The Joy of Listening


I just finished listening to Ruby Dee’s gripping reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s book Their Eyes Were Watching God.  This was the first experience I’ve had with Hurston and with Ruby Dee. 

I am shaken.

I am riveted. 

I am bruised.

I need to turn the pages, think about the phrases, but I can’t imagine the reading of this book ever being close to as good as listening to this book.  Dee’s cadences were slow and sonorous. Just hearing her voice gave me pictures of the characters. During the narrative of the flood Dee was shouting and I wanted to stand up and shout, “De lake is coming!”  This book seems designed to be received through the ears instead of through the eyes.  Phonics get in the way of reading it.

I need to collect my thoughts before I respond to the book.

But I am compelled to tell you, dear reader, that some books are better in the audio version than in print.  Off my cuff, allow me to recommend:

Michel Chevalier’s reading captures the tones of a native of France.
Listening to this memoir is the audio equivalent to Crème brûlée.

At the time I posted this, six used CD sets of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
are available at Amazon (click on link) for under $1.62 (+ 3.99 shipping).
For less than it costs to see a movie you could have 8+ hours of
Lisette Lecat’s luscious African accents.

If an Irish brogue is your cuppa, you can’t go wrong with
Frank Delaney’s reading of Simple Courage.
I’m puzzled that so few know about this rip-roaring, harrowing adventure story.

Sissy Spacek’s languorous reading of To Kill a Mockingbird
remains my very favorite audio book.
Sissy is Scout Finch.
Her voice remains in my mind years after I first heard this performance.

There are drawbacks to audio books.
It’s hard to bookmark a sentence you want to remember.
It’s awkward to transcribe portions in your journal.

But if the book come from a part of the world
where words are pronounced differently,
where dialects lift words out of their common clothing,
where idioms are employed,
where hearing the voice of the narrator enriches the words,
go to audio.


8 thoughts on “The Joy of Listening

  1. First, (before I forget), I wanted to tell you that there was a movie made of Their Eyes Were Watching God, starring Halle Berry. It’s a few years old, and it’s okay/good. And I absolutely LOVE Sissy Spacek, esp. in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It was playing here on cable TV last month and I had to watch it again. SO VERY GOOD. And Tommy Lee Jones was excellent, too.Thanks for all the recommendations! I might just have to buy one…even though I’m broke!

  2. At this stage of the game (life), the only place I find that I can *listen* is in the car. So, I appreciate your encouragement to remember the audio version of books.And on those rare occasions that I’m listening while at home, it is a luxury to hold the book and follow along.  Makes me feel like a child…. and someone dear is reading to me. 

  3. I’m listening to Agatha Christie’s “Murder at the Vicarage” while I knit.  Can’t wait to see your travel reading list.  I’m getting ready to fly west next week and have to decide on a few books to take on my trip.  I’m torn between what I know will be good reading – but are hardcovers, therefore heavy – and what I hope will be good reading, and are paperbacks, therefore lighter in the suitcase/carry-on.

  4. I have noticed that if I listen to a book I retain more than I would have imagined and often feel that the particular book on audio is particularly better as an audio book rather than a book-book. I just finished listening to Light in August by William Faulkner read by Will Paton. It was lyrical. I have read 3 Faulkners this year….all on audio and I love the lyrical language and yet often people hate Faulkner. And I can just imagine how hard it would be to read his words rather than hear them. I used to feel guilty about audio books, as if I had cheated somehow but now I begin to wonder if it is a better way in its place.

  5. Although it’s very funny in print, Connie Willis’ _To Say Nothing of the Dog_ is uproariously funny narrated by Steven Crossley.  He is bang on in his vocal characterizations and comedic timing.  I’ve listened to it repeatedly and never tire of it.

  6. Thanks for this reminder to utilize audio books. I wonder if there is an online rental service, a la Netflix, where you can stream online. That would be nice. Our library has a selection that tends to be limited to pop novels.

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