Saturday, September 30, 2006

Tale of Two Cities

I've joined a gym this last week and apart from the fact that I keep on dropping my mp3 player I find it an absolutely ideal time to listen to the audiobooks that I never quite had patience for previously.
There aren't that many of these but I acquired from audible The American Boy, Night Watch, and The Time-travellers Wife and have never actually finished any of them. First however I have gone for a book that I've actually read.

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens - Read Martin Jarvis
Book - Well its Dickens. I don't feel qualified to give a mark out of 5 to Dickens. If you love him you love him. If you don't then generally you can't stand him. I'm kind of sitting on the fence. When I last read him I found him immensely tedious but I'm willing to give him another pop since when I last read him I was 15 years old.

Primary Voice - The narrator I guess. If audiobooks were rock music Martin Jarvis would be some sort of legend and at that some legend that died young to protect his genius. The narration here is done in his usual laconic style and I could listen to that all day (4/5)
Secondary Voices - These are what makes the book for me. Packed with character and distinct. (5/5)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Listening or reading?

You're having a conversation and up pops the topic of a book you have heard in audiobook form.
Do you say "I've read that" or go for the more exact "I've listened to that"?

For Read:
Audiobooks are a novelty. Mentioning them inevitably busts up the conversation and if you say listened this always seems to happen.

For Listened:
Listened somehow seems more honest. I don't think its true that audiobooks are an easy alternative but then I wouldn't and there is a perception that classes them with waiting for the film as a method of consuming literature.

Its daft. Can't conduct a conversation and admit to absorbing a book in audio form - can't quite square conscience with not saying so. Generally I try to say listened and fumble it which just makes matters worse since the inaccuracy of "read" makes my skin itch.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Regarding Blandings

A previous post touched on the subject of PG Wodehouse and his Blandings castle saga.
I proclaimed that no specific reader had tied it up but didn't realise just how true this is -
BBC audio (formerly Chivers) holds the rights somehow so in their full unabridged versions we have
  1. A Pelican at Blandings - Nigel Lambert 4
  2. Blandings Castle - James Saxon
  3. Galahad at Blandings - Jeremy Sinden
  4. Summer Lightning - John Wells 4.5
  5. Uncle Fred in the Springtime - Jonathan Cecil 4
  6. Something Fresh - Peter Barker 5
and no doubt others.
I haven't heard the second or third but the others I report in all respects superb.
I like Something Fresh partly because it doesn't follow the formula estabilished in later Wodehouse and partly for a technically ridiculous reason. Peter Barker occasionally uses the wrong voice for dialogue, particularly in unattributed volleys. Strictly this should detract from the performance but I think it adds to the fun, particularly when a slip means he uses the male lead voice to bemoan male ignorance and has the female lead apologise.
Bonus half mark to Summer Lightning since John Wells bumps up the quality with the most perfect cast imaginable.

Thinking it over it could be an exceedingly good thing that readers differ. You do not read Wodehouse for the plots but for language. Quite apart from being juvenile in the extreme and requiring considerable suspension of disbelief the plots are all basically the same so differing timbre and style adds that extra little nudge that makes it worth reading/listening to more than one. In any case with language and performances combined these are an excellent set of audiobooks and an investment in any will be worth the listeners while.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Podcasting the Intellectual

I've been checking out 'quality' podcasts - specifically those at Warwick Podcasts
The quality of the subject matter and guests on these debates is astounding. For example
  • Steve Fuller battles it out against Jack Cohen on the Intelligent Design debate.
  • Ian Stewart discusses his Discworld books and the relationship between science and science fiction.
These guys are big bugs in science and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the water lurk debates and explanations on a range of topics from modern politics to conservativism in the renaissance. There's something for everyone but personally I'd recommend the technology debate Technology Matters with Professor David Nye and the ID debate above

The closest comparator that I have heard to these podcasts would be highly researched radio programs such as Radio 4 documentary. They take subjects and go into a detail that you could never get away with on TV. That said podcasting is by nature non-professional and if we were being harsh it would be possible to draw attention to
  • Absense of editorial balance
  • Lack of editing
  • A host notable for enthusiasm rather than radio manner
In terms of 'things being given away for free on the net' these are superb

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Regarding Psmith

I've gone with another Psmith book
In fact pretty well the other Psmith book

Its non-traditional Wodehouse being an early work. The Psmith series, I would surmise, is aimed more at a Boys Own Paper kind of audience than his later books. Certainly 'in the City' seemed to relate all activities to the structure of a boys boarding school. Journalist is set in New York and is packed with comedy gangsters and Tammany Hall politicians.

I'm a big fan of the reader of this book - Jonathan Cecil.
So far as Wodehouse goes he rules.
The Blandings castle saga is up for grabs but from Ukridge to Wooster Jonathan Cecil is the man.
That said I'm English.
There are lots of American voices in this book.
I don't know but I suspect he isn't wonderful.
Nevertheless I'm still going with a universal 4, good but not great

Book: 4
Reading: 4
(Primary voice 4, Secondary voice 4, Ambience 4)

Ultimately all very good.
A warning though. I got this from Audible and the quality is really bad. I was using their 3 format. I haven't checked the 4 format but generally 3 is perfectly adequate the only noise being the original quality of recording. This was damn awful. I'll check it out 4 at some point

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Story time

A point of variety is when people listen to audiobooks.
Top responses are
  • At the gym
  • Whilst doing housework
  • Whilst driving
In my case its all the above plus...
I simply answer to the general case that people are making...
Any time when the brain is partially, but far from fully occupied.
Audiobooks take up that extra fraction of brain that was otherwise getting bored. They are more stimulating than radio (at least most radio) but are less demanding than TV (both physically and mentally).
I don't listen when I'm composing words but otherwise audiobook-on is my default.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Regarding Memoirs

OK...inaccurate...more on this today
The point of the debate on first person narratives is Memoirs of a Geisha.
I downloaded this from Audible a few months ago and really liked it. For those few in this world that haven't read or listened to it the book is the story of a girl growing up as a geisha in Japan in the thirties and the war. Though it is fiction it has the ring of absolute authenticity but can include a plot that doesn't drag.
In other circumstances this would be positively the worse audiobook I've ever heard. The narrator sounds as though she had never heard of the English language until yesterday and had then decided to model her accent on a Speak-your-weight machine. Secondary characters are done in the style of a person who not only cannot act but cannot do impressions either. Nethertheless it works and I have a theory why...

The book has a preface saying something along the lines of
these memoirs were dictated to me by Nitta Sayuri as she sits in her chair drinking Japanese tea and a-yada-yada-yada
The book is set up as a story telling session.
It is set up to be two people sitting in a cosy room with one dictating in stilted English the story of her life to the other.
Additional voices would extend the audiobook beyond the realm of storytelling.
Now I was told that the film was terrible. Could this be the reason why?

First person narratives

Now... as example the following books...
  • Jane Eyre
  • PG Wodehouse's Jeeves series
  • The Time travellers wife
  • Memoirs of a Geisha
  • Catcher in the rye
  • The Eyre Affair
...these are all first person narratives.
Secondary characters strictly all speak through the main character.
Here's the question: Should they sound like it?
Now if you were making a movie of one of these books it would be more than a single character sitting in a room talking to the camera so my initial impulse was 'Hell No!'
A little reflection has tempered that to 'Largely No!' Audiobooks are a medium in their own right and have their own artistic code.
More on this tomorrow but for now ta-ta