Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sounds good...

As anyone who knows me will testify, I am an avid reader. I have loved to read since my first Hardy Boys mystery and probably even before. There are so many books at home either paperback, hardback, waiting to be read or on the computer waiting to be printed then read. Plus, I have audio books on the computer waiting to be listened to. I usually have a 'bathroom' book (although now it's catching up on Batman comic books), a book I take to work and an audio book in the car that I'll listen to also at work. Right now, I have all of those, plus an audio book on the computer at home I'm halfway through.

Audio books are the best because I don't have to have something tangible in my hands and I can focus one part of my mind on listening and another on something else, usually cleaning or filing.

There are many books out there, even ones by authors I enjoy, I have stopped the CD and started another. I couldn't get into the story. Maybe if I read it, I might be able to concentrate and focus, but normally, if I can't listen to it, I'm not going to seek out the book and try to read it. I've already made up my mind the story just isn't that interesting or I've lost the plot and the characters. Sometimes it's due to the complexity of the story. Nance and Clancy are two authors I've enjoyed, but some of their books are so intricate and there are so many characters, I can't keep everyone straight. Nance's books deal with airplanes and most everyone has heard of Clancy. Many of their books have different scenes happening concurrently around the world and a character may be introduced once and then not seen again for many chapters and you're supposed to remember from chapter 1 to chapter 8 who this guy is. It's tough sometimes, especially on audio.

However, many times it's the narrator who'll determine whether I continue to listen or pop in a new story. There are some fabulous narrators-Guidall, Brick and Naughton are three excellent examples-who can take a story and really show it to you and bring it to life in your mind. I've picked up books by authors I've never seen before and give them a try only because Guidall narrates them. His speaking voice is such that you imagine it's a Saturday night and you're cozied up with a mug of cocoa next to a fire and he's telling a story meant only for you. The man sounds as if he enjoys reading.

There are others though...

I think there should be basic standards for audio books. Number One - no monotoned narrators. I listened to a Clive Cussler audio and every character sounded the same. No voice inflections, no excitement on the action scenes, no emotion. This same author has read some Rex Stout books and I just about had a coniption it was so boring. I love Nero Wolfe and I didn't think anyone could ruin one of his stories, but this narrator just about did. However, when I listened to Gene Engeny read J. A. Jance's novels about the Seattle homicide detective, I hounded the library for more.

Number Two - Break for scene and chapter changes. I've listened to some narrators and if I'm not fully paying attention, I'll miss the chapter ending or scene change and suddenly another character is speaking from Paris when ten seconds ago the action was in Wyoming. Would it really be troublesome to announce a new chapter or at least give a little pause? Some of them move on with hardly any punctuation to let you know something different is now happening.

Number Three - Give a least a token effort of voice inflections. Yes, it's difficult for male narrators to do women's voices and it drives me crazy when the main character is a man and the narrator is a woman. Doesn't make sense. Women doing men's voices are very difficult to follow and believe. As of this writing, I'm listening to a Michael Palmer book read by John Lloyd. He does a fine job of differentiating between characters. Sure, having a different voice for every character may be difficult if you're reading a story about the President and his Cabinet and you've got undersecretaries and aides and assistants involved. But surely a narrator should be able to fake a British accent, or Italian or Russian.

Number Four - Don't read every sentence the same. I'm thinking of three specific narrators. One I enjoy somewhat, but the way he reads, it's as if what he just said was the final line of the book...until he gets to the next line. The second reads every line as if he's broadcasting the news; the stresses in particular sentences are off and its sounds weird. The third one has read a multitude of books including Stephen King and a religious series, the latter of which I finally had to grab the individual novels and read myself because I ended up listening three or four times and still lost the plot. (That and the fact the books came out once a year and I lost track of the current situation from the last book). My mind tended to tune out this narrator because every single sentence he spoke-and I mean every sentence in the entire book-started fine but ended in a dramatic whisper as if that was the most important line in the entire novel. "He exited his house and unlocked his car." Unless that car is about to blow up it's not an important line in the sense I have to get overly emotional about it.

I won't be sexist and just pick on the male narrators. The women sometimes drive me crazy. I enjoy the reader of the J.D Robb Eve Dallas series because I can picture each character in my head by the voices she uses. Same with the current narrator of the Evanovitch Stephanie Plum novels, although I enjoyed the others who read her early stories. Another female narrator is fine on some books, but in one series, the character gets so uptight at times and the narrator starts squeaking in a high pitched voice, it's like hearing a metal fork scratching a glass plate.

Narrators can make or break a book, even if you know the author and are ready for a good story. I usually check to see who is reading and sometimes - although I may give him/her a chance, especially if I'm really interested in the story-I may choose another because I've run into bad listening experiences with that particular narrator.

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