Monday, June 04, 2007

Audiobooks

I’ve never been a huge fan of audio-books. I dislike them for the same reason I hate writing longhand. When I’m writing using pen and paper, my hands simply can’t move fast enough to keep up with my head, meaning I get frustrated and frazzled really quickly.

The same is true of reading. I’m a speed-reader. People rarely believe this, but I can get through an 800 page book in just a few hours (I finished ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’ at just under 4 hours). It’s not that I’m trying to race through or skimming, that’s just my comfortable reading speed.

So, when it comes to audio books, I find the whole experience incredibly slow. For me, they’re the equivalent of when you were forced to share a reading book with someone in grade school, when every time you tried to turn the page, you’d find that your partner was only halfway through the first paragraph.

However, they have their uses. I love listening to audio books on long car journeys, or if I’m in the middle of one of my regular bouts of insomnia, I can put on some headphones instead of getting up or turning on a light to read.

So, my most recent audio-book was ‘Eragon’. Sunny had read it and liked it, and we watched the movie and I thought it was ok, so I got the audiobook and decided to give it a listen.

As a sidenote, if you’ve not read Eragon, don’t bother. It’s ridiculously derivative, the characters are cardboard cutouts, and the ‘Brom’ character might as well jump up and down shouting “I’m a really awful plot device because the author was so lazy”. Seriously, the writer gets the story across by making the main character dumb as a sack of hammers, and makes him ask Brom lots of questions…which he does, dealing out story elements piece-meal. You’re constantly asking yourself “Why did he keep that a secret until now?” Deus ex machina at it’s worst.

Ok, well, not only is Eragon not a very good story, it highlights the worst things about audiobooks:

If you’re ever hired to read for an audiobook, please, please, please realize that you’re not a voice actor. Nothing throws you out of a story more quickly than the reader trying to ‘do the voices’. I’m supposed to be getting invested in this character, and all I can think is: ‘Why the hell is he suddenly Scottish?’

In Eragon, Zathira is meant to be a female dragon. For comparison, the character was voiced quite well by Rachel Wiesz in the movie. However, in the audiobook, the reader decided that because the character is a dragon, she’d obviously have a very deep, gravely and above all ‘growly’ voice.

Yup, a very graceful female dragon who sounds like a construction worker on 60 cigarettes and 20,000 CC’s of testosterone a day.

The worst part is the reader can’t actually do the ‘dragon voice’ for long. In the start of the book, when the dragon speaks in two or three word bursts, it’s ok…but you can tell he’s really regretting deciding on that voice by the time we’re at chapter 15 and Zathira is giving long speeches.

Eragon, though, isn’t actually the worst offender.

I’ve listened to audiobooks where male readers have decided all female characters speak in an overly-high falsetto voice. I’ve heard people not just fuck up, but totally butcher accents that have ended up as plausible sounding almost as bad as Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’. It’s a luv-er-ly, oll-ih-day with Moy-ree, indeed.

You either do it one of two ways. Have an entire cast of characters who each read a particular character’s dialogue with a separate narrator, or you just bloody read the thing, and forget doing the voices and accents.

I mean, obviously you need to put in a little emotion and read ‘with feeling’, but the last thing that should be happening is the listener focusing on that Jamaican accent, that’s coming across as Welsh.

In closing, there’s nothing worse for me than reading a book and being able to detect the writer’s hand in there. When you can tell they’ve painted themselves into a corner and picked a really stupid lazy way out of it, or when they needlessly spend three pages going on about a mundane item, just to make sure you’ll remember the hero has it when it turns out to be a mystical item that can save the world in the last two pages.

It’s the same with audiobooks. When you’re forced to focus on the person reading the story rather than the story itself, you might as well use the disc it came on as a coaster.

Reading is about getting wrapped up in a story and being swept away by it. When you can feel the writer going “Ah-ha! Weren’t expecting that were you? I’m a frigging genius!”, or the reader of an audiobook going through a page-long speech in a voice they’re obviously not comfortable with and can’t quite pull off, there’s no point.

Today’s post is available in audio format, as read by Bob ‘Ducky’ Jameson

2 comments:

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manda said...

my dad loves audio books mostly because he drives long hours to and from work and it makes the commute harder, but I'm a slow reader, I think, so I like to read the book and go back over parts i missed or don't understand. I'm a visual person. I have to read it on my own.

In middle school, my teacher got us the hobbit on audio book and we read along i nclass for a excruciating like 3 months or so. and yes i know all about how he tried to "do bilbo baggins"