Tuesday, May 26, 2009

voices in my head

I had one complaint about Barak Obama's presidential inauguration. The poem, "Praise Song for the Day" was great, but Elizabeth Alexander should not have read her own work. Her reading was dull, lending no interpretation to the poem. I was reminded of the years I judged high school Forensics and would cringe hearing freshman girls rush through a piece, giving it no life, no pause, no passion. I lamented that they should've asked Garrison Keillor to read her poem. He'd have done it justice.

The fact is, some authors have no voice for reading their work.

That said, it's a lovely thing to read a book and have the author's voice resonant in your head. I'm halfway through Frank Deford's book The Old Ball Game. I'm a huge fan of his storytelling in that mellow, expansive way that he has--he's lavish with fancy words and outdated slang and the cadence in his story is perfectly paced and intimate. Reading this book is like sitting next to the man himself in a corner bar, listening to him speak of the old times while sipping a drink. I'm rapt, leaning on my elbows, occasionally forgetting myself while he spins his tale until the bartender asks if I need a refill or the TV behind the bar switches from ballgame to commercial.

I've heard many writers read their work--some are brilliant at it, projecting emotion, their voice adding another layer of meaning to their work. Frank McCourt comes immediately to mind. I was charmed by his reading of 'Tis. It's always lovely to hear David Sedaris, Billy Collins, Lesley Kagen, Jim Heynen and Michael Perry. JK Rowling does a nice job bringing her books to life, as does Alice Hoffman. Toni Morrison and Maudy Benz read so badly that I never want to read more on my own.

Chime in, readers--who are the hit or miss author voices in your experience?


  1. Can you believe I've never listened once to an audio book?

    No clue other than what I hear on the radio. So I guess I have to go for our secret ugly boyfriend, GK.

  2. Hmmm... good question - hard answer. In general I don't know that it's a good idea for someone to read their own stuff - the person is often too close to the work to have the right perspective. Kind of how I have to get someone else to proof anything I write - I've looked at it too much.

    However, you bringing up David Sedaris is the perfect example that disproves my theory. Because with all of his books I hear his voice so clearly in my head as I read them and it makes them even better.

  3. I don't listen to audiobooks or the radio, so my experience here is not great. I have heard David Sedaris speak and was very surprised at first -- even though he says in his books that he has a high-pitched voice, I was still surprised.

    Of course Garrison Keillor has an incredible voice.

    I would have like to have heard Roald Dahl's voice -- I can only imagine how he would sound reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

  4. I have read all of Jill Conner Browne's books (Sweet Potato Queens'Book of Love, God Save the Sweet Potato Queens, The Sweet Potato Queens' Big Ass Cookbook) and I have heard her speak as well. She writes just like she talks...and it was nice to know that I had "heard" her voice in my own head as I read her books before I ever actually heard her speak in person.

  5. I'm not an audio book girl. Who knows why? But I can answer your question another way...

    Whose voice is so good, they should write a book, just so they can record an audiobook?

    Answer: Antonio Banderas

    That's all I've got.

    Oh, except... short story re-read of the weekend was the incomparable The Catbird Seat by James Thurber -- an old favorite.

    - Julia

  6. Roald Dahl's children's stories are great read by him. Bill Bryson takes some getting used to. David Tennant is an actor, not an author, as far as I know, but anything read by him is brilliant. Try to get your boys "How to train your dragon" read by him.

  7. LOVE Garrison Keillor. I enjoy reading his books; I hear his voice in every line.

    As for voice, it's strange to hear my son "reading" my blog. He uses a screenreader software, and it's so strange to hear my words in this mechanical voice!

  8. Oh my husband absolutely loves Garrison. I love David Sedaris - we get a wide range of stories and deliveries that way.

  9. Yes! Garrison Keillor is fantastic.

  10. Never heard an audio book...(other than the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper when I was a kid...and THAT was on a record album).

    Still Garrison Keillor reading Alexander's poem would have been fantastic.

    Also, I was just having this convo with someone last week...if ever I am published, I would SUCK BUTT at reading my stuff.

    So major con to being published.

    Of course, there's 8,000 pros...

  11. I do love Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris. I'm so glad to hear that you felt the same way about Elizabeth Alexander--I thought maybe it was just me.

  12. Dylan Thomas reading "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" (a quick Web search will take you to the audio). He's so MASTERFUL.

    I appreciate very much your descriptions in this post, esp that of Deford. Excellent!

  13. Margaret Maron does a great job on her Deborah Knott series. And I thought Stephen King reading his book on writing was more meaningful in his voice.

    I agreed on the inauguration reading. Now Keillor would have knocked that one out of the park!

  14. The kids and I listened to Eragon and the reading was so spectactular (Gerald Doyle- not sure who he is) the kids were completely let down when they saw the movie version starring Jeremy Irons. To add to it, the film interpretation definitely lent itself more to the B-movie category.


Spill it, reader.