I have a “like/apathetic” relationship with books on tape, short story podcasts, etc (my feelings about them aren’t quite strong enough to reach the “love/hate” stage). I’m fond of listening to short stories read by their authors, or those accompanying an interesting discussion/analysis. I’m not fond of listening to short stories read by people who mumble, or by people who so overact that you end up paying more attention to the acting and less to the actual words.
But even if the book on tape/podcast/etc is perfectly put together, and even if I can get myself to focus enough so as to keep up with the story, for me, the aural short story just can’t compete with the physical and cognitive experience of holding a book in your hands and seeing the words on paper.
The fact that I (and I’m guessing, many other people as well) tend to prefer reading text than listening to it is somewhat ironic, seeing as it’s the oral tradition that came first. Then again, the stories told thousands of years ago are pretty different from today’s stories, aren’t they? Compared to the epic tales of yesteryear told by master storytellers, many of today’s short stories are big on prose and nuance, which I don’t think translate quite as well to the oral form.
Which is not to say today’s stories are not worth listening to. Always on my iPod are The New Yorker Fiction Podcast and PRI: Selected Shorts Podcast. I’m also a fan of The Classic Tales with B. J. Harrison, which seems to be the work of a single guy reading public-domain stories in the style of old-fashioned radio dramatization. I wouldn’t choose to solely experience a book through Harrison’s podcast, but I don’t think that he was going for–rather than a straight read-through, “The Classic Tales” presents a pretty neat and certainly different way to listen to the classics.
I’ve also just discovered Story Time from Wieden+Kennedy Entertainment via HTMLGIANT, and I’m just excited about it as they are. “Story Time” offers recordings of authors reading their own work (the PRI and The New Yorker podcasts offer this only rarely, and “The Classic Tales” never offers this, seeing as all the original authors are, well, long dead). But what’s especially interesting about this audio series is that the stories are set to unique soundscapes. Trinnie Dalton’s short story “Frog Hole ’08″ opens to sounds of wildlife, and Kevin Sampsell’s “Gloves” opens with the patter of rain and the playful tinkling of a piano. The series consists of only those two episodes so far, but based on what I’ve heard so far, I’m definitely looking forward to more.
What are your feelings about oral fiction–are you a fan, or do you think today’s literature is best experienced visually? If you listen to recordings of short stories: what do you listen to? I’m always interested in recommendations.