There are some books that are so good as audiobooks that I can’t really imagine ‘reading’ them any other way. One of these for me is Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding (of Bridget Jones fame), read by Suzy Aitchison.
I had a situation this week, when the audio I was listening to in the car (Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours) was missing disc 9. Arrrgh! I had to stop listening of course, and so to alleviate my driving boredom, I slapped on Olivia Joules (which I keep on USB in my handbag at all times like a good-luck talisman).
It’s unashamedly a froth and bubble book, endlessly entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny. The novel is about Olivia, an English freelance journalist looking for her one big serious story, who nonetheless keeps on getting commissions for the ‘style section’ of the Daily Times. She’s sent to Miami to cover a celebrity face cream launch, where she meets the dashing Pierre Feramo, who she instantly suspects of being a terrorist. As Olivia chases one story after another, from Miami to LA to Honduras and beyond, she becomes more and more convinced he’s a terrorist… It’s all very ridiculous, but Olivia is such an engaging character, and it’s narrated so well, that I keep on dragging it out to listen to again.
And this is the thing. I’m almost convinced that my enjoyment of it is at least half due to the brilliance of the narration. I have by now bought the paperback as well, but I think I still prefer to listen.
I started listening to audiobooks several years ago, initially to accompany my 4km walk to and from work. I used to find the prospect of the next installment in the story would help drag me out of bed the required half hour earlier. Often I would find myself unable to stop listening when I made it home again, so I’d plug it into the stereo while cooking… or cleaning. They can sure get addictive. (This doesn’t happen when I listen in the car, because it’s too much hassle to disrupt the car system.)
I also find audiobooks particularly good for literature and classics. It’s because the reader goes to all the trouble to add texture and meaning… it’s like a performance.
Virginia Woolf is awesome in audio. And having Richard Dawkins and his wife narrate The God Delusion makes his meaning very clear. Then when it came to A.S.Byatt’s Persuasion, I both listened and read the book in tandem — effectively reading it twice. There’s so much poetry in that novel that it really helped me to have it interpreted.
So in answer to Question 5 (audiobooks or paperbacks?) in those 11 questions I started answering a few months ago, I would have to say ‘it depends’. Clearly for me there are some books where the narrator adds to the enjoyment.
Moreover, I suspect I’ve listened to some books I might not have made it through if reading, so perhaps for those borderline books (whether it’s because they’re a bit too slow, a bit too dull, a bit too long, or requiring a bit more effort) audiobooks win too!
I’m interested to know whether those readers here who already listen to audiobooks have any favourites where the audio experience surpasses the paperback? What are some of your favourites?