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© Rakhesh Sasidharan

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Audiobooks

I love Audible and audiobooks but I notice that off late I am less enthusiastic about it. The last good audiobook I enjoyed was “City of Thieves” and that itself was found after skipping a lot of books in my library. Similarly since then I have skipped many books. Am not sure if I skipped most of these because I didn’t like the story or because I wasn’t much a fan of the narration.

Thing is the narration in most of these books I skipped is great but just not to my taste. For instance I listened to “The Hobbit” (which I’ve already read) but gave up soon coz the narrator Rob Inglis was amazing but I just didn’t want this much “input” from him. He did all the voices perfectly, it kind of took distracted me (for lack of a better word). I would have loved it if he were just reading the book and less focused on the various voices – that way he would leave something for my mind to imagine, but not my mind was a mere passenger in his bus ride (not sure if that analogy made sense). I think that’s an especial issue I have with audiobooks in general. With a book I know I have to focus and give in to the book – since I am reading my eyes and my mind is concentrated on the act, and I visualize things and have the world and characters built up in my head. But when listening only one of my senses is engaged while my eyes are free to wander around and get distracted and think of other things, and also there is less character build up in my head. Added to that if the narrator does a more than perfect job of emoting and doing different voices, there’s pretty much nothing left for me to do except just listen and I am not fully focussed or into the story. I am much better of watching a TV adaptation of it as they go one step further and show me things too.

This is the same issue I had with Stephen King’s “The Mist” recently read by the amazing Will Patton. He was too perfect, inflicting his voice with various emotions such as fear and sadness etc. I felt it took something away from my pleasure of reading.

Then there’s some audiobooks where the editing or quality of the recording isn’t great. For instance “Altered Carbon” read by Todd McLaren which seems to be a good book (am reading the physical version) but the quality was so horrible it distracted me too much.

Maybe it’s my mood of late or maybe I am just moving on – I don’t know, but I am less excited about audiobooks. I hope it’s just a case of me not coming across stuff I like, because I do love audiobooks and I have listened to many great books on it and discovered a few authors I wasn’t aware of. So I don’t really want to give up audiobooks, I just want to be able to use it properly.

I think one reason many people prefer audiobooks is for this reason that I don’t like it. :) Audiobooks lets you consume a book while doing other things side by side. I wouldn’t read a physical book in my morning commute for instance coz of all the noise – I would want peace and quite. Yet I can do an audiobook coz it’s in my ear. Similarly there are people who listen to audiobooks while doing household chores or washing dishes etc. – something which I too tried initially but left it coz I don’t want to read a book like it’s some background music or radio. I would like to get lost in reading a book, if I can (but one can’t coz of the lack of time and also coz as I get older I find my eyes are unable to concentrate for too long on reading).

Anyhow, that’s enough audiobook rant for today. Am listening to Tim Robbins narrate “Fahrenheit 451” now. I started it yesterday and he’s a great narrator but I started feeling sleepy and left it. Got to see how it goes today. He doesn’t do too much voices (not yet at least).

I listened to “Brave New World” two weeks ago and left it quarter way. Great narration, but irritating voices. And I didn’t get too hooked on the book either. Yeah it’s dystopian and all that, but didn’t catch my fancy. Surprising considering it’s a popular book, and also coz I usually like dystopian novels. That said two of the three previous dystopian novels I read/ listened to, I mixed it with audiobook and reading. “1984” and “A Handmaid’s Tale” – I alternated between reading and listening; while “Animal Farm” was purely listening (but the story had a faster pace so maybe it didn’t matter much that I didn’t read). So maybe that’s why I enjoyed those books more, and if I were to read “Brave New World” I might enjoy it. (Or maybe not. I was hooked on to “1984” and “A Handmaid’s Tale” from the start when listening, and I started reading them so I could go through it faster – so I guess I simply wasn’t a fan of “Brave New World”).

Speaking of reading I finished “Alias Grace” recently. Had loved the TV show so I bought the book when in London last month. Amazing book. I simply loved it. I bought the audiobook too and tried reading it side by side but I was having so much fun just reading the book that I returned the audiobook. Now I am reading “Altered Carbon”.

Random audiobooks post

(I found this post in my drafts. Think I started typing it some weeks back on my phone and then forgot about it as I got side-tracked. Didn’t want to delete so here it goes).

I’ve been listening to a lot of audiobooks recently which seem to be generally well received but for some reason I don’t like them. In fact I have had to return so many of these. Makes me feel odd that I have different tastes to the majority. That doesn’t seem right.

For instance the “Bobiverse” trilogy by Dennis E Taylor. I finished the first book but it was a bit of a drag. And I listened to one chapter of the second book and couldn’t take it.

Or the “Three Body Problem” trilogy by Liu Cixin. I struggled through till about midway and then couldn’t take it anymore. But the book has such amazing reviews and is widely well received.

Then there was “Ready Player One” (left quarter way) and more recently the “Fear the Sky” trilogy (left midway of first book).

Somehow I don’t feel the excitement that everyone else seems to feel with these books. I don’t connect with them for some reason. It’s not that I don’t like sci-fi, it’s just that I didn’t feel so much for these books or like their plots or pace. (Oh and don’t forget “Gateway” and “Calculating God” – though the latter was due to the narrator. “Gateway” was good till about 2/3rd when I lost interest).

