a woman. A man might find Elin Hilderbrands’ books too involved with emotion and relationships. On the other hand, I don’t listen to books about war or historical battles, political thrillers, or books that involve a lot of gore and violence. I don’t like the style of some authors, like Dean Koontz, in either print or audio while many other people find his work riveting. It’s a matter of taste.

Now I’m off to the library to replace Heather Graham’s “Phantom Evil” (after three CDs) with “The Art Forger,” which they are holding for me. I hope for hours of good listening about the big heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

If you have any recommendations on audiobooks that you have enjoyed, please send them along in a comment.  I’d love to try them.