Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All the Great Books I've Never Read

I spend a lot of my time driving and, like most everyone else, working. I also have young children and a house under construction, and so I don't have a lot of time to read. I probably don't read more than 14 or 15 books a year.

But because of the long commute, and the less-than-challenging nature of my work, I listen to a lot of audiobooks. In fact, between ten hours a week of drive time and about six hours of work time I can spend listening, I probably hear more than 100 books every year.

Although this is a much better use of my time than, say, listening to talk radio, I mostly find the experience of listening to a book inferior to the experience of reading a book. But there are notable exceptions. If the reader is very, very good, then listening to the book is a joyful experience.

The Sofie Metropolis novels are read by Ana Fields. I listened to the first two, then read the third one because I couldn't get hold of an audio version. But having listened to Ana Fields portray these characters thoroughly enhanced my enjoyment of the reading experience. I kept getting her voice in my head, and that was a good thing.

The are a couple of books I'm glad I didn't have time to read, because I had the pleasure of listening to the authors read them instead. Most authors should not read their own books, but two wonderful exceptions that come to mind are the actor Alan Alda and the writer Neil Gaiman. Both of them added dimension to their own books that I could not have conjured out of my own head.

It might seem that Gaiman would be more of a surprise in that respect than Alda, since Alda is an actor, but it is not always, or even mostly, true that great actors make great readers. I have heard many actors lose almost all of the personality they put into their performances on stage or on camera when sitting in an empty booth with a microphone.

I've also noticed that certain authors bring out the worst in readers. I like Ernest Hemingway, but I've pretty much given up on finding a good audio version of any of his work, since everyone who reads him seems to get all quiet and flat, almost, it seems, out of reverence, when in fact his work is full of drama and emotion.

But those caveats aside, if you find yourself with too much drive time on your hands, or a job that doesn't require much from the symbolic processing part of your brain, I strongly suggest trying a good audiobook on for size.

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