aural intimacy

It began long ago. Isn’t that how this starts? Or, perhaps, not so long ago, but still far enough in the past that it’s becoming hazy and dimmer as the years go by. When you read this, those of you who know my voice, do you hear it? Do you hear the inflection, the pauses, the stutters, the sighs? Do you hear the way my voice rises and falls with thought and inspiration and consideration?

I’m sure many of us hear a “voice” when we read. It’s that voice we apply to a reading to give it character, to make it come alive. Often, for me, it’s not my “inside my head” voice, but the voice of some narrator type mixed in with character voices.

Where does this come from? Is it from the foundational readings we had as children when our parents read to us? In my case, I’m not sure. I don’t remember being read to very much. I remember doing a lot of reading, but not being read to.

What I do remember is that sometime in my mid to late 20s when my youngest brother, Shadow, and I worked together, we traveled throughout Arizona quite a bit. During a few of those times, we read Raymond Carver’s short stories to one another. I loved that. It was fun to listen to the stories while we drove to a town down a long highway.

I don’t remember listening to many books on tape. They just didn’t seem that good to me. There was something that was too distant, too removed to get me interested.

That changed when I joined an audio bookclub at my last job. While I didn’t like most of the books we listened to (that’s bound to happen in a bookclub since everyone has such different tastes), I did enjoy books that others recommended to me. The first book I remember listening to that turned me around was Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods. I already owned a few of his other print publications (the Stardust graphical novel, the Sandman series, etc.), but I was blown away by this audio version. I could not stop listening. This book came alive in the same intimate way that the readings with my brother came alive. It was rich and beautiful and amazing.

I figured I would stick with Gaiman for Neverwhere. This time it was even better. Gaiman read it, and was able to introduce the pauses and changes in speed in just the way it should be read. The underworld of London was right there, in my mind. I pictured the London above that I knew, and then translated it, through his storytelling, into the London below. It was, in a word, magical.

I know, I know: magical and Neil Gaiman. It’s not all that original, is it?

But what these two books did for me is open up an entirely new way of enjoying that aural intimacy of books that I had come to love. I have listened to hundreds of books in this format by now (a few favorites: Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake — Campbell Scott is an amazing narrator, Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns (I cried through both of them), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (haunting) and the Hugo Award nominee, multi-authored/multi-narrated METAtropolis).

While I haven’t liked everything I’ve listened to, nor have they all brought me that same intimacy, it is those books that do that allow me to be excited about “reading” again. I will never lose the love I have for holding a book, but I think that there is something to be said for listening, too. It allows you to open your mind to a different way of reading. An aural experience versus an optical experience is different. It is an intimate encounter to have someone reading a book directly to you, as if you were his or her only audience.

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