Wednesday, 22 May 2019

A Listening Project: Ali Bacon finds her audio book a bit too relaxing

Ali Bacon out and about
Time was when I regularly listened to audio books  that was when I had a part-time job involving a half-hour commute - perfect for picking up a story and letting go of home or work preoccupations. This was some time ago, of course and my audio books were on cassette - sets of tapes encased in big library boxes and taking several hours of listening. For some reason after I left that job,  and even though I still spent considerable periods driving, I somehow lost the habit of audio books. Possibly this was because I had started writing and spent most journeys worrying over my own characters.


Remember these?
I do remember the pleasure of those journeys and how the narrat out and aboutor was as important as the book. I discovered a penchant for a quiet American voice, perhaps because I also like quiet American books. and particularly remember losing myself in the cult hit of the time The Bridges of Madison County, to the extent of arriving at work a bit hot under the collar! But I think my choices depended mostly on what was available on the library shelves. So I listened to a travelogue about the Hindu Kush and a fairly dull (Anita Brookner?) novel which I enjoyed just for the sound of Anna Massey reading it.

Fast forward thirty (ouch!) years and with several of my friends heavily into the audio book habit I think it's time to partake of this forgotten pleasure. On the other hand I'm not sure if it will suit me so rather than taking up the eternal offers from Audible I plump for our public library service which quaintly involves borrowing for a limited period and and having to wait for a copy of a favoured title to become available. These restrictions seem odd but I assume there are licensing issues and hey, it's FREE! It's relatively easy to download the app for my Libraries West account and sign up to audio books. 


Libraries West Audio Book Service
The service is provided by a third party Borrow Box and I'm now sure what selection criteria are operating. It looks like browsing works better than searching but I don't immediately see anything I fancy. On a whim I search on 'historical' and get a very good selection embracing genre and literary historical novels. Although those I fancy are all on loan and have to be reserved, I click on Helen Dunmore's Birdcage Walk. Hurrah! I love Dunmore and this is high on my TBR list. A couple of days later I have a message to say it's available. So far so good!


The book arrives when I'm on holiday and maybe a period of down time after a strenuous walk is not the best time to begin. The soothing experience of being read to sends me straight to sleep - twice! I quickly learn the options for rewinding. 

Back at home I start again in the car and I'm glad to say this  goes much better with no falling asleep at the wheel, although short journeys mean I don't get much listening time. Of course my phone is always with me so when Mr B is watching something not to my taste on TV I can get on with my knitting and listen as I click my needles. Even so I had forgotten how long it takes to listen to a book unabridged. I note I still have 6 hours left and when I stupidly  put down the knitting and let the Eurovision Song Contest play in the background, the inevitable occurs ... I hear the Netherlands won, but where did this new character spring from in my book? Time to rewind yet again. So yes, listening is relaxing - sometimes too relaxing!

Or is it the book? Dunmore is a favourite author (The Siege and Exposure particularly memorable) and this one is set in my home town of Bristol, but I'm not sure it's doing it for me. The narrator strikes me as efficient rather than engaging and a few chapters in I'm interested but not enthralled. Most of all, the listening experience doesn't let me ignore bits that seem repetitive, or skim over the extracts from pamphlets and newspaper reports which remind us of the historical and political context somewhat at the expense of narrative pace. Of course it's common knowledge amongst writers that reading aloud is a great way to see flaws in your own work, and though it's too early (5 hours to go!) to say this book is flawed, I can see that the audio format is an unforgiving one.

So at this point in my life I have yet to be totally won over by the audio book, but whether or not I finish Birdcage Walk (a sneak peak at reviews suggests I should) I think I will keep one on the go, while remembering all the while to stick to the knitting! 



In the Blink of an Eye, Ali Bacon's historical novel, is available in paperback and e-book from Linen Pressonline stores and all good bookshops. 

3 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

It's a complex issue, Ali. Living in Aberdeen means that most journeys to visit family and/or friends involve a drive of several hours and (in theory) give me time to absorb plenty of the host of excellent authors on the library's audio shelves. But the most recent attempt to enjoy a Terry Pratchett gem lasted only some twenty minutes before the disc started jumping about in the slot (or something) and the narrator was only managing to contribute the odd syllable to my 'listening pleasure'. Hugely frustrating because I really was enjoying it.

AliB said...

How frustrating!
However my passengers are sometimes subjected to the book because I can get it to stop!
A.

Umberto Tosi said...

I became an audiobook addict in the 1990s. They saved my sanity and allowed me to immerse myself in classics and new books during my fifty-mile commute to and from a content editor job I held in Silicon Valley at the time. It was then I came to appreciate, 1. the wonders that fine voice-actors can do with literary characters, 2., that the ultimate test of good writing comes in reading it aloud. 3. that bad writing is even worse to hear than to read. I haven't had any of my books adapted to audio yet, but not for lack of trying. Thanks for another fascinating post.