The audiobook lottery

As a guy who has foolishly deluded himself into thinking he might one day write a book of his own, it is important for me to read as much as I can. In days gone by this might have been easier but these days it is hard to find the time to read anything.

Casual reading consists of three magazines; Spectator, RICS Business and Newsweek. The latter being a spare copy that a colleague keeps being sent despite having a subscription for only one and was traded for a spare copy of the Michael Jackson ‘This is It’ DVD. Free market economy and all that. My weekly Spectator subscription lies unread as far back as mid January and I’ve only managed to catch up that far by being extremely ruthless about which articles I’m going to read and which pages get turned over. Unfortunately, even by refusing to read any of the UK political articles I’m only cropping 25% of the content and the remaining 75% is just as hard to pass by as it always is so with luck I’ll manage to catch up sometime in the summer. The RICS mag is so mind-numbingly boring that I have to insert acupuncture needles and play tunes with my frontal lobes before I’m able to open the thing! Anyway, the point is that I’m not even getting through the easy stuff, let alone any ‘serious’ reading.

The closest I get to reading anything serious is via audiobooks that I can listen to in the car on the way to and from the office or on longer trips. Of course, listening on long trips by air and in hotels is going to be tough since some bast*rd stole my mp3 but such trips do now afford more time for catching on printed media at least. I get the books from the other side of the river, a public library in Praga Południe. I started going there when they ‘outsourced’ the British Council library but have since found better English books in the basement foreign languages section than in the British Council section. I need to check out a closer library, the big one on Dobra perhaps?

The choice is limited. They have perhaps three shelves with maybe 20-30 on each shelf. The range is not expanding and I’ve already listened to a good percentage of the ones I might enjoy, add to that the fact that some of them (those from a factory on Venus that have a weird alien coating applied that instead of playing the disc it just sucks out your brain cells and uses them as a sandwich spread back on the home planet) cannot be played on any CD player I own. This limited choice has become very apparent with the last four books I took out.

One can be put down to simply a very poor sleeve description. “Shadows in the Twilight” by Henning Mankell was selected because I’ve enjoyed one or two ‘Wallander’ detective things he’s written and the title sounded vaguely mystery genre. I knew it was a bad choice when some Australian bozo started narrating like he was auditioning for a job as a client relations officer at Disneyworld. After half a disc I had to give up on it and now having checked the website I find it’s a book for ‘youth & kids’. So much for Henning.

The next had a lot of promise as it was written and narrated by Garrison Keillor and was another in the long Lake Wobegon series. I just read a review of “Pontoon” in The Times and it starts by saying that in arty circles, to admit to liking Garisson’s work is very uncool. So I guess that makes me uncool. I like his dry observational comedy style and always find plenty to amuse me in the books I’ve read so far. Unfortunately, Pontoon was trying hard to change my mind. I managed to get to the end of the thing, but only just. I actually gave up on it at least twice but went back for the lack of time to get to the library and find something better. It’s just a bit slow and preoccupied with death. I suppose the author is getting on in years now, I estimate about 65 when the book was written, and whilst perhaps, naturally enough, reflecting on his own maker-meeting decided to jot it all down. It is a good book with some great passages but it’s very hard work.

Kathy Reichs came next with another of her ‘Bones’ things, this one called “Devil Bones” because it mentions voodoo at least three times. Again, I’ve got through a couple of her books before with no adverse side-effects but I think my cup now brimmeth over. The formula wears thin, the story wasn’t great and I’m tired of her habit of using phrases like ‘chin-jabbed’, ‘belt-hooked’, ‘phone-slammed’, ‘pocket-dunked’ and so on. I’m tired of her relationship with Ryan Whatsisname and of all the long winded explanations of autopsy stuff.

The nail in the coffin of my recent selections, the coup de grâce to end all coups de grâces was James Patterson’s “Cross”. Apparently part of a series of books about a guy called Alex Cross who for reasons unknown, although one assumes he was very bad in a previous life, finds himself to be a magnet for every nasty psychopath this side of Washington. Bad guys come along, murder his family, slice-up, rape and generally menace hundreds of innocent characters and all in the most awful literary style you could possibly imagine! I gave up on this one after half a disc but have been forced to come back by my continued inability to find the time to cross the river and give it back to library-lady. It is marginally, only marginally, better than listening to Lady Gaga on the radio but it is sucking the life out of me and I really HAVE to get rid of the thing tomorrow.

There’s something about this Amercian sensational writing that is attractive to people for whom English is not their first language. A Danish friend of mine, very smart guy in many ways, loves the stuff. He keeps passing on the odd tip about a good book that on further inspection turns out to be another James Patterson type thriller, the kind that uses a vocab of about 50 words for the entire book and half of those are four letter words. I’ve tried slipping him a little of the good stuff but none of it sticks, he keeps coming back to the quick fix. Very sad. I could maybe forgive the crass writing if the story had some merit, Dan Brown for example, but they don’t even have that. The way they are written is as bad as the story they tell. If people can get these things published and sell them by the tens of thousands then I’m seriously wasting my time sitting at this desk and shuffling emails around!

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5 thoughts on “The audiobook lottery

  1. I actually bought a horrible book at an airport book store that was lauded as being a New York Times Bestseller. I gave it more than enough chance to vindicate itself but really wanted (and nearly did) to throw it in the plastic bag that the flight attendant brought around. I really hated being trapped on that flight with a piece of crap. This is where a Kindle would come in handy.

  2. I’ve read a few of the Alex Cross novels, but they become very samey very quickly. I’m more into reading than audiobooks, so I’m not sure how the addiction of getting engrossed into a good book can be transferred onto tape.

    A couple of entertaining books I’ve read recently:
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
    The Pillars of the Earth & World Without End by Ken Follett
    On the Edge by Richard Hammond (autobiography)
    Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
    The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

    The Ken Follett series should cover a few journeys to work!

  3. I love the Harry Potter (as read by Stephan Fry) audiobooks and all of the Ricky Gervais audiobooks… which aren’t really audiobooks but are a lot of fun. Absolutely nothing I listen to is serious. Serious things need to be read IMO.

  4. I haven’t read any English books for ages, except The Time Traveller’s Wife in Poland last month. I can recommend an Italian crime writer called Gianrico Carofiglio: he’s been translated into English and the stories are good (Involuntary Witness I think was made into a film).
    I feel your pain with the magazine subscriptions: my flat is full of unread Economists, Weekend Financial Times, etc. It’s such a waste: the FT is 3 EUR here for approximately 14 pages…

  5. The British Council library is no more? To me that is a sad kind of “epoch passing event”. That library was a refuge for English speaking and anglophone Poles during the good-old PRL times – it was an exciting place to visit; you always felt you were being watched, perhaps being entered into some vast, creepy database. The British Council library in Budapest still functioned when I lived there about a decade ago, and was much used.

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