Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another reason I love my iPod

I discoverd podcasts last week. I'd heard of them before but I finally decided I wanted options besides the two thousand songs already on my iPod to listen to on my morning walks. So my husband showed me how to download podcasts.

Oh, boy.

I think I picked, like, 18 in a thirty second period while my iPod whimpered. I picked up podcasts from NPR Story Corps and Sunday Puzzle, Grammar Girl, The Writer's Block, Great Moments in History, The Word Nerds, This American Life, and 60 Second Psych. To name a few.

One of the more interesting podcasts was called Escape Pod. I've only heard it the once now but it sounds like it's this guy picking and then reading interesting short stories. On the day I dropped in, the short story was about a Godzilla-like monster terrorizing the east coast. It was an allegory for the cancer simultaneously ravaging his mother's lungs. The story itself was okay but it was the first time in a long time I'd listened to narrated fiction. That was the interesting part to me.

My husband loves audio books. I've listened to a fair amount of them. There are some really well done ones out there and I enjoy them on a long road trip because I can't actually read in a car. (Total bummer). I've also heard some that have been not so great. Mostly, though, I like them. I just don't think they're a replacement for the actual written words. If I hear a recording of a story I've read, the audio version always serves to illustrate how well written the story is to begin with.

This happened quite a bit when I was teaching eighth grade English. We had audio versions of certain stories like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Monkey's Paw" with creepy British narrators that were pretty cool. But then we had a story called "Raymond's Run" by Toni Cade Bambara that I absolutely loved. It was about a little black girl in the Bronx named Squeaky who has a big mouth but an even bigger talent for running. It's a little slice of her life, her conflicts with the other girls, her impatience with phonies, and her determination to be the best. She's whip smart and tough talking and the author draws her character so vividly that I hear Squeaky's voice in my head. The narrator on the CD does a great job with everything except one scene. It's Squeaky smarting off to some mean girls and every time I taught the story, I had to stop the CD and do the part myself because I just knew how it was supposed to go. I grew up with girls like this and the narrator just wasn't sassy enough.

As I listened to the podcast, I was interested in the narrator's choices for the short story, wondering if that's the voice that the author intended his work to have. But that's because the story was okay. In a really strong piece, there's no question in my mind. The author writes so distinctly, I know without question whether the narrator is getting it right. The author's voice is so clear that it's almost impossible to get it wrong.

That's good writing.


charrette said...

My husband loves audio books too. Especially on long trips. I think of them more like less-entertaining movies, in the sense that they usually fall short of the actual book. Sometimes they actually put me to sleep. I tune out. There are exceptions. Almost anything by Merchant Ivory, for example. And when they succeed they're amazing. But I'll take the actual book and the narration in my head any day. I especially loved what you said here: The author writes so distinctly I know without question whether the narrator is getting it right. The author's voice is so clear that it seems almost impossible to get it wrong.

That's good writing.

Kimberly said...

I'm going to go work out.

I get an ipod as soon as I hit 180 pounds. Just 4.6 more to go...

Amy said...

I teach eighth grade English, and we read "Raymond's Run" as well. Until last year I had the audio cassette that had the terrific reading of the story. Now I can't seem to find where I put that cassette, and I can't find an audio version anywhere on the web.