Sometimes Books Are Sound

Although this Journey is named Music Management, it deals with all the recorded material in our collection – including spoken word books. I first started listening to books on tape when I was commuting an hour and a half each way to and from work. My local library had a couple of bookshelves of titles which cost about a pound or two to hire for two weeks.  I can’t remember the first time I took a spoken word book out of the library, but I think I was inspired to do so after being given some abridged novels to listen to in my car – I particularly remember a Geoffrey Archer thriller and the amazing ‘Mind Over Matter’ by Ranulph Fiennes. Abridged novels are a fun way of passing a few hours, but it’s not the same as reading a complete book; that is a much more involved, longer, experience in which you become immersed in the world that the author creates.  It is an experience that I found was a perfect way to alleviate the tedium of my long commute. Even traffic jams, accident delays and diversions became less of an irritation with a book being read out in the background.

As I got into the swing of it, I began to realise that listening to a book being read by a professional reader – or, better still, the author – was a different experience from reading it. I was finding that the reader was imparting atmospheres and nuances that perhaps I wouldn’t be generating myself. I found myself hooked – and so embarked on a period of about ten years when I listened to far more novels and non-fiction books than I could ever have read while working a demanding job.

One of the authors I particularly enjoyed in the car was Dirk Bogarde. His fine writing, gentle stories, fascinating autobiographies, and easy voice were very enjoyable; so, when I started collecting first edition books, he was one of the authors I started to acquire. Early this year I completed my set of Dirk Bogarde first editions, but there were still a few of the volumes which I hadn’t actually read, and I started to think that It would be nice to re-experience the joys of being read to in the car (I stopped doing so when I retired). However, to do that I would have to acquire the relevant audio books.  A search on the net, established that, although all of the books had been produced on cassette tapes, only 6 had been subsequently converted to mp3 format on CD. If I was to listen to the books with only cassette tape versions, in my car (which does not have a cassette player – only a CD player),  I would have to buy the cassette versions, convert them to mp3 and put them on CD.

While I was pondering the technological intricacies that would be involved, I was also toying with the notion that perhaps my Dirk Bogarde first edition collection wouldn’t be complete without the spoken word versions; and that that, for completeness, would entail collecting both the cassette versions and the mp3 versions. After all, it was the spoken word versions that I’d enjoyed; and there was something special about having Dirk himself read out some of his books.

After mulling it over for a few weeks, I decided to go for it and to augment my Dirk Bogarde paper book collection with the digital equivalent. I duly set about trawling eBay and Amazon for second hand versions of the cassette volumes, and soon acquired 4 of the titles in very good condition for between £8 and £20 each. They were not ex-library copies of which there are several available on eBay – I knew what state they could be in from my experience of library loans. Two of the titles I bought were also available on CD for £8.99, so I bought those and had a very pleasant couple of weeks listening to the first of Bogarde’s autobiographies (A Postillion Struck By Lightning) in my car. The other two were not available on CD so I retrieved my Panasonic portable CD and Cassette player and my Numark TTSB turntable (which digitises the output from the cassette player and is designed to interface with a computer), from the loft, downloaded the Audacity software from the net and set about digitising the 16 sides of cassettes in each of the two volumes. It took an age – well, as long as it took the cassettes to play – between 8 and 9 hours in each case.  Then it was matter of using the Audacity functions to reduce the background noise levels and to eliminate unwanted material at the start and finish of each digitised tape, and then exporting the data to mp3 files.

I shall continue to collect the cassette versions of the other titles, and to, one way or another, obtain the equivalent mp3 files. I’ve decided I shall listen to all of the titles in the car – even the ones I’ve heard or read already. After all, this won’t impinge on anything else I’m doing – it’s just empty time in which I’ll be doing something I positively enjoy. However, this time I shall read (well, listen to) the autobiographies in the chronological order of the times they deal with (the publication dates of the autobiographies do not always correspond to the order of the events described); and I’ll read the novels in the order they were written.

I’ve taken the time to write about all this for two reasons: first, because I believe the joys and huge potential of listening to spoken word literature is not appreciated widely enough; and second, because I think it’s an interesting question as to whether a collector of an author’s novels also needs to acquire the spoken word versions to have a truly complete collection.  On the former point, I would encourage people who’ve never tried it to give it a go – it could enable you to experience huge amounts of great literature that you might never have the time or inclination to read. As to the latter point – well you’ll have to judge for yourself: but, for me, Dirk Bogarde’s books, and his autobiographies in particular, will always be intricately bound to his words lilting in my ears.

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