Thursday, December 5, 2013

Just shut up and tell me a story

By Steve Weddle

The first ebook I read was a Nelson Demille John Corey novel. I'd been reading the paperback, but found myself at work, nearly on lunch, without the book. So I went to Fictionwise or one of those sites, downloaded the file, then synced it up with my Palm Pilot.  I hadn't had any reason to read an ebook before. Once I did, I was hooked. And now that you can get ebooks on a Kobo app through your local indie, that's just even cooler.

When a friend of mine and I drove cross-country after undergraduate, we got a box of CDs from a truck stop, listened to a Star Trek book (probably Imzadi) through Idaho, Wyoming, a little further along the road with that giant Crazy Horse through the window, and returned the box of CDs to another truck stop in the state of Iowa, where people were terrible, not nice, and awful. (Thanks, Iowa.)

I enjoyed listening to the book on CD, and now, 20 years later, still listen to books in the car. But it has to be the right book.

The other day I was listening to Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (pictured). I'd loved the Wolves book she'd written and have read those stories quite a few times. I own the Vampires book, but hadn't had a chance to read it. So I snagged the audio at the library. What a dumb idea.

See, I love the way she writes. The sentences.  I like to see the way she puts a story together. Doing her book on audio was like listening to a Rembrandt. I was doing it all wrong. I wasn't getting what she was doing.

One day long ago I started a Dan Brown book. I've explained on this blog somewhere how I think he is a good storyteller, though not what we'd call a writer. I mean, I've re-read a Dan Brown sentence, but not for the same reason I re-read a Karen Russell sentence. I don't think this would come as news to Dan Brown or his 174-million fans. And believe me, Mr. Brown cares as much about what I think of his sentences as I care about that farting dog nine houses over.

I've found that I can't listen to just any audio book. I do well with non-fiction, because I feel as if I'm learning something and don't give two poops about the sentences themselves. I care about the overall story of how the Mona Lisa was stolen or salt became so popular.

I'm listening now to Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation. It's jumpy in the right spots. It has humor. It has that learning stuff. For me, it's the perfect kind of book to listen to while I drive to work.

Tell me a story. Drop some learning on me. Just. please, while I'm driving down the road, don't distract me too much. Don't make me want to pull over, hit the 30-second refresh button, and listen again to that line you just sculpted, that beautiful line about seeing the future of our lives hanging like a lemon from a tree. Just not that kind of writing. Good grief. I have to get to work on time, you know?


Anonymous said...

I love audio. And if a line is done right, it reads beautifully out loud, which goes back to that old saw about revising: Read it out loud if you're not sure.

On the other hand, if it offends the ear, I'm just as likely to delete it or hit "Return" if it's a library audio book.

Holly West said...

We listened to THE SHINING on our 70 million mile trip up to Oregon last week. One of the things I told Mick was that I felt like I was learning something about writing by listening to it--which isn't to say that it was the best written of King's books, but that I couldn't help paying attention to the way he'd structured the story and developed the characters.

Scott D. Parker said...

There are some audiobooks where, with the right narrator, you can get something greater than the sum of the parts. The Jim Dale-narrated Harry Potter books come to mind. Also Wil Wheaton reading Scalzi's Redshirts, a Star Trek homage and "Wesley Crusher" brings just a bit more bite to the words. I also enjoyed Johnny Heller reading the first three Richard Castle novels because he had a certain Nathan Fillion-type quality to his voice.