Rachel and I talked about audiobooks in a recent episode of Tea or Books?, or perhaps not all that recent, but I mostly talked about how they weren’t really my thing. Now that I commute every day, I’ve become much more open to trying them, and in my previous post I talked about listening to Claire Tomalin’s autobiography. But what sort of audiobooks should I choose, if I do?
Because it’s not black and white, of course. Some people might loathe the idea of audiobooks, but nobody (one assumes) is delighted to listen to any at all. And I’m certainly slightly fussy – or, rather, I have a few rules for what I don’t like, and I’m trying to discover what I do.
What are my rules? Well, nothing abridged. I don’t want an incomplete version of the author’s work – why would I? It’s the reason I’ve never bought The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett in the Persephone edition, for instance. An edited version may be better than the original, perhaps, but it isn’t the same, and I’d constantly be wondering what was missing. (And, yes, somehow the work of an editor before a book is published is different… don’t ask me why.)
In a similar vein – nothing dramatised, unless I’ve already read the original. Or perhaps if it’s a story I already know really well.
And nothing which I have waiting for me in a beautiful edition that I’ve been looking forward to reading.
I’m testing the water at the moment with Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I love Dickens, but I’ve still only read four of his novels – the size is a bit off-putting. And, while I do have a copy of this (along with all of Dickens – I have a feeling I swiped the set from my parents at some point), somehow the classics feel like fair game for this treatment. They’re so readily available that it doesn’t feel like I’ve made a conscious decision to include them in my book collection, and thus I can listen to it instead of reading the copy I have. Does that make any sort of sense?
I was swayed by it being Martin Jarvis, whom I love (and know chiefly through the Just William audiobooks, which we listened to over and over in our childhood). Then I remembered that I don’t love hearing comedy, because I want to do the timing in my head, and somebody else’s comic timing might not be the same as mine – but Jarvis is doing a grand old job so far. And you may already know that I think Dickens is first and foremost a comedic writer, and that adaptations over the years have placed far too much emphasis on the social commentary.
My only problems so far, besides occasionally wishing I could read the funny narrative myself, are connected with the vast cast and the way Dickens enjoys wallowing in the verbal acrobatics of a scene. It’s brilliant, but it means I’ve driven for half an hour before a scene is over – and even something like wine spilling on the ground can take 10 minutes to read out loud. I might not see characters turn up for the second time until I’m halfway through my week’s commute. And by the time I finish the audiobook, I might well have retired.
Do you have any rules for the audiobooks you pick, or any red flags?