Friday, April 22, 2005


Slap it smartly

The delightful world of recorded books

I love recorded books. You can get reading done while driving, dining alone, doing mindless household chores, or just while sitting there, but your eyes and hands are free -- to drive, eat, fold clothes, or whatever. And being read to is a pleasure in itself.

However good the book may be, a recorded book requires a good reader -- otherwise, it may not be worth plowing through. Authors often do a good job of reading their own work, but interestingly author-read recorded books are more likely to be abridgements, whereas I prefer unabridged versions. The entire series of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels (on which the movie Master and Commander is based), all 20 of them, are beautifully narrated by a talented actor named Patrick Tull, whose performance reflects one of the best examples of an actor thoroughly understanding his text that I've ever encountered. These recordings got me through three years in which I had a trying car commute of nearly an hour each way.

There are two companies that seem to dominate the production of unabridged recorded books: Recorded Books, Inc., which apparently has been bought out by Borders Audio; and Books-on-Tape. Recorded Books/Borders on the whole seems to have a better stable of actors doing the narrating.

Books-on-Tape does a couple of really quirky things in their narration. They want you to have the same experience as if you had the printed book in your hand, I guess, so they actually read you the dust jacket liner notes, the dedication and acknowledgements. I just started a book which included this acknowledgement:
Finally, I am grateful to my wife Ruth, whose eye for the wrong word and talent for finding a better one has greatly improved the readability of this book.
(I guess the author should have had Ruth read over the acknowledgements so she could have ditched "readability.")

Where does "slap it smartly" come from? Unlike Recorded Books, which keeps its introductory material to a minimum, Books-on-Tape gives you a lengthy set of instructions about ordering the tapes, returning them, rewinding them, and then this one on how to deal with a casette tape that is not working:
Place the tape in the palm of your hand and slap it smartly against a hard, flat surface.
Can you hear this without immediately thinking about getting jiggy with the casettes? You should hear this actually read, usually by someone with a British accent. Way, way kinky.


You forgot to mention One advantage to Blackstone is that they have frequent sales and even better prices on used audiobooks in their "overstock sale." You can pick up some items for a dollar or two a tape. It's also worth checking ebay, where you can find still better deals.
All 20 Patrick O'Brien books? Wow! You must love obscure sailing lingo.
Pat O"Brian is awesom. I have to read more of his stuff.
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