Do You Hear What I Hear?
I once had Stephen King sing Hey Jude to me. Badly. He even squawked, ‘Screw you, and the horse you rode in on,’ for good measure. It was my first foray into the world of audio books. I had wanted to read his Dark Tower series for some time and, although not impossible, walking alongside a busy road grasping a hardback novel is tricky.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the format. Was it really necessary to read books while on the go? I could read while travelling on the train, I could read on extended lunch breaks, I could read while at University between seminars, in fact, I could pretty much read during seminars. But here was something I had never done before… I was allowing the author to tell me his story, with his emphasises and with his inflections. Even with his dreadful singing voice. As interesting as this was, I was still dubious. As much as I loved Stephen King, his way of telling me a story was not as sumptuous or as beautiful as the world I created in my own mind. I could sit with book in hand watching letters creating words, creating chapters, creating characters and creating voices. If a character reminded me of someone in my own life they would take on their voice and appearance in my mind as I read. This was not possible through King’s audio book. As he read his tale he told me his story, with his characters, and they only ever spoke to me in his voice.
When I finished my working day and had time to read in the evening I didn’t clamber to fasten on my headphones and resume listening. I picked up the hardback, and thumbed my way through until I found where King had left off. I picked up the story again in my own voice and in the voices of the infinite people who lived in my mind with me. If you have been reading for years, and truly love the feel of a book and what it can stir within you, it is difficult to give that power up.
Somehow though, over the years, something changed. It’s easier than ever to have stories read to you. If you have an iPod and access to sites like Shortbread, Audible, and even iTunes, then there’s a world of audio books waiting for you. You can take them to work, you can listen while cooking dinner and you can even keep reading while on your evening jog. The standard of audio books has moved on. Back when I listened to The Dark Tower, my only option for audio books seemed to either be the author or a second rate storyteller giving a basic, sometimes abridged, version of the novel. However when JK Rowling introduced a new generation of kids to books with Harry Potter, she allowed for one of the most amazing presentations of a series in audio books. Over seven novels and almost five DAYS of recorded material read by Stephen Fry (or for you Americans, Jim Dale) stirred in me more excitement, emotion and awe than any of the movies could ever hope for. By using actors who are passionate about the material and who know how to form worlds and characters with their voices your fifty minute train journey can now be comparable to your best trips to the cinema.
And what choice we have! Do you want the final Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novel read to you by Simon Jones? Done. How about all the latest Doctor Who novels read by David Tennant, Matt Smith, Catherine Tate and Freema Agyeman? Done. And the world of the audio book goes beyond the single actor format. World War Z, due to the episodic nature and multiple narrator structure of the novel, lends itself to a wealth of actors participating in the audio book including Alan Alda, Mark Hamill, Henry Rollins and (Hollywood father and son legends) Carl & Rob Reiner.
My love of the audio book has really blossomed in autobiographies as the writers are all too happy to read their own work. I am about to listen to Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants‘ and it was her SNL cast mate Tracy Morgan who courted controversy when he narrated his own autobiography ‘I Am The New Black‘ by going ‘off page’ to add a few anecdotes, additional information and, to the chagrin of a few former colleagues, some additional insults which were not present in the print copy. Also for those of you with a passing interest I would highly recommend (and for those of you who consider yourselves fans I consider it essential listening) ‘I, Partridge’, the autobiography of a fictional BBC favourite, read by Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge.
I love that sites like ShortbreadStories are more than willing to invest in high quality actors, production values and, of course, talented writers to bring short stories onto your iPod. Stories such as, ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ read by Helen McAlpine and ‘American Classic’ read by Ewan Donald are fantastic examples of how ShortbreadStories wants to give an exceptional experience to its members.
I was fortunate enough to have my work produced by ShortbreadStories, however when I sat down to listen to ‘Fullerton, CA’ for the first time that old dubious feeling crept over me. One which I had not felt since turning off Stephen King’s voice to read his book with my own. ‘This won’t work, this actor will never capture the story that my inner voice knows so well.’ But the excitement, the emotion, and the energy were all there. ShortbreadStories clearly cared for, and understood, the story as much as I had. They wanted to make it literally jump off the page. And I have never been so proud. I encourage each and every one of you to go out and discover the world of audio books, and while you’re at it, make a little room on your iPod for ShortbreadStories too.
Listen to all of our ShortbreadStories audio casts.