I’ve come to realize just how important a reader is to an audio book. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it before; acting is pretty crucial to a good film, so why not a reading of a book. But there it is.
I recently finished listening to “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick, as read by Paul Giamatti. Fantastic! I’d never read PKD’s work before and I was really impressed – not only with the story and a deft handling of a tricky business (namely having a central character start to believe he is two separate people), but also because his style of writing is quite beautiful – there’s a real flow to it; a poetry. Anyway, that’s the book.
As for the reading, Paul Giamatti is amazing!
His voice is so peaceful and resonant – and his grasp of the different characters was more ably portrayed than any of the other books I’ve listen to so far. I shouldn’t be surprised – he’s a fantastic actor and I’ve loved him in anything I’ve seen him in. I’m pretty certain that I would have liked the book had I read it on my own, but I’m also certain that Giamatti’s reading was a big factor in how strong an impression it actually left on me.
And I know that, because I can compare the reading to a couple of bad audio books I’ve tried to get through.
For instance, I tried listening to “Haunted” by Chuck Palahniuk, and it was just awful.
That might have something to do with the writing – which is a bit grotesque – but really, I just had a hard time with the timbre of the voices. The voice actors almost sounded like they were created using a computer. They weren’t, they just sounded that way – kind of monotonous and tinny.
Maybe it was just the book, who knows. Either way, I think I only made it about three chapters in before giving it up.
Now I’m giving “Specimen Days” a listen – a new book by Michael Cunningham, who wrote “the hours” and who I love as an author. The novel is read by Alan Cumming (who I like as an actor, so I was hopeful). It’s not grabbing me though.
I find that Cumming is reading too fast. Cunningham’s prose is pretty poetic – more so than PKD’s – and it’s really hard to catch a lot of the imagery and wordplay while listening to someone read so quickly.
I haven’t decided to give up on it yet, but I might switch this one to the “Read Only” pile. If I pick up a hard copy and it winds up being fantastic, It’ll lend credence to my theory: You need a good reader for an audio book to be enjoyable.