Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reading Aloud and Listening by Nikki Strandskov

Nikki Strandskov (aka Auntie Knickers) lives with her husband, Onkel Hankie Pants, and their dog Rusty, in Brunswick, Maine, home of the wonderful Curtis Memorial Library. She is enjoying having a bit more time for reading after the end of her census employment. She promises to start blogging and contributing to DorothyL again very, very soon.
by Nikki Strandskov

I have always enjoyed reading aloud. Perhaps it's because I learned to read very young, and demonstrating that skill was something that got me attention and praise as a child. In any case, I like it and I'm reasonably good at it. The first two cars we owned early in our marriage had no radio, so, as the non-driver, I would sometimes read aloud to my husband on long car trips. The books chosen were nearly always mysteries; at that time, in the early '70s, Onkel Hankie Pants was relatively new as a mystery reader (having spent his youth reading science fiction), so I caught him up with Sayers, Stout, Marsh and Christie. I doubt my British accent would pass muster with any recording company, but I did my best and at least kept him awake!

When the children came along, both of us were able to indulge ourselves in this type of performance. Onkel Hankie Pants, who was taking a summer class in Victorian literature when SonShineIn was born, read aloud portions of Thackeray's Vanity Fair to him in his cradle. By the time SonShineIn was 5, we had read to him all the Little House books as well as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (yes, unexpurgated -- one of the joys of reading aloud to one's children is the opportunity to stop and explain when language or values differ from one's own). Of course, he also enjoyed the usual picture books and nursery rhymes. Later, when the girls were born, they too learned that a sure and swift way to get Mommy's attention was to ask for a story.  And yes, all three have turned out to be readers.

I've also done a fair amount of reading in church -- both Scripture lessons and, for many years, a Christmas story at the Christmas Eve service in our old church in Minneapolis. Several years ago, when we moved from there to Maine, our youngest, Sisterfilms, the Christmas baby, mentioned that she missed our annual readings of some of her favorite Christmas tales. I began a project of recording them onto the computer and making CDs to send to her with a story for each day of Advent. These days, she transfers them to her iPod so she can listen in bed, on the bus, or wherever the opportunity arises. This year, I've signed up with a file-hosting service, and plan to make the readings available through my blog this December.


So, for many years I've been the Reader; opportunities to be the Listener have been fewer. That changed last February when Onkel Hankie Pants and I were offered jobs in the Local Census Office in Portland, about a 35-minute commute from our home. Up till then, our only use of audiobooks had been on a few long car trips, since we commuted mostly by bus during our years in Minnesota. It only took a week or so of commuting before one of us realized "We could be listening to stories!" Off to the library we went. Our car has only a CD player, so we had a slightly smaller selection than if we'd also had a cassette player, but we were still able to find enough audiobooks to get us through 7 months of commutes.

Since we don't have completely similar tastes in reading, we needed to find books that both of us could enjoy and that neither had already read. This meant primarily police procedurals, hard-boiled detectives, and what I guess I'd call thrillers. These included three of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books, read by Len Cariou, and his The Lincoln Lawyer, read by Adam Grupper; Elmore Leonard's Mr. Paradise, Thomas Perry's Fidelity, Ian Rankin's The Naming of the Dead (wonderfully narrated with Scottish and other accents by Tom Cotcher), and Walter Mosley's White Butterfly, read by Dion Graham in a masterful performance. We also listened to Donna Leon's Blood from a Stone and, for a complete change of pace, two young adult novels by Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men and A Hatful of Sky.

I had wondered how the experience of listening would differ from reading. Of course, one thing is that you have to keep your wits about you -- it's complicated to go back a few chapters to remind yourself of what someone said or did. I'd read other works by all the authors except Mosley (I think I tried Devil with a Blue Dress years ago and gave up on it) and in nearly all cases I'd say the experience of listening was at least as good as, and sometimes better, than reading. Hearing Rankin's book read with the proper accents really put me in Edinburgh, and Stephen Briggs, who reads the Pratchett books, is as much a national treasure as Pratchett himself. The one book I felt did not come across as well was Blood from a Stone by Donna Leon. Her books rely so much on setting and, for lack of a better word, philosophy -- Brunetti's interior monologue -- that does not translate as well to reading aloud as a more dialogue-heavy or action-packed book does. I'll definitely read more of Leon's books, but I'll do it the old-fashioned way.

I did have one "pet peeve" about a number of the readers. All the books we chose were narrated by men, but most had fairly major female characters. Some of the readers chose to indicate the female voices by using a breathy, higher-pitched, parody-of-Marilyn-Monroe voice. This was not only annoying in itself (really, how many women, especially women police officers, do you know who talk that way?) but made for constant volume adjustment so that we could hear the dialogue above the ambient noise of driving an old minivan down the highway. 

Last week, our temporary work for the Census ended, and we were in the middle of a book -- George Pelecanos's The Turnaround. What to do? Well, yesterday we drove to Rockland to see some N.C. Wyeths (and other art) at the Farnsworth Museum. We took my artist brother along, and after giving him a short plot synopsis prevailed on him to listen along with us. Now we're on the last disk of the book, and listen to a few minutes every time we're in the car. Since I'm a visual learner and also somewhat distractible, I think I'd find it difficult to listen to audiobooks just sitting in the living room, but I'm glad to know they'll be there the next time we take a long road trip.
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Nikki Strandskov
Bayberry Hill Genealogy


Vicki Lane said...

Hi, Nikki, Glad to hear you've just been busy! Such an interesting post. I agree about listening.

I adore audio books with good readers.They force me to pay attention to the writing rather than zooming through as is my wont when I read to myself. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series as read by Patrick Tull is a favorite. Also anything by Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Sarah Vowell, Dvid Sedaris . . .

I listen in the car -- or at home when I'm doing tedious chores.

Patty said...

Nikki - great post. I also read and listen. I will not drive very far without a book in the car with me. My family is about 400 miles away so I often get a chance to listen for long periods of time. Favorites of mine - Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire, Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak series, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, and if you like or think you might like Harry Potter, the audio version with Jim Dale is astounding and not to be missed.

Peg Brantley said...

Whenever my husband and I have the opportunity for a road trip, the first stop on our way out of town is the library. Thankfully we share similar tastes in books, so it's fun to scout the shelves and load up on some audio adventures for the road.

I've tried listening around the house, but unless I plant myself in a chair as if reading, I get too distracted.

And finally, reading my WIP aloud to my husband helps me find so many things that need attention. Even more than reading it aloud to myself!

Thanks for a great post. Kudos on those reading kids, and we'll see you on DL!

jenny milchman said...

I bet those were some wonderful car trips--being read to aloud--and live--is a rare luxury.

This is a great (unique) topic for a post--thanks.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Nikki - GREAT post!

Do you know I've only listened to one audio book ever? It was Pipi Longstocking. But I'm not very good with audio, I'm afraid. Even with my hearing aid, I seem to miss things and then my mind wanders. Or as my friend Suzi used to say "I drift off to the jewelry counter."

But you've made me want to give it another try.

Now, don't be such a stranger!!