I have thus far spurned audio books. I love to read and listening to audio books, it seemed to me, was a kind of cheating. The very words on the page are a part of the greatness of the book, or so I believed. And not to read them seemed somehow a betrayal. I really felt that way until my eyesight left me. But since my eyesight is gone, my morality has changed, and I yielded. A friend gave me American Bloomsbury, by Susan Cheever. It’s a biography of Louisa May Alcott. So I sat for hours and hours and listened to an accomplished actress telling her story. Alcott, whom I think was a very great writer, spent her life providing for her family, whom she loved. She was a phenomenon, a woman writer in the 19th century determined to make her way by the pen.
I had, years ago, written a young adult novel Little Women Next Door about Alcott and her family, and their failed attempt to live in a commune one summer. The whole subject fascinated me, but I had not researched the rest of her life, and the audio book reported it in great detail.
My first fiction on audio books was The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, by Tennessee Williams. It renews my belief that he was The Greatest American Playwright of the 20th century. This book is a novel, but the characterization is worthy of any play. He hooked me forever to audio books. I became a believer.
I am now deeply involved in two novels. One is The Help, the bestseller by Kathryn Stockett, a fascinating picture of the American South from the point of view of the Black maids who did the work. Hearing the maids’ voices with their accents makes vivid what life was like in southern homes. I am only halfway through, but this book is really an adventure. In another adventure, I am listening to The 19th Wife. It is a novel about Mormons by David Ebershoff. It tells the story of the 19th wife of Brigham Young, who divorced him and effectively, through her actions, ended polygamy in the United States. The book freely used historical documents and integrated them into the text.
Audio books are, essentially, watching television without the pictures. I have all the pleasure and nuance of dialogue and the rest is created in my head. And no commercials!
The one problem is that this a push-button society and if you are nearly blind, you have to be able to find the right buttons. I am usually in deep trouble, and my sighted relatives patiently guide me. My daughter painted a bright red arrow on the disc player, and I can start, but I can’t read the numbers which tell me which disc is next, so if I violate the order, I’m in big trouble. Braille should be the second alphabet children are taught. Alas, I think I’m too old to learn, so I rely on the kindness of relatives and strangers.
When I had the Lasik disaster back in 2000 (11 years ago – wow!) I started listening to audio books when I couldn’t see to read any other way. I developed a passion for them – maybe even a preference. Some of the best were books read by the author (Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver) is still my favorite. I felt like I was getting a whole new dimension of what the author INTENDED – how were those complicated names really supposed to be pronounced? We listened to all 7 Harry Potter books on tape with the kids – now reader/actor Jim Dale is inextricably linked in mind with the Harry Potter tales. I learned to “run” readers just like I “run” authors – when I found a reader I liked I would order all the books they had recorded – regardless of topic or author. That was a lot of fun. And there were readers I didn’t like who I would avoid at all costs. I “read” my first Geraldine Brooks book on audio and Tracy Chevalier, too. Now that my eyes are a little better, I can read some print again, but I usually have an audio book going, too. I don’t think it is second-class reading – I think it may actually be preferred reading. I hope you find more books to enjoy in this new, odd way