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Editorial October 2002
Bardic Books
By Hilary Williamson

Have you tried listening to books yet? Some of us have, here at BookLoons, and we're finding audiobooks a whole different experience from scanning pages with our eyes.

G. Hall has been doing it for several years now, mainly via rental of Books on Tape. She enjoys audiobooks on car journeys and long commutes, and as entertainment while performing tasks like holiday baking. In audiobook selection, she looks for known, skilled narrators and much prefers unabridged versions. She expands her reading horizons by trying different genres via recorded books.

Wesley Williamson discovered audiobooks for entertainment during treadmill time - see Lo-tech, Hi-tech ... Mid-tech? He obtains books that read themselves from the library. He finds that listening often gives a new slant on an old favorite, or even on a book previously tried and discounted, but that some good novels are unfortunately not well suited to being read aloud. He emphasizes the importance of the narrator, and of listening to audio excerpts before buying.

My perspective on the value of audiobooks is again a little different. I see the development of loquacious books as a renaissance of the old bardic tradition; 'Gather round and I'll tell ye a tale ...' I love listening with the kids and enjoy their reactions to a good yarn as much as I enjoy listening myself. My sons and I took great pleasure in Listening to Lord of the Rings last summer, to a BBC audio CD version in multiple voices, and including songs.

We heard Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress together, and stopped the narration frequently to discuss what was happening in this tale of repression and revolution on the Moon. This summer came the discovery of humorous talking books as we listened to Marc Parent's Believing It All : Lessons I Learned from My Children a couple of times on a drive to a campsite and back. And Jerry Seinfeld's hilarious CD Halloween recently resulted in repeated encore requests from kids and adults alike.

For personal listening, I've enjoyed Dorothy Gilman's The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, which I could pause, and continue later without losing the thread of the story. But though I enjoy reading John Grisham's novels very much, I had trouble with the slow pace of The Summons in an audio version. Being a very fast reader, I find that I can easily become impatient when listening to books and even at times prefer an abridged version, just so that it will get to the point sooner.

What is an audiobook? Something different to every listener, it seems. We have varying requirements depending on auditory backgrounds (such as car, kitchen or exercise room); on the extent to which listening will be interrupted (audio bookmarks would be handy); on the number of listeners; and on our reading speed. But all agree that narration is key, and personally, I would like to see more use of multiple narrators when different voices are involved in telling a tale.

If you haven't tried a recorded book yet, why not give it a whirl? Have a look through David Pitt's Listen Up! columns (March, May, August, October) for recommendations of recent 'treats for the ears'. Listen while you bake a cake or drive to the office; or find an audiobook that you can enjoy with the kids. Rent one, buy it, or borrow it from the library, and join in the renaissance of the bardic tradition.
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