Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A failed cure

Last year I wrote about the reader’s block that had afflicted me for a long time and how I had managed to conquer it (see The book freeze). It worked very well for a while and then I had a relapse: all I could read was stuff on the Net instead of all those wonderful books that were piling up on my bedside table. I got quite distressed about it again.

And then, one afternoon, in Poundland – one of my favourite shops in the whole wide world, where you can satisfy an urge to spend money so easily and so cheaply, I found several interesting audio books (24 hours of entertainment for £4 – an incredible bargain):

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, read by Kerry Shale
Brick Lane by Monica Ali, read by Ayesha Dharker
Toast by Nigel Slater, read by the author
Orson Welles by Simon Callow, read by the author

My treatment started well: the Jonathan Safran Foer was pure bliss. The novel is marvellous and I cannot tell you how wonderfully Kerry Shale reads it. Brick Lane was also a delight. At last I could understand what all the fuss was about: it’s a sensitive, beautifully written novel, read with feeling.

I was elated: in a very short space of time I had managed to ‘read’ two great novels. I stuck the first tape of Toast in my player and prepared to be enthralled. But as soon as I heard the first sentence read out in a weedy, reedy, thin, wet voice by Nigel Slater I knew I wouldn’t enjoy that particular ride. It was torture, but I suffer from ‘Completion Syndrome’ when it comes to audio books too so I had to listen to all six hours of it. I love Nigel Slater’s recipes, but the food he talks about in Toast (the story of his childhood and youth through the foodstuffs he ate) is stodgy and unpalatable and so is the book. Still, OK, I thought, the reason must be partly because it wasn’t read by an actor. Surely the Orson Welles biography would be fascinating: Simon Callow is a talented writer and he was bound to read his own book with all the passion he put into his acting. Alas! I am halfway through it and not enjoying it much. This time I am bothered by Callow’s American accent. It is the most atrocious I have ever heard. Think Anthony LaPaglia’s English accent in Frasier. It makes me want to scream, which is not good since I mostly listen to the tapes at night. I don’t know how I’m going to bear it for another four hours.

After that, it will be back to printed books, I think, because at least I won’t have to put up with silly voices.

Slapping the self-indulgent authors who think they can read their own works and the editors/publishers who can’t say no to them!