Monday, March 28, 2011

Adventures In Audiobooks

Lamest blog-post title ever.  Rejected alternates include: "The Audiobook Menace," "Recent Audiobooks I Listened To," "Recent Audiobooks to Which I Listened," "Indiana Jones and the Audiobook Crusade," and "I'm Too Fucking Dim-witted Today to Come Up With a Better Title Than This."

Shoulda gone with that last one.


Anyways, since around the first of the year, I've been slowly plowing my way through some Stephen King audiobooks that I bought.  I say "slowly" because of late, my primary means of listening to audiobooks has been restricted to the car, while I'm driving to or from work, or the grocery store, or wherever I happen to be driving.  And I don't drive all that much, so we're talking maybe half an hour a day.  Takes a while to work your way through a fourteen-hour audiobook that way.

But, these were all stories that I'd read before, so I didn't much mind taking them in a leisurely fashion for the second go-round.

First up...?






I'd previously read this story by borrowing a friend's Kindle and had enjoyed it.  I didn't find it to be a classic, exactly, but it was a fun diversion, and one that could have fit in nicely in Nightmares & Dreamscapes.  I'd especially enjoyed the connections to the Dark Tower universe, which I will not give away here.  Also, the notion of the thousands and thousands of "new" novels by favorite authors you could turn up if you had a Kindle like the one Wesley has in this story ... that's a fun idea for just about any reader, and I'd bet King had a blast writing those parts.

The audio version -- which, as of March 2011 is the only non-Kindle version; there is no print edition -- is read by Holter Graham, whose work I was unfamiliar with.  According to his bio on the back cover, one of his film appearances is in Maximum Overdrive (!), and did I dance a little jig of glee when I read that?  I did not.  It made me chuckle, though.  Not as hard as I chuckled when I went to Google, and typed in "holter graham" and "maximum overdrive": the first returned result was to a site called teenidols4you.com.  Now that got a good solid chuckle.

But yes, apparently Graham played the kid in Maximum Overdrive, which is a fun fact.  Graham is a pretty good narrator, too: he does a good job with Ur.




Next up, we have Blockade Billy, which was initially published as a limited edition by Cemetery Dance, but later received a mass-market publication, including this audio version.  It's read by Craig Wasson, a journeyman actor whom you might (or might not) remember from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.  That's the one with the song by Dokken, in case your memory is indistinct on the subject.  (It's also the one co-written by Frank Darabont!)

I wasn't particularly impressed by Blockade Billy when I read it, and listening to it, I liked it even less.  That's not due to Wasson, who reads with a dramatic flair that is occasionally grating, but is just as occasionally terrific.  No, it's due to the fact that at the end of the story, I feel as if nothing interesting has happened.  The story of "Billy" just doesn't amount to a whole heck of a lot, and I've now spent something like $35 on it altogether; seems to me that I may have overspent a bit.  I'm legitimately not bitter about it, because hey, nobody made me do it; but I do feel that in the overall sweep of King's canon, this is a minor, minor episode.

Also included with "Blockade Billy" is "Morality," which is read by Mare Winningham.  She's a good reader; maybe a bit on the dry side, but I'll take that instead of overexuberant any day of the week.  Anyways, I like "Morality" a lot; it's a messed-up little tale.





Craig Wasson must have made somebody happy as the narrator of "Blockade Billy," because he got invited back to take part in the audiobook of Full Dark, No Stars.  And let me say this right off the bat: I think he did a fairly terrible job with the two stories he narrates, "1922" and "Fair Extension."  It all comes down to overacting, a crime of which he has been found guilty by the Ramblings Of A Honk Mahfah judicial system.  Which is just me; I'm like Judge Dredd in that regard, but fatter and with no helmet.

I positively hate the way Wasson narrates most of "1922," and I'm not sure I'll ever listen to his version again.  That was my favorite story in Full Dark, No Stars, and I just didn't care for Wasson's performance of it one single bit.  Actually, I can't say that's true, because there is one single bit I like just fine (love, in fact): paradoxically, Wasson turns in a terrific performance of the final moments of the story, which are good enough that I'm tempted to be more lenient on the rest of the reading ... but no.

With "Fair Extension," Wasson is better, although I very much dislike the way he reads the dialogue for Elvid.  "Fair Extension" is, in my opinion, the weakest story in this collection; I like it, but I think the book overall might have been better off without it being included.  (In fact, I think "Morality" might have fit in a bit better thematically.)  Wait ... what am I saying?!?  Suggesting that a King story not be published but be held for another day...?  Shame on you, Honk Mahfah!  Shame!

The other two stories in the collection are "Big Driver" and "A Good Marriage."  Both are read by Jessica Hecht, whom you may remember from Friends; she played Ross's ex, the one who turned lesbian on him, and a very cute lesbian she was, too (I also enjoyed her small role as Gretchen on Breaking Bad, and wish she had been in a few more episodes of that awesome series).  Hect is a good reader; not awe-inspiring, or Frank Muller or anything, but good.  I don't much care for the way she reads Bob's voice in "A Good Marriage," but it doesn't kill the story, or anything like that.  On "Big Driver," she is especially good at reading the various imaginary voices that run through Tess's head.

You may have noticed by now -- I certainly have -- that I have very little of any actual interest to say today.  Well, I think that may be due to me not being terribly smart to begin with the attitude I have toward audiobooks, which is this: they're not really books, and when you listen to them, you're not really reading the book.  No, in my opinion, an audiobook is a performance piece enacted by the narrator(s), and it puts you at a remove from the author.  This is true even if it's the author doing the narration.  The first King audiobook I ever bought was The Gunslinger, and it was the edition King himself narrated.  It's great stuff; I loved listening to King read that story, and I loved the others he did, too (such as The Drawing of the Three and Needful Things).

There have been times when I opted for an audiobook in the place of actually sitting down and reading the text.  I did that with the Twilight novels, for example; I wanted to be familiar with them, but I did not want to expend the mental energy it would have required to actually sit and read them.  So, instead, I listened to them while at work (this was back in the good old days, when my job was such that I could listen to mp3s for seven or eight hours a day).  The only time I've ever opted to listen to the audio version before reading the actual text with a King book was when Bag of Bones came out, and for the life of me I can't remember why; as such, it's the only King book I still claim to have never read.

Because, the way I look at it, I didn't read it.  To me, if you aren't passing your eyes over the words, seeing the commas and the line breaks and the spelling of certain words and the italicizations and all the other format quirks which go hand-in-hand with prose, then you aren't getting the full effect.  Sure, a great narrator (Frank Muller) can put some of those things in by virtue of the way he or she narrates ... but with most narrators, you'll be missing out, and even when you aren't, it's hard to be sure of when a certain emphasis is placed becuase the author intended it, and when it's because the narrator is overperforming his or her role.

For me, audiobooks are a useful tool, in that they allow you to experience books during times when you might not otherwise be able to (while driving, for instance).  But they are simply no replacement for reading.

Thus endeth this screed, which isn't much of a screed at all; more of an observation, really, and one you are, as always, free to ignore.  I own probably close to a hundred audiobooks, so I'm definitely no hater of the format.  I'm just somewhat interested in drawing a philosophical dinstinction between one medium and another, and it's unlikely that anyone other than me is terribly interested in that distinction.  S'okay; sometimes, I like twisting in the wind.

Currently, I'm working on rereading The Tommyknockers.  Once I've finished that, I'll be back with thoughts about it, and hopefully, they'll be more substantive than the ones I've made today.

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