I think one of the first audiobooks I had was a read-along version of Return to Oz, with pictures from the 1985 movie. I also had a pretty big collection of Puddle Lane books, which if you are unfamiliar with, was a TV series for children about the adventures of a magician. Later, the series was turned into books to teach children to read, and depending on your reading level, you would chose (in order) blue, green, orange, purple and red. Then I forgot about audiobooks until I bought a cassette recording of Jude the Obscure, which was on discount. I was reading Charles Dickens at the time and I thought it might be fun to also read some Thomas Hardy (this was about 10 years ago, so maybe that’s why the cassettes where on discount; I even had to go and buy a Walkman – also on discount).
Not quite there yet… until Moby Dick
Afterwards, I got a bootleg copy of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, which was quite fun to listen to, since the readers did the South African accent (the novel is about a woman of “traditional” build who opens a detective agency in Botswana). However, I wasn’t quite sold on audiobooks yet, until I bought an audiobook copy of Moby Dick, which changed my life. Ok, it didn’t change my life, but it did change both my ideas on audiobooks and my opinion of Herman Melville.
I’d been trying to read Moby Dick ever since I’d left high school; I’d get past the first three pages and then get bored. After listening to the audiobook version though, Moby Dick has become one of my favourite books of all time. I like it so much I’ve quoted it in almost every single essay I wrote at university (I think I even quoted it in a Linguistics essay on the comparison between Chomskyan and anti-Chomskyan theories). Moby Dick is pure poetry; the cadence of the language is superb, the story is beautifully written, and everything in it just thrills me. I could listen to that book forever; it would be my deserted island book (you know… if you where on a deserted island, what book blah blah blah…).
Sadly, this method of liking the canons of literature didn’t work with Shakespeare’s plays (yet). “How dare you call yourself a writer and not like/understand Shakespeare?” the disembodied voices of the writer gods might say. I thought that if audiobooks helped me with Melville, then perhaps movies would help me with Shakespeare; you have to really see ‘The Bard’ to get a sense of his work, that’s what they tell me.
I’d already gone to see Shakespeare on-stage with The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado about Nothing some time ago, so they were not really fresh in my memory . Then I rented all the films and theatre versions on DVD of Hamlet that I could find (and yes, I watched them all. I liked the Kenneth Branagh one but mainly because it has Kenneth Branagh in it). Still though, no ‘aha’ moment. But I have my eye on a BBC dramatization of Hamlet read by Kenneth Branagh.
So, with this post, I conclude my three-part blog post on Audiobooks, and I ask you: “If you could listen to any author of any time reading their own work, who would you pick?”