Books out loud
“The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot” intones the deep, creepy voice. “A Three Investigators Mystery by Robert Arthur jnr”
The Stuttering Parrot was the first time I ever experienced an audio book when I can only have been about eight or nine. I have no idea who bought it for me, my parents probably. I used to go to Lichfield or Birmingham whenever I could to buy Dana Girl Mysteries or The Three Investigators Mysteries but I don’t think buying a book on tape would ever have occurred to me before that wonderful one. I have listened to the story over and over and can still hear the parrot of the title,
“To, to, to be or not to, to, to be”.
The parrot and a collection of other birds in the story all talked and their sayings were all clues that led to some sort of treasure. I loved reading but there was something about hearing the narrator and his range of voices for the characters, and the birds, that really brought the story to life. I still have the book (tape), though sadly I no longer own anything to play it on.
This enjoyment of hearing stories read to us is something we very rarely experience as adults. As a child your parents and teachers and librarians read stories to you on a fairly regular basis. But at some point we all become ‘too old’ for a bedtime story and have to learn to read for ourselves. The ability to read is an amazing thing of course but still, wouldn’t we all still like to be read to from time to time?
When I was at university (I didn’t go until I was 24) I rediscovered my love for hearing stories. I did an art and textiles degree which involved a lot of making things rather than the constant essay writing that so many seem to consist of. This meant that I had a lot of time to listen but not necessarily to watch as I had to keep an eye on my creations. I started listening to the radio but it can be hard to feel inspired with some of the music choices of a lot of radio stations. Then a magazine fell out of a newspaper one day advertising cheap books on tape. I was inspired. Although a lot of the titles the magazine offered were abridged, which always makes me feel slightly cheated, they were very wallet friendly for a student. So I ordered a lot. I made my way through a large selection of Agatha Christie, all the Frost stories from RD Wingfield, a Nick Hornby and possibly the best audio book I have heard yet; In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson.
I love a crime novel anyway, and have since read the book, but wow I loved this one. Neil Pearson and Anna Massey read the version I listened to. The book is set partly in the past and partly in the present and the two actors take it in turns to read, he the present and she the past. I have enjoyed most of Peter Robinson’s books but this one totally captured my attention. It is set in the present day at the site of an old reservoir which was created by flooding the village where the historical part is set. It’s such a clever premise and as the two tales start to come together you really feel for the characters. Again the atmosphere is created perfectly by having two narrators who capture the mood of the writer and bring the book to life. I had to forget the work for a while when the final few chapters were playing as I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I still take out a talking book every now and then, on CD or MP3 rather than cassette. After I gave up smoking they were what saved my sanity on long journeys to see friends who live miles away. When I started running a book group at work they allowed me the time to still read stories of my own choosing as well as the ones from the reading group programme. I remember one lady from the group accused me of cheating by listening to the story rather than reading it. I don’t see it that way. Is it cheating to watch a film on TV instead of at the cinema? Cheating to listen to a podcast rather than a live broadcast? I don’t think so. For me it is just another way to enjoy books and get the most out of them.
My most recent listen was The Help by Katherine Stockett incidentally, which I think everyone should listen to if they get the chance. It was recommended by a couple of friends and is about a hundred times better than the film! It is a book about people learning to understand each other in a town of segregation and uncertainty in nineteen-sixties America. In light of recent events all over the world understanding of others point of view is something we could all benefit from.
Go on, give one a go.