Hello, my name is Verity and I am bad with silence. I am not good at being left alone with my own thoughts. No idea why, but the fact remains that I need something to listen to when I’m walking somewhere, or trying to go to sleep, or taking a shower. As a teenager, I listened to hours of news and sport radio as I did my homework. When I did my year in France as a student, it took two months for my brain to get good enough at French that I could go to sleep listening to French talk radio.* These days, now I work in news, I tend to want to listen to something that’s not to do with the job when I’m on my way home or trying to go to sleep. So audiobooks have become my friend – I’ve had an Audible subscription since I first started doing the mega train commute, and now my one book a month subscription has evolved into a big old library.
But as I looked at my collection the other day, I realised that it’s mostly made up of books that I’ve already read, and that I listen to the same books over and over again. And I got to thinking about why that might be.
Firstly I think it’s because I listen for comfort. Some of my audiobooks are like old friends. Novels that I love that I can re-read by listening to them at times when I can’t be physically reading a book. If I’m going to sleep, I don’t want to be surprised, or scared – and I don’t want to lose my place if I fall asleep before the off timer runs out. So I’ve probably listened to Dorothy L Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon (the third audiobook I got from Audible) 100 times in the four years that I’ve had it. I’m not exaggerating. When I was little, I had this story tape of Paddington Goes To Town (I can’t believe it’s on YouTube – it’s made me all nostalgic) – and my mum used to joke that if you set her going and then turned the tape off, she would be able to keep going until the end. I think I’ve got to the same stage with Busman’s Honeymoon. I’ve listened to the various Peter Wimsey mysteries so many times, that when I read the book now I hear Ian Carmichael’s voice in my head. I have one (Murder Must Advertise) that isn’t read by him and I’ve listened to it maybe three times – because the voice isn’t right. Instead I listen to the BBC radio adaptation of it, which is shorter, but has Carmichael in the cast playing Wimsey.
The second reason is because some of the time, I’m not giving my audiobook my full attention. If I’m listening on the train, I’m probably reading a proper book at the same time. I’m listening to the book with half an ear – but when I get to where I’m going I’ll stop reading and listen to it properly – and if I already know the book’s plot I won’t be confused because I’ve missed a major plot point. If I’ve got an audiobook I haven’t already read, I’ll make sure that the first time I listen to it I do it when I can give it my full attention – like when I’m washing up, or doing the housework – or walking somewhere. Once I’ve listened the whole way through, if I liked it, it’ll go into rotation.
Of course this preference for things I’ve already read brings with it its own problems. My sister and I hated the first couple of Harry Potter films – because the actors were all wrong for the visions we had in our head and that happens to me a lot with book adaptations on TV and on film. Audiobooks are slightly better, because I can keep the picture in my head of what the characters look like – it’s just the voice that’s got to be right. So my Miss Marple audiobooks are read by Joan Hickson (who’s not as good on audiobook as she is on TV, but she’s still better than any of the alternatives) and my Murder on the Orient Express is read by David Suchet (it’s actually the same version that we used to listen to on tape in the car on the way to Bournemouth/Devon for our holidays all those years ago). But sometimes the voices are Wrong. In the early days of my audible membership I got a lot of Georgette Heyers – read by various people – and had issues with a few (notably These Old Shades) because the readers were just somehow inexplicably Not Right.
But for all those occasions there are some narrators that are just Right – take Stephen Briggs’ Discworld narrations. He’s perfect. He makes the Discworld sound even better on audiobook than it does when you read it on the page. He gets it right. Dwarves are always Welsh in my head now. There was a slight slip in the audiobook of Raising Steam, where Adorabelle Dearheart’s accent has changed slightly from the previous two books she features in – but you’d only notice that if you’re like me and listen to one of the Moist books at least once a month! I have one of the Nigel Planer Discworlds – and apart from the fact that it’s a really poor cassette to digital transfer (I complained) – it’s just not the same.
I’ve been experimenting recently – with a couple of the Miss Fisher Audiobooks (I get a special rate because I already own the kindle copies) and some of the abridged Inspector Alleyn books. The jury is still out on the Phryne ones – I’m yet to listen to one with a lot of men in it – and I’ve discovered that although I prefer Benedict Cumberbatch’s Alleyn narration, the other options are ok too – partly because the series covers so much time and has so may different characters. I’m debating whether to try the Daisy Dalrymple audiobooks and the Gail Carriger ones too, but haven’t plucked up the courage yet.
I also have a collection of non-fiction books that are helpful when we go on holiday – The Boy is also bad with silence, and on those occasions he’ll demand something to listen to to go to sleep to. I have a selection of non fiction for that purpose – and some Agatha Christies that he likes. It’s also become a tradition that if we’re driving on holiday we have to listen to some of the brilliant Cabin Pressure – which in case you’ve never encountered it is a radio comedy about a charter airline starring Benedict Cumberbatch (again) – on the way. I dare you to resist this level of genius
or this in fact
Anyway. Back to the audiobooks. I’m open to recommendations – what else should I be listening to? Is there anything I should be avoiding? And does anyone else have a problem with being left alone with their own thoughts?!
Background noise to the composition of this post has been provided by the Overture to Gypsy, Murder on the Orient Express Suite by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, a medley of the incidental music from the James Bond films, Patti LuPone singing Anything Goes and this beautiful version of Ol’ Man River from last year’s Last Night of the Proms:
*Music doesn’t help me go to sleep. My brain needs something to think about to stop me from overthinking things. I can’t explain it better than that.