Sunday Salon – On Being Read To

70757~Cafe-Mocha-PostersIt might surprise you to hear this, but I was a very late reader.  I must have been seven, rising eight, before I started to read independently.  This puzzled my teachers, because it was clear that I had a certain modicum of intelligence and they couldn’t for the life of them see why it was that I was having so much difficulty.  All was made clear one Parents Evening, when my mother, asked if she knew of any reason why I might be so reluctant to read on my own, said that she couldn’t possibly imagine what the problem was especially as  I loved books and we both got great pleasure from the long sessions we had every night when she read to me before bedtime.  Crafty little beggar, wasn’t I?  I wasn’t going to show that I could read for myself if that meant losing out on those times when I got my mother’s undivided attention every evening.  Looking back, I think those teachers probably underestimated just how intelligent I was.  But, my mother took their words to heart and decided that both she and I would have to fore-go those cosy reading aloud hours and somehow I’ve never really rediscovered just what a joy it can be to have someone read to you, even though as a teacher I recognized its importance and read to my pupils every day of my working career.

And then something happened that changed all that in a single stroke.  Swine Flu arrived.

No, you didn’t mis-read that.  Swine Flu arrived.  We have had a very serious outbreak here in the West Midlands and one friend of mine was struck down so badly that she was hallucinating for twenty-four hours and in bed for five days.  Well, you can imagine the panic here, can’t you?

“What,” said The Bears, “are we going to do with you if you are in bed for five days and not feeling well enough to read?  You will be unlivable with!”  (Nice to think they’re so concerned!)

“Well,” I said, “there are always the Lord of the Rings CDs.” (We have the BBC Radio dramatization.) “You could play me those.”

“Pffhhhh!” said The Bears.  “They only last thirteen hours, no use at all.  Now, if we were to buy a copy of the Harry Potter CDs with that nice man Stephen Fry reading them, then that would keep you busy for at least five days.”

You may feel you sense a certain amount of self-interest entering into the conversation at this point.  How well you know these Bears!  But, I could see their point.  If I do go down with something that keeps me at home for any length of time, I will, once I’m slightly on the mend, go stir crazy without something relatively undemanding to keep me occupied.  And as, if you browse round the net, you can actually pick up copies of the Harry Potter recordings for much less than they were originally being offered for, I took their advice.

Well, you know what the next part of the story is, don’t you?  Certain Bears decided that it would be a shame to have to wait until I was ill to hear these wonderful readings.  After all, I might never get the wretched flu and then they would be sitting there still in their wrappings and no one (for no ‘one’ read no ‘Bear”) would ever get the benefit of our having bought them.  Currently we are in the middle of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, loving every minute of it and I have rediscovered the joy of having someone else read to me.  Audio books are never going to replace ‘the real thing’ in my reading life, but as an occasional substitute at the end of a long day, or when my eyes are tired from other reading, they are definitely the way to go.

However, two things bothers me. The first is how difficult it is to find audio books that are not abridgements of the original.  If I’m going to hear a book read then I want to hear the whole thing as the author wrote it, not a hacked about version that someone else thought was an adequate representation.  Finding recordings like this is proving very difficult and any recommendations that other Salonista have would be gratefully received.  I’m not looking for downloads, but actual CDs that I can listen to from my Hi-Fi system.

The second issue is to do with the readers.  Fry is brilliant.  Whoever chose him to do the Potter readings was inspired.  But, this isn’t always the case.  Apparently, Fry himself has become addicted to this form of story-telling and I caught him on the radio the other day making this very point.  He happened to mention that he’d come across some very good complete recordings of Dickens with an American actor reading who he thought was superb but what he didn’t say was who that actor was.  I would love some unabridged versions of Dickens.  Imagine long cosy winter evenings in front of the fire with someone reading Our Mutual Friend or Little Dorrit to you.  Bliss!  So, I wondered if any of the American Salonista had any idea who this actor might be.  If I can track some of these down then I might even be generous and buy a couple for The Bears for Christmas, just in case they go down with Swine Flu and need something to keep them amused, you understand.

P.S. The Bears are building their own ‘About’ page.  I apologise in advance for any offense given.

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 9:46 am  Comments (27)  

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  1. Fabulous post! My youngest is just as you were – eight and only reading independently for several months now. But I still haven’t stopped reading to him as this is something we both treasure too much. And wouldn’t you know it but his eleven year old sister loves to sneak in from time to time still too. But i just can’t catch the audio book love. Maybe, as you suggest, just the right one is required. Good luck hunting down the American read Dickens and happy reading!

  2. I ever I do start listening to audio books, I’ve often thought my first ones should be the Harry Potter books. I’ve heard such wonderful reviews of them.

    I’ve discovered over the years that I prefer to be the one reading aloud rather than being read to. I can guess at several reasons why that might be but have yet to settle on the exact one. I do think if I had children, I would read to them out loud. I might even drive them crazy with it. 🙂

  3. LF, I love reading out loud too and I really miss having the opportunity to do it now I’m no longer teaching. I suspect it’s the frustrated actress in me!

  4. Frances, it’s taken me a long time to come to appreciate them. The Bears and I have been listening just one chapter an evening and I suspect that that has built up our ability to concentrate. It is actually quite a skill and one that current society doesn’t do much to encourage. What lucky children you have.

  5. I’ve been listening to many audio books lately. I get all of mine from the library and they’ve all been unabridged. I like listening on my way to and from work.

  6. I enjoyed reading today’s blog, so in return I thought I’d try to find you the American reader of Dickens. After a somewhat lengthy search, the only American I could find was Jonathan Winters. There was a reader or two whom I couldn’t determine nationality. I sent a message to one seller asking the question. If I get an “American” response, I’ll let you know.

  7. What a great post! I love how audiobooks allow me to fit even more books into my life.

  8. I hadn’t thought about that, Yvonne. I could listen on my way over to Stratford for graduate school. But the The Bears would miss out and I would simply never hear the last of it!

  9. Warren, how kind of you. I’ll look out for the Winters’recordings and see if I can get one form the library first to ‘test the waters’ before buying. If you do find any further information I would be really grateful.

  10. JoAnn. I’m glad there are other enthusiasts out there. What are your favourites?

  11. I’m a huge audiobook listener! It started several years ago when I had some health problems that made it hard to sleep – I could listen to audiobooks on my MP3 player in the dark, without bothering my husband. I soon discovered that all the time I spend cleaning, cooking, folding laundry, driving, doing dishes can be time spent with a book – and therefore not “wasted” time.

    I also love to read aloud to my kids – and as a homeschooling mom, I still do it every weekday, even though my kids are now independent readers. We have enjoyed so many books together this way!

    I don’t buy my audiobooks – I check them out from the library on CD (unabridged only – I agree with you, abridged audiobooks should be done away with!), then I rip them to my computer, transfer them to my MP3 player (a cheap one that cost less than $100), and then delete them when I’m done listening.

    My kids and I have been listening to the Harry Potter series in our van while running around and doing errands. The American version is read by Jim Dale, who does a wonderful job, but I’m a huge Stephen Fry fan, and wish we could get those versions here in the States.

    Some of my favorite audiobooks: Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (these are monstrously long on audio, but so, so worth it – the reader, Davina Porter, is brilliant), Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland, Brideshead Revisited by Waugh – read by Jeremy Irons, and many, many more!

  12. Carrie, what a wonderful list of recommendations, thank you. I’d not thought of checking the library because our local branch is very small and doesn’t carry anything other than books, but I do have access to the whole of the citywide stock and I must go in tomorrow and see what they have available

  13. On Amazon and at my library, I’ve found that I can search by the reader. It helps now that I’ve listened to enough audiobooks to develop a preference. Barbara Rosenblat is a reader that I enjoy.

  14. Now that’s something I hadn’t thought about trying, Dani, Thanks for the suggestion.

  15. I loved reading aloud to my son, and did it for a long, long time…perhaps that’s why he was never much of an independent book reader either! (Now that he’s an adult, he reads a lot, however.)

    I completely agree about the importance of the reader in the success of an audiobook. My husband listens to them more than I do, and he also does what Dani suggested – searches for readers he particularly likes.

    I’m so glad the Bears are enjoying Harry Potter. How exciting that they’re about to get their own page…I can’t wait to “meet” them 🙂

  16. A friend of mine brought me audiobooks to keep me a little sane when I had eye surgery and wasn’t allowed to read (for TWO months!). And I caught the habit. I love listening in the car and when I’m getting ready to sleep at night.

    Right now, I’m listening to Tim Curry read the Lemony Snicket books. (Kids books are fun.) Curry’s a GREAT reader!

  17. Becca, I’m sure that whatever else reading intensively to children does it helps to make them readers later on in life. The children I taught would discuss books and bring me ideas about books to read aloud in ways that I don’t see happening in schools today where class reading is so much less common. When we read to children we are saying that reading is something worth spending time on and with luck that’s a lesson they never forget. The Bears will be thrilled if you visit their page. I hope they are polite enough to reply to you, but I’m sure they will. They are very polite Bears, but sometimes get a bit of excited.

  18. Bardic, I would have gone insane! And in your job as well. How did you manage? Do you find you go to sleep when you listen in bed? Still you can always go back the next night, can’t you? Thanks for the tip about Curry. I’ll look out for him.

  19. I really enjoyed the Harry Potter audio books and have not found anything as good since. I am glad that you are healthy and enjoying them!!

  20. BM, I’m glad you enjoyed the HP audio as well. I’m thinking about getting the Philip Pullman ‘His Dark Materials’. Have you heard that?

  21. My favorite audios so far this year have been Olive Kitteridge, The Help, and Unaccustomed Earth.

  22. Ann: I have not heard of His Dark Materials.

  23. His Dark Materials is a trilogy. I think the first is The Golden Compass. Good book! I think it would be good on audio with the right reader.

  24. Joann, I love ‘Olive Kitteridge’. I always think you do a much better job of choosing the Pulitzer than we do with the Booker, although the Booker long-list this year is much more promising than usual. Was there just one reader, or did they use multiple readers to deal with the multiple point of view?

  25. BM, Bardiac is correct. ‘His Dark Materials’ is a fantasy trilogy, although like all the best fantasy it’s asking its readers to do some pretty serious thinking about our own world. In the US the first volume is ‘The Golden Compass’ (the original UK title was ‘Northern Lights’) then there is ‘The Subtle Knife’ and finally ‘The Amber Spyglass’. If you haven’t read them then I can really recommend them, books or audio. The UK audio has the author, Philip Pullman, himself as reader.

  26. Sorry, I’m chiming in so late, but this is my first chance this week to peruse my blog buddies. My children and I spend a lot of time in the car commuting a half hour each way to their schools. We’ve been enjoying audiobooks for quite a few years now. I highly recommend the following unabridged audiobooks (which hopefully you can find at your local library, but definitely will be able to find on

    The Phantom Tollbooth — read by David Hyde Pearce (priceless!)
    The Book Thief — dark themes of WWII Germany handled so compassionately that even my 8-year old bear is relishing our time with this audiobook.
    The Chronicles of Narnia series on Harper’s Audio — Lynn Redgrave, Michael York and Derek Jacobi do some of the readings.
    The Graveyard Book read by the author Neil Gaimman. (We did this book on a long family driving vacation and my husband shot me dark looks when the book opened with a murder, but it all ended so well that we wanted to sit in the car and hear the next chapter even after 12 hours of driving!).

    Good luck with your adventure! Let me know how it goes.

  27. Karen, thank you. I’m going to have an hour long drive each way to University next term and audio books are clearly going to be a very good idea indeed. Anything with Derek Jacobi has to be a winner and I should really try ‘The Graveyard Book’. I find Gaiman difficult to read and this might be the perfect way to get into his work.

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