I hung in there as long as I could, cycling through classic rock station after classic rock station. Finally, I had my fill of ZZ Top and Springsteen. My outrage over the radio dial identifying Chaka Khan as Whitney Houston didn’t get the mileage I needed to stave off mind-numbing boredom. I confess, Gentle Reader, that I popped in an audiobook. Suddenly, I was hurtling through time as well as space. In one dimension I was clocking right at 80mph. In another, I was zapped to the 16th century smack in the forefront of the Italian Renaissance. The story was compelling with a strong plotline peppered with historical figures the likes of Dante and Michelangelo. I believe I’ll actually read it one of these days. The narrative lumbered a bit, so I think it’s a least a solid 4/5. This review, however, has morphed from one about a particular book to one about books on tape (Yes, I know I just aged myself). This audiobook thing feels a little like cheating. At the same time, I feel a little like I’ve been cheated. But a six-hour stretch of interstate can make the best of us a bit neurotic, especially when rolling solo. Call me a purist if you like, but as a reader, I want more. What do I want?
- I want to control the speed. I trace a plotline like a sportscar hugging a curve. I want my reading to be responsive—I may want to slow down to a crawl to soak in every detail of a scene or race to an exciting conclusion. In an audiobook, the voice talent controls the pacing. The pause button simply isn’t enough.
- I want to control the tone. A strong writer creates a mood with diction, sentence variation, and phrasing. A strong reader interprets those cues to lend voice to the characters, a voice that is underpinned by the reader’s own frame of reference. Perhaps that’s narcissistic, but I view reading as a transactional relationship between author and reader; it’s synergistic. A recorded reading robs me of the pleasure of developing this nuance.
- I want to control the visualization. Reading is an immersive experience. If the writer puts me in an Inquisitor’s torture chamber, for instance, I want to have a good look around. I want my senses to be engaged. I want to touch the ripped sinews of the character’s body as well as those torn from his spirit. Listening to an external narrator colors the experience for me. It shifts my position from imaginer to receiver. I want to do the coloring. It’s why I love to read!
Aside from occasionally using an audio format for struggling readers in the classroom, this was my first experiment with using an audio book for pleasure. Although it helped the miles to fall quickly behind me, I missed too much to have really felt like I’ve read the book. Sterlin’s declamation was apt and there were no issues with sound quality. The production was actually quite good. TOO MUCH of the story, however, was handed to me through her voice. I don’t see myself purchasing this format again.
Rocky Rates It
4/5 ★★★★ the book (for now)
2/5 ★★ the audio format