Friday, July 2, 2010

Don't Read It Yourself

A few weeks ago, I visited the subject of audio books and how certain narrators can make or break a particular story. I can listen to several of an author's stories and thoroughly enjoy them if they have a decent reader.

Usually, an author will stick with one particular narrator, especially if the stories are in a series with the same characters each time, but sometimes, a new narrator will be introduced and sometimes, it's difficult to make the transition.

A notable exception is Evanovich's Plum series. I don't know if I've ever read any of her books; I've always taken the time to listen to them. She's used, I believe, three different narrators. The current one has been doing the series for awhile, but it still took me awhile to get used to her. I had to listen awhile before her voices became the characters after listening to the other readers in the earlier books. The books are just delightful whoever reads them.

What I wanted to discuss was my opinion that authors should NOT read their own stories. I have heard too many and all of them were...well, bad isn't a word I should use...maybe wrong is better. Please don't misunderstand me; the authors I want to mention are wonderful writers and I have listened and read many of their stories and enjoyed them. I just don't think they should read their own material.

Tony Hillerman is a prime example. He wrote many books featuring detectives Leaphorn and Chee. They are fine stories, however, listening to Mr. Hillerman read his mysteries is a very difficult task. He's hard to understand.

As is James Wight, aka James Herriot. I absolutely and completely love his books and have re-read several of them over the years. Watching the series on television was also wonderful, because I could associate a real person with the characters I read. But I listened to one of his books read by him and if anybody except those in the north Dale country can understand him it's a miracle. His accent was so thick you could chop it with an axe. I love the man, I really do, but I'm glad he let others read the majority of his work.

What brought this subject to mind was a book I was about to read, but found a CD version. House, by Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti. Interesting book, scary in places. Dekker narrates. I managed to get through a few tracks, maybe a chapter, then turned it off and opened the book. When Dekker read, he kept lowering his voice to enhance a character's thoughts and I kept having to replay the passage or turn up the volume. It was irritating.

I'm currently listening to Harlan Coben read Promise Me. He's not quite as bad as the others, yet I still wish someone else narrated it.

Coben and the others all share a common problem: They know their characters very well, better than even their fans. They hear their character's voices and expect us, the readers, to hear them exactly the same. Because of their familiarity, they tend to read a little faster than a neutral narrator.

Faster reading means, because they've written the books, that they will fly over words and sentences. If you are not actively or concentrating on listening, you miss or misunderstand some words. They are speaking as if they are talking to us in person, not as a narrator telling a story so the tongue and the lips tend to cut off word endings or slide over them. And similar to Dekker and Hillerman, their voices lower and raise at odd points and you miss what has just been said. Coben's narration of Promise Me has been fairly easy to follow, but when he reads, some of his sentences sound like throwaway sentences. The way he reads it sounds wrong.

Again, I'm not slamming the above authors' works. I have read several novels by all of them and will read or listen to more. However, I cringe whenever I pick up an audio version of a book to see the author is also a narrator.

I would love to listen to my two books one day, but I don't think I want to narrate them. I'd consider discussing character voices with the narrator if that ever becomes an issue. As I've said, some narrators shouldn't be.

Authors write; that's their job. There are agencies out there who hire professional readers-whether they be actors or people who possess voices others enjoy listening to. Let them do their jobs.

1 comment:

Kathy Heady said...

I love it. I've wondered about a few of those things myself. And I know some very serious people who would take them all very seriously. I think I have a reasonable answer for one of them. The reason time zone lines are not straight is because they occasionally bend so that associated communities can be in the same zone. Or smaller towns can be in the same zone as a large city.