Saturday, April 14, 2007

Roger Recommends

Le siege de Paris, by Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier

For those who want to appear well read without the hassle of reading or those who can't stomach the vast wasteland that is broadcast radio, I'm happy to let you in a solution that's quite bearable: audiobooks.

I've just finished listening to the audiobook version of The Judgment of Paris by Ross King, a history of French art in the 1860-70s and the birth of French Impressionism. I was surprised how much of the content I remembered from a college art history class, but even more surprised by how much I'd forgotten about the political history of the period, including the Franco-Prussian War and the Siege of Paris.

It's not the book I'd pick up if I saw it in a bookstore or library, but it was an entertaining "listen" and easy to follow in audio format despite the cast of hundreds (perhaps because I was familiar with the story and some of its protagonists).

The main drawbacks with audiobooks is that they're significantly more expensive than regular books and not as versatile. You can't skim them or search them via an index. And the quality of the readers and performances varies widely -- something you don't know until you listen. I've been borrowing them on CD from the public library, which eliminates the first drawback, but means that the selection is fairly limited and often depressing. (Think Steven King and Mary Friggin' Clark, and scratched disks.) But ocassionally I come across something worth listening to, like Gore Vidal's Point to Point Navigation, read by the author, or Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, read by Simon Prebble. (Even something I'd surely never read, such Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, was made enjoyable in audio through the performance of Lenny Henry.)

Late last year, when I was driving to the hospital daily and at odd hours, these things kept me awake and away from driving into a bridge abutment. What more can you ask for from a CD?

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