Monday, November 23, 2009

Good books, bad audio

I'm in the final chapters of listening to Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I started it maybe a week or so ago, listening in the car on the way to and from work, and at first I wasn't sure I was going to get into it. Eventually the plot won me over, but it took some doing, because the audio version of this? Ugh.

The narrator, Vane Millon, has a somewhat choppy way of speaking, and so her lines. Pause every few words. For no reason. It's like she’s been taking diction lessons from William Shatner. (Those who have heard me speak know that I have similar problems, putting long pauses in my sentences, but then I don't make a living recording audiobooks, so.) But as the plot moved forward and Mary and her friends struggle to survive amidst hordes of the unconsecrated, I forgave this flaw.

The more egregious flaw, though, is that she never stops sounding like she's reading me a book. I've run into this with other audio recordings from time to time, and it's always jarring. A good audio recording sounds like someone recounting a story, or even telling their own story. (The Bloody Jack series is a great example of this; Katherine Kellgren becomes Jacky Faber so convincingly that even reading--physically reading!--the latest book in the series has her voice in my head.) But here, I never lose the sense that Millon is reading me a book. All that's missing is the sound of a turning page. It keeps me from fully engaging with the story, from falling into the world that's created and the lives of the characters. It's a disservice to the author, who probably did a bang-up job of world-building, but I just can't connect with it.

There’s a part of me that irrationally worries that teens might be turned off to audio books entirely if they encounter a poor recording like this before they've gotten hooked on the form. I don't think I'm being entirely Chicken Little to think that that could happen. But I say that my worry is irrational because, really, is it so different from a teen encountering a bad book? (And we all know there are plenty of bad books, and many of us have them in our collections anyway.) Or is it different because a teen might be turned off to even a good book because of a bad performance?


Alissa said...

This is why I don't like audio books.

Sharon Colvin said...

I think audio books are like any other media... some are good and some are bad. Some books lend themselves well to audio books and some don't. Some narrators are better than others... same with producers and publishers. It's like different versions of movies. Everyone has an opinion about who plays the best James Bond.

I think it's important to know which audio books are really excellent (the Odyssey awards are right on the money in my opinion) so that kids have a wonderful first experience. The same is true for books. Would you randomly hand a reluctant reader some dusty book from the bottom shelf without thinking about whether or not it'll turn him off of reading entirely? No way.

I personally talk to kids about audio books they way I talk to them about all things... it's a matter of preference and interest. Personally, I DESPISED A Long Way Gone on Audio CD and hate any form of Catcher in the Rye ever created. EW. However, there are some audio books that I'll listen to over and over again, some narrators I seek out and some books I simply adore.