I think the right narrator matters a lot when it comes to audiobooks. Kind of obvious I guess, which is why Audible even lets you return books you don’t like. Recently I have been listening to a lot of James Bond audiobooks. I started off with “Casino Royale” which was read by Dan Stevens, and was amazing! Then I moved on to the rest – mostly the ones read by Simon Vance (who again is amazing!) and also “Moonraker” read by Bill Nighy (a great listen!). Then I listened to “Diamonds are Foreover” by Damian Lewis and that was “mehhhh”. I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t like the narration or coz the plot was boring. But the next two in the series, again read by Simon Vance were quite good, and just recently I completed “Goldfinger” read by Hugh Bonneville and that was superb both in terms of plot and narration.

Similarly I love the Wil Wheaton + John Scalzi combination. Great stories & perfect narration. Or Will Patton’s narration of Stephen King’s “Mr. Mercedes” trilogy – blew me away! I thought I’d love anything read by Will Patton as he was just great. But I listened to “Deliverance” and while I still loved the narration the story wasn’t enough to keep me hooked on. I’ll have to see if I can find some other Stephen King + Will Patton combination.

Another favorite narrator is Simon Prebble. I think except one book (“Mrs. Queen Takes the Train” – which I found boring but again, unsurprisingly, has great reviews on Audible) I have finished anything he has read.

Other narrators that I like (but I have sometimes had to stop listening to midway coz the stories didn’t hook me enough) are Ray Porter (especially his Raymond Chandler audiobooks) and also Luke Daniels.

Update: Oops, how could I forget George Guidall. His reading of the Walt Longmire series is something I can never forget. Sadly though, since he was so amazing in that and now his voice is forever associated in my head with Walt Longmire and the characters of those books whenever I hear him in any other setting I imagine Walt Longmire. Which is funny coz now I am listening to him narrate “Jar City”, which is an Icelandic murder mystery, and it’s so hard to get over the feeling of Walt Longmire and his cast somehow being in Iceland and having Icelandic names. :)

Thoughts on leaving things midway

When I was a kid I used to always finish whatever book I was reading. Once I reached college and was generally lost in life my reading habit took a turn for the worse and many a times I didn’t manage to finish what I began reading. I took this as a negative thing and much later when I became relatively less lost in life I started reading avidly again and tried to finish whatever I started. I didn’t read every book I bought – mostly because I was still sort of lost in life, but also because the books I started reading since college were mostly non-fiction and I just never got to reading them all due to changing interests. However, if I started a book, I did my best to complete it especially if it was fiction. 

I don’t know if this is a good decision though. I don’t have an answer either ways – I am just unsure. The reason why I take this habit of “not finishing a book” as bad is coz that’s what gets drilled into your head. If you start something but don’t complete, it’s generally frowned upon. Plus I read this essay as a child where the author said that young people do more coz they don’t have a choice – they are forced to do from school or parents etc and so they do what is told even if they don’t like, and generally manage to do something of it – but as we grow older we have choices and so become spoilt/ pampered and just give up at the first time something doesn’t go our way. 

I get these points but nowadays I also feel that maybe wasting time finishing something just coz we have to finish it is probably just a waste of time. Yes it’s an accomplishment that you don’t leave things half way, but maybe it’s better to just restrict this philosophy to stuff that matters? Like say if you are a person who does a half job of everything – then yes, not good! But maybe you try and do a good job of most things, and mostly succeed too, so perhaps it is ok to ignore it when it comes to some areas (such as reading)? I don’t know. 

If I am watching a TV show or movie and leave it midway I don’t chide myself. But I do when it comes to reading a book. That’s because reading a book is more effort than watching something, but end of the day both are entertainment after all. If the objective is to be entertained then why must I give more importance and suffering when it comes to reading?

One reason why I am thinking all this now is due to Audible. They have their Great Listen guarantee wherein if you don’t like an audiobook you can return it. That’s amazing coz sometimes I just don’t like an audiobook – not coz of the narrator or narration or quality etc, I just don’t like it. But since Audible is giving me permission to return it back I don’t have any guilt that oh I bought something and will be wasting money not listening to it. If I am not enjoying it, I can return it – period. There’s nothing Bad involved. Wish similar programs existed for eBooks too!

Recently for instance I started reading two books. “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared” and also “The Winter Fortress”. 

“The 100 Year” is great in movie form, and sort of interesting in reading form. I guess coz that sort of content translates well to a movie structure with good score and camera work etc; while if you are reading it all the coincidences and luck get trite after a while. 

“The Winter Fortress” is a great non-fiction book about the efforts during World Wor II to destroy a factory in Norway that produced heavy water (used in making nuclear bombs). I read about a third of it and it was a great read. I didn’t know most of it. Then I got side tracked with some other stuff (father in law passing away) and I lost the flow. Now I am trying to get back into it and not in the mood coz I simply have lost the flow. I tried to cheat by purchasing the audiobook version but a) I am still not managing to get into the mood and b) the narrator wasn’t that great (I didn’t like his voice). But I was able to return the audiobook thanks to Audible and so felt no guilt, but I had a heavy heart deciding what to do about the eBooks. Finally I decided it was pointless wasting more time with these two books and so decided to move on. And thought I’d write this post too putting my thoughts down. :)

Part of me feels bad at leaving these two books midway. But (a larger) part of me is relieved at moving on coz I would just have been depressed trying to get “entertained” with these books and not getting anywhere. 

Recently I also finished hearing James Franco’s narration of Stephen King’s “The Dark Zone”. This book was nothing like I expected – coz it was quite detailed and the overall plot was simple but what mattered was the details and descriptions and thoughts etc – and while I struggled to finish through it, I didn’t let go because it was manageable. I knew it was only a case of me expecting something else, but the book was well written and narrated and I could hold on till the end. Sometimes it’s worth it; sometimes (like now) it isn’t. Just got to make a case by case decision I think rather than some overarching “policy”.