Wednesday, August 6, 2008

WSJ: "Hearing Is Believing"

From the August 2, 2008, edition of The Wall Street Journal:

Today's literary critics have fallen into the unfortunate habit of using the word "voice" when they mean "style." It's easy to see why that metaphorical usage has become popular -- a writer with a strongly individual style often seems to be speaking directly to the reader -- but appearances can be deceiving, at times cruelly so. Take Raymond Chandler, the creator of Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled private eye with a heart of mush. On paper Marlowe was forever tossing off snappy side-of-the-mouth wisecracks ("He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food"). Humphrey Bogart played him in "The Big Sleep," and you know what he sounded like. But what about the real-life author who put the words in Bogie's mouth? Brace yourself: Chandler's mild-mannered speaking voice bore an uncanny resemblance to the milksop whine of Elmer Fudd.

How do I know? Because Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, interviewed Chandler in 1958 for a BBC radio broadcast, a tape of which survives.
Read the whole thing.

The article, subtitled "the vanished glories of spoken-word recordings," bemoans the lamentably small market for spoken-word recordings, and I wholeheartedