Sitting down, relaxing, and reading a book is its own experience. We interpret the words as we read to give the characters their voices in our heads. We become the narrators of the exposition. The experience becomes very different if the book is read TO you. Suddenly the characters have voices that you may not have expected. Their words are spoken perhaps not quite in the way you would have read them. Emphasis is given in places that you may have just skipped over as a reader. I am here suggesting that listening to a book on CD may give you a whole different experience to a book. Have a favorite book that you love but feel you’ve “done it” and have gotten all the pleasure you can out of it already? Try listening to it on CD. And yes, the reader makes ALL the difference.
Here are three of my favorite titles (plus two) that I would recommend in a heartbeat – especially to someone who is new to audio books and needs to start with something that will certainly pull them in and hook them on the experience.
Dolores Clairborne by Stephen King. If you watched the TV show, Cheers, you may remember the woman who played Cliff’s mother. Frances Sternhagen is a great character actress and she is the reader of this King novel that has only a hint of the supernatural in it and is really about the relationship between three women – between Dolores and her rich, bedridden employer and between Dolores and her own daughter. I know someone who was listening to this book during his commute to work and had to pull over several times because he was laughing so hard at the absurdity of the situations described. Sternhagen is either a New Englander by birth or great at dialects because she nails the Maine accent. And therein lies the pleasure.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. How about having those famous first lines read to you? “Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its wall continued upright, bricks met neatly, floor were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” The reader of this title is not a famous name, but she will send chills through you as she reads the story by which all other haunted house stories are measured.
Rosemary’s Baby by Iran Levin. Remember the creepiness of reading this and slowly discovering that Rosemary is not bonkers and that everyday living in an elegant apartment building may be more dangerous than we would ever suspect? How about if you let the star of the movie, Mia Farrow, reinterpret the story for you through her (Rosemary’s) voice rather than the voice that you have given it in your head when you read it? Magic.
And lastly a word about books read by their own authors. This sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. Again, it all depends upon the talent of the reader AS a reader. Two examples of times it works: In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett and I Loved Her in the Movies by Robert Wagner.
Scott Handville, Assistant Library Director