I’m new to listening. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to intersperse eye-reading with ear-reading. And it’s taken discipline, keeping my mind on every spoken word, rather then letting it wander, as sometimes happens with a book. But for those times when you can’t be glued to the physical page – like when you’re driving or working out – listening to audiobooks is really pretty cool. I guess I can say that because I’ve lucked into some well done ones. Lucked into? Actually, the best were recommendations from a local independent bookseller. In case you don’t have one of those yourself, there’s me. Here are three recommendations of books that I loved. You may want to read them in print. I just happened to listen.
I had never read Ann Patchett before. Though many members of my book group had repeatedly recommended “Bel Canto,” I never got to it. But when I needed something to listen to in the car this July driving back and forth to the lake, and my local bookseller recommended “State of Wonder,” I bought it. I’m so glad I did. I loved this book. Right from the start, the reader captured many different voices well enough for me to follow perfectly as I got into the plot.
And that plot was awesome. There was enough doubt planted in the opening events to make me suspicious of where we were headed, and were enough subsequent twists to keep me wondering. I did anticipate some of what happened, but the telling of it was so riveting that I was glued to each word. Each time I turned on my car, I was immersed in the Amazonian jungle, the imagery was that vivid. I could feel it, smell it, see it. The author’s detail was incredible. During one scene telling of an encounter with an anaconda, I must have had such a look of horror on my face that drivers around me would have worried, had they bothered to look.
Despite some plot twists at the very end of the book that didn’t sit as well as the rest, I am still missing the voice, the setting, and the characters in “State of Wonder.” I highly recommend this read.
Oh, but then, I also loved, loved, loved “The Little Paris Bookshop,” by Nina George.
The reviews were mixed, but I do think that listening to the audio book may have made a difference. The reader was wonderful. I loved his French accent, the French setting, and the humor. I loved the love story – yup, gotta admit that. Toward the end, I was driving around town just to hear a little more. I was so sorry when it ended that I couldn’t believe some of those negative reader reviews.
But did I love “The Little Paris Bookshop” because of the talent of the narrator? There were actually three of them, two women and a man, though the man did the bulk of the work. Would I have grown bored with some of the plot twists, without the lure of that fabulous, accented voice? Would I have felt the ending was too pat or too syrupy sweet, if the process of listening hadn’t been so enjoyable?
This raises the question, of course, of whether a skillful actor can add a whole new element to a book, above and beyond what the author delivers with her words. I may have hated this book had I read it in print. Or loved it. I’m so glad I listened instead. It brought me many pleasurable hours.
And finally, consider “Our Souls At Night,” by the late Kent Haruf.
I listened to this using my new Audible subscription. I was able to switch back and forth between phone and iPad, which meant that I listened to some of this while I was outside walking through gorgeous fall weather. Maybe that affected my feeling about the book. Whatever, I found “Our Souls at Night” to be delightful.
It’s a slow book. There’s no great action here, no riveting suspense. It’s also a short book. Kent Haruf writes in a style that is beautiful but spare. I think the total listening time was five hours (versus the usual 11 or 12). I could have probably read it in print in three hours, max. But truly, after suffering through a recent 500+ page tome that badly needed editing, this book was a breath of fresh air. It’s about the budding relationship between two lonely 70-somethings who have decided to thumb their noses at convention in their small mid-western town by spending their nights together. The characters were wonderfully quiet but authentic, and their dilemmas were real.
The reader was skilled. Men don’t do women as well as women do men, but this male reader did just fine. He made listening to the story a pleasant journey, a good thing as it was the final one for Haruf. He died last winter, a great loss for the literary world.
There you have it, though, three audio book recommendations. I have three new print recommendations about which to blog next, but in the meantime, consider the question I posed above. Do you think that the skill of the narrator can add an element to a book that wouldn’t otherwise be there?