Curiosity on Recorded Books

I’m such a lover of books — the kind printed on crisp paper with clear black print that marches across the page as rapidly or as slowly as I choose to read it — that I’ve never listened to a recorded book. At least I hadn’t until my agent sent me two copies of Recorded Books’ Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter on CD. I opened it tentatively, so ignorant about recorded books that I was surprised they come in a binder with a series of discs, each in its own cloth page, like a little album. Impressive, really. When I put it in my CD player, I probably felt the way the first cave woman felt when she built her first fire.

The narrator is accomplished actress Julia Gibson. She has a nice voice, and after getting over the shock of hearing a different voice than the one I have in my head when Dixie speaks, I liked it. I had expected a straight reading, but, as everyone in the world knows except me, actors dramatize recorded books. Sometimes I found the dramatization annoying — Paco shouldn’t have a Spanish accent, nor should the Cuban-American medical examiner — but for the most part the dramatization added to the story.

Now here’s the weird thing: I listened to every word as if I had no idea what was coming next. Even weirder, half the time I truly didn’t know what was coming. Not because I have such a bad memory that I can’t remember what I wrote, but because a heard story is not quite the same as a read story. That’s not surprising, because no two people ever read exactly the same story, even if they follow the same printed words. As we read, we have an internal voice that stresses certain words or phrases, and throws away others. That internal voice differs for each person, so each of us closes a book with a unique “take” on it. Hearing it read to you takes away that internal voice, so you get it the way the reader gets it.

With so many people listening to novels on their iPods now, I wonder if that will change the way we experience stories. Will it cause a homogenizing of meaning, so that every listener will get the same message? Or will the human brain adapt to that as it has adapted to following printed words and put its own personal spin on what it hears? And with our brains as plastic as they are, will things like recorded books actually change the way our synapses and dendrites and all those wondrous things in our heads work? Well, you can see why I don’t get out much, I’m too busy thinking about these kinds of things!

At any rate, Recorded Books

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