Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Laughing out loud, and other dangers

I have never really been into 'audio books'. I have tried a few in the past, with mixed results. A P.G. Woodhouse was particularly good company on a long road trip. But most other audio books have been disappointing at best, monotonous and off-putting at worst.

So I wasn't exactly holding my breath for a transformative experience when I started hearing a new book on audio CD today. I have to admit though ... it wasn't half bad! The book I started is called 'A spot of bother'. It is the second novel by Mark Haddon, after the widly entertaining debut The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. The first book was one of the most imaginative debuts in recent times, and was in parts uproariously funny (for those of you who haven't read it ... highly recommended by Brick and Rope!). Which is why I took up A Spot of Bother.

I will write later about the book itself. For now, the medium is my message. An audio book is a strange and quirky thing. Sample these:

Bite-sized chapters: When I sit down to read (by which I mean the traditional, dead tree version), I am almost never going to get up in the middle of a chapter. So before I start a section, I will often look up how long it is, to make sure I have the time to sit and read it through. With an audio book, you can't do that! You don't know what you are taking on. So here I am in the office parking lot, sitting with the engine on, sheepishly looking at the car waiting for my spot, trying to convey in sign language that I just got here, though I am showing no signs of stepping out. Which is where bite-sized chapters help. If the book had any longer chapters that it has, I don't know how I would be able to start listening at all during my short drives to work.

Some books are to immerse in: Unfortunately, you just can't lose yourself in an audio book the way you can with a yellowing-over-time book. There are too many distractions. You have your eyes on the road, trying to overtake that guy who seems to be braking for no apparent reason, sanctimoniously tut-tutting the guy pulled over by a cop, looking (just curious) at the 'gentlemen's club' billboard, .... and you catch "She was standing in the kitchen ..." She? Who is she? Whose kitchen? What did I miss?

Laughing out loud: Books, even funny books, are rarely the laugh-out-loud type. Reading is a private act. Something you do all by yourself. When you find something funny, you smile, maybe chuckle, but rarely laugh out in a full throated laugh. But listening to someone read a book is altogether different. Now someone else is involved in the act ... and sometimes, especially if you are reading the dry Brit humour of Haddon, you laugh out loud. Be careful with that steering wheel there!

Jean or Jeanne?: One of the central charactes in the book is called Jean. I am not sure why, but I spent a lot of time thinking about whether her name is spelt Jean or Jeanne or something else fiendishly concocted. This bothered me. A lot. But maybe that was just me.


  1. Zoy...nice post! funny too. Small quibble - its Wodehouse not Woodhouse.


  2. Aargh! That is embarrassing!

    Glad you liked the post.

  3. I liked this post! You seem to have a knack for matching the tone of your post with that of the book you are reviewing. And by that I mean funny, not that I was listening to your blog through a text to sound software :)

  4. Another thing, I remember reading my first Wodehouse book and contrary to what you describe above, I actually did laugh out aloud many times. I remember my folks wondering what was wrong with me. Makes me want to try an audio book of Wodehouse. And I will definitely try "The Curious Incident...". I am finding it tough to keep up with your recommendations- still on India after Gandhi. I also have Outliers waiting at home now.