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In Praise of the Spoken Word

March 6, 2012

Townie by Andre Dubus III

Fewer authors are touring these days, and fewer are reading from their work on the stage or on audio. The idea is that we should read books in the privacy of our own home and ask the author – when we have the pleasure of meeting him or her – about her writing habits, where he gets his ideas, and how she came up with this character or that. When we pop in an audio book, we more often than not hear the voice of a movie star or stage actor reciting the author’s prose.

But after stumbling this week across this wonderful 1959 recording of Flannery O’Connor reading from A Good Man is Hard to Find at Vanderbilt University, I’m reminded of how – like poetry – some writing is best read out loud in the author’s own voice.

Listening to O’Connor read dialogue especially (pausing for the audience laughter in some places) with her wonderful Southern drawl and her gift of perfect intonation and timing, I find myself eager to listen to more by-author recordings. I want to know how Patricia Highsmith sounded reading Strangers on a Train, or Carson McCullers reading from The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

While traveling to and from Florida for Summer visits to see our grandmother as a kid, I remember listening with my brothers and mother in the car to a recording of Jim Lovell and others reading from his book, Lost Moon. While the story needs no embellishment to be gripping, hearing it told in his own raspy, distinctive voice is what made the book stay with me for as long as it did.

Two books I’ve been meaning to read, and am told are excellent as audio, are Andre Dubus III’s reading of Townie and David Sedaris’ classic Me Talk Pretty One Day (I’ve heard Sedaris tell his Christmas stories enough times on NPR – doubling over laughing every time he recounts his threat to a mother waiting in line with her child to sit on Santa’s lap – that I’m shocked I haven’t yet taken in the latter).

Better yet – I hope to catch some authors when they next pass through my city later this year on book tour, authors like Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue) and Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior). If those don’t suit you, find out when Jamaica Kincaid (See Now Then), Martin Amis (Lionel Asbo), Paul Auster (Winter Journal), Irvine Welsh (Skagg Boys) and Naomi Wolf (Vagina: A New Biography) will be in your area. Don’t miss the chance – if you love their writing – to hear your favorite authors read from their work, live and in-person.

Have you stumbled upon a clip from an author reading, or author-read audio book, that you love?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. V Linn permalink
    June 15, 2012 7:34 pm

    I think you are very lucky to have stumbled upon author-read audio books that are enjoyable. I’ve tried to get through several and, within only a few minutes, find myself longing for a “professional” reader or actor – I have not finished any of them. Unfortunately, just because someone is a wonderful writer, and may even do a decent job at book fairs reading short selections from their books, it doesn’t mean they are great reader. I will check out the books you’ve mentioned though.

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