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In Praise of Audiobooks (and Podcasts)

posted Nov 30, 2012, 10:54 AM by Holloway McCandless   [ updated Dec 22, 2012, 9:57 AM ]

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UPDATE 12/21/12: My review of the audiobook of The Yellow Birds is now available at Shelf Awareness.

After listening to Holter Graham perform The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers as an audiobook I've been thinking about when an audiobook can be as good as, or even better than, reading a book with your own eyeballs. I use "perform" advisedly because Graham seemed to be making a subtle effort to create voices and accents for each character, including young narrator/protagonist Private Bartle, his even younger co-enlistee Private Murphy, and the unforgettable Sergeant Murphy. It's a delicate endeavor, and one that can tumble into hammy-ness, but not in this case, partly because the dialogue in The Yellow Birds is excellent and judiciously deployed, and partly because Graham seemed to get the tone right. Not an easy task in a novel of such delicacy and brutality. He also does well with the direct descriptive prose, I can't say more about how here, because I don't want to pre-poach my review of the audiobook that's pending at Shelf Awareness--when it goes live I will link to it.

Authors vs. Actors as Readers
I later listened to an excellent podcasted interview with Powers (go here to read a review of the podcast and at Litagogo). The author made his narrator a resident of Virginia, as he is. During the interview Powers reads some of his own novel aloud in a neutral American accent, and I found myself missing the southern accent Graham gave Bartle in the audiobook (I have no idea whether it's an authentic Virginia accent or not, but it worked for me). 

Bottom line: listen to the audiobook to have the characters feel real, listen to the podcast to learn more about Powers' real-life experience in Iraq.