W2W4 is shortspeak for “what to watch for.” This can refer to movies, TV, or just about any pop culture event coming in the future.
After reading this piece by actor/writer Ian Michael Black in the Nov. 22 NY Times Sunday Book Review I got to thinking about how we listen to what used to be known, back in the day, as “books on tape.” Now you can download them to your iPod or smart phone. (How does the library delete them from my devices when the loan period expires? It’s like they’re witches!)
The Times featured a few other audiobook reviews but you would never know it because none of the addressed the “audio” part; they could have simply been about the print editions. Black, however, described the extra enjoyment he took because the book — Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions — was narrated by John Malkovich. To be accurate, the credit on the cover states “Performed by…,” which is in itself interesting.
Personally, I’ve almost always enjoyed listening to books (always the unabridged versions) as read/narrated/performed by the author. Who better to know what he or she wants the work to sound like? But at what point does the choice of narrator become a distraction? Malkovich is arguably one of the best actors of this generation. Can you listen to his rendering of the story with in his unique voice and not be somehow caught up in his oratorical skills?
There are several award-winner reader/narrators who do this as their livelihood, such as Scott Brick, narrator for the audio versions of Leigh Montville’s Ted Williams: The Life of an American Hero and George Vecsey’s Stan Musial: An American Life, who shared his thoughts in this Bookshelf Conversation several years ago. Do the same words read by someone of a different “stature” than Malkovich impart a different experience?
Several years ago, I listened to the audio version of The Great American Novel by Philip Roth, as performed by James Daniels. To be honest, as much as I loved reading the book — one of the underrated baseball novels, IMO — I did not enjoy listening to it. I thought the narrator made some odd choices in his voicework and his volume was often too loud.
But getting back to my original premise: if you’re going to write about an audiobook, I think it’s imperative for the critic to discuss the aural as well as the literary qualities; otherwise it’s just a plain old book review.