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Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Joy Of Talking Books

My first experience with books that talked was when I was the teacher librarian at a disadvantaged western suburbs school in Melbourne many years ago. Not the one where I’ve spent the last twenty years, but my first. We had a Talking Books program, run by a feisty lady called Alva who has passed away in recent years, may she rest in peace. They were offered to students who would sit with headphones on and read books while listening to them being read. It was not intended as a slack off - teachers who sent their students to the library to do this were expected to supply Alva with work for the kids to do while they listened, which gave meaning to the task, plus ensuring that they didn’t just slip in a music tape and pretend to read! Alva knew all the students and their habits. They got away with nothing on her watch!

Thing is, we didn’t have professional recordings. Those cost money we didn’t have, but also, Alva believed - correctly - that the kids would get more out of hearing familiar voices, the voices of their teachers - which also meant that a teacher who had a specific book she wanted recorded and offered to her students could do it herself.

I recorded several and had a lot of fun doing it. After our school was closed down, the entire collection went to another local school, which would have thrown them out long ago. You’ll notice I said “tapes”!

There were some very good recordings, though, amateur or not. No Stephen Fry or Richard Armitage, but the Vice Principal, a good friend of Alva’s, was amazing. His strong Australian accent suited some of the classic humorous stories of Australian literature - and Ron was very funny!

On to the present day, and audiobooks, as they are now called, are a big thing. Famous actors do them. People listen to them in their cars and while they are jogging and while they do housework. Some people listen to them instead of reading the book. That’s absolutely fine except that when they review them on blogs, the review is often only for the book and not for the performance.

What’s the point of having a Stephen Fry or a Kate Beckinsale reading to you if you’re only appreciating the story and not the art of the narrator? If they don’t read it as they should, you will miss a lot about the story.

I once read an interview with Jim Dale, who read the American audiobooks for the Harry Potter series. In the one he had just done, he had created 143 different voices for the dialogue! And some jogger listening to this amazing work of art will just talk about J.K Rowling. Sad!

So I almost never buy an audiobook I haven’t read before. I enjoy it as a performance of a book I have read and loved. I delight in Stephen Fry’s interpretations of the various Harry Potter books. I feel that Stephanie Daniels does a very good Phryne Fisher, but can’t manage broad Australian accents. I enjoy Clive Mantle reading Geoffrey Trease’s Cue For Treason admittedly because hey, he was Little John in Robin Of Sherwood, but also because of his wit and the twinkle I can imagine in his eyes as he reads. Geoffrey McSkimming reads his own books in the Cairo Jim and Jocelyn Osgood series, and does them hilariously. Not all authors can do their own. Neil Gaiman is another author who can. I salute them both.

I am hoping, at some stage, to download Lord Of The Rings read by Rob Inglis. I have his audiobook of The Hobbit, on cassette, and it’s brilliant. He has done The Hobbit as a one man show.

So, if you prefer to listen to an audiobook rather than read it physically, don’t forget to appreciate the actor who brings it to life for you.

Do you enjoy audiobooks? Any favourites? 


Brian Joseph said...

That is such an interesting story about how the teachers and staff recorded those audiobooks. It sound as if digitalization off those recordings would be worth it in order to preserve them.

I agree that some audiobook performances are phenomenal. I think that my favorite narrator is Juliet Stevenson. I think that she has narrated all the Jane Austin novels, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre as well as many other classics.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Hi Brian! Yes, it would have been good to put those audiobooks on CD or save them to computer files, but they were probably gone long before that was possible. If I’d had them at my own later school I might have done that.

I haven’t heard anything recorded by Juliet Stevenson, I’ll keep those in mind. In case you’re interested, Apple has made six audiobooks read by well known actors available for free, I wrote about this a few posts back, and one of them is Kate Beckinsale reading Pride And Prejudice.

Maria Behar said...


What a WONDERFUL experience those kids mush have had, listening to their own teachers reading books to them!! Those LUCKY kids!! How sad that those tapes are probably gone now....

I'm glad you've emphasized the importance of the actors that act as narrators -- and characters -- in our modern audiobooks! Yes, they play a VERY important part in the whole impact of the book! Books are certainly meant to be read aloud. Heck, back in the days before the Gutenberg press, people told stories around campfires. And, of course, they still do, because we humans LOVE to listen to stories being told!

I prefer to encounter a new book through the printed word first. Then, if I LOVE the book, I will go ahead and buy the audiobook version and listen to it. I did this with my beloved Twilight Saga. I used to listen to these books on my daily commute to and from work.

I have the audiobook of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (this is the title of the American edition). I have yet to listen to it, though. I'll make plans to do so this coming year (It's still December 31st here in Miami, Florida. In fact, it's nearly 7:00 PM, so we're about five hours away from midnight.)

Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on audiobooks!! Continue to enjoy the first day of 2019!! HUGS!!!! <3 <3 <3 :) :) :)

Sue Bursztynski said...

Glad to know we agree about the point of audiobooks! If you have the American edition of Harry Potter 1, as the title suggests, you’ll have the pleasure of hearing Jim Dale. We have one of his Harry Potter readings at my local local library and he is very good!