Audiobooks aren’t usually a first stop for me, but every once in a while I listen before I read, but more often I read and then listen. It’s a bit of double dipping, and usually I find it to be double the pleasure and double the fun, but what happens when audiobooks expose the plot’s every weakness? A character’s every annoying habit? An author’s love affair with cliched phrases and actions? What happens when the audiobook makes you second guess ever enjoying the book?
The first thing that happens is you wonder if the book was this weak all along, but you were simply lost in the daze and haze that comes from coveting a new book and new series from a beloved author of YA fantasy. The second thing you wonder is if the grating narration has robbed you of the ability to get lost in the story and fall in love with characters. The third thing you wonder is whether Audible accepts returns. In my most recent audiobook experience the answers to these wonders is yes, yes, and yes they do.
I’ve recently been on an audiobook kick. I’ve been avoiding the news on my morning and afternoon commutes and sometimes I’m not in a music state of mind, so I turn to audiobooks. My recent favorites include City of Saints and Thieves. Pascale Armand's narration is like music and poetry. The musicality of her speaking voice is like cozy socks, a comfy blanket, hot tea, and Netflix on a cold and rainy November afternoon. Joy. I enjoyed the book and the problem I had with the unevenness of the action as a reader dissolved when I became listener and witness to performance. The other favorite is Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue. It’s mostly a secret that this book was my favorite read of 2017, but here’s something that isn’t a secret, it’s also my favorite listen of 2017. The narration is . . . what’s that the kids once said? The narration is everything and then a tiny bit more. Christian Coulson is an extraordinary narrator—his voice is chocolate and honey. The best audiobook narrators make the best books even better. I highly recommend both.
Thinking my choices were on fire I selected as my next listen a highly anticipated fall release by a much loved, much admired, much respected author of YA fantasy. In fact, one of her series is legendary in my classroom. Declaring the series prodigious would be overstating its greatness, but it is without a doubt a real winner, a veritable champion, with my students. Subtle enough? I gladly traded one of my Audible credits for the book and tucked in for a good listen on the long ride to work. The audio started and was quickly followed by “what is happening?” What happened was offense and dissonance. What happened was actively disliking someone because of their voice. Someone you have never a likely will never meet, but now don’t want to because what if that’s what they really sound like - in for real life.
Like a dog being spray trained not to bark at every knock at the door, I convinced myself that I just needed to acclimate myself to narrator’s affected husky whisper and misarticulated sibilants - specifically the [s]. I literally was scrunching up my face as the narration went on and on. Long stretches of time passed without my actually following the plot because the sound of the narrators voice just wouldn’t let me get lost in the story. Suddenly, I heard how incredibly annoying the protagonist was. Suddenly I heard literary devices that would make Taylor Swift shake her head in disgust. Suddenly I heard the obviousness of the outcome. Suddenly I heard every trope and trait I despised. Ghost of Christmas Past please save me!
After two days I was debating between finishing it because I had given away an Audible credit or just counting it as a loss. My personality is pleasure over pain, so taking the loss was my master plan, but indignation reared its head. Thank goodness for indignation. If indignation had never stomped around my mind for the better part of a school day then I never would have checked to see if Audible had a return policy. Audible having a return policy means it is the best thing about the Amazon empire. In case you were wondering, the milk chocolate and toffee covered pretzels in Whole Foods Tea Cookie section is the second best thing.
I returned the book that same day and pondered my next listen. I must admit I’m a little hesitant about choosing my next audiobook, but hoarding my credits isn’t an option. It literally isn’t an option because Audible won’t let you hold more than six in your account at any one time. I’m considering Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds because he narrates it himself, and I could definitely listen to him talk to me for a a few hours. I’m also considering Renegades by Marissa Meyer because my students were chomping at the bit for this one. Even more so after I used an excerpt to talk about and teach setting, imagery, and mood.
See you at NCTE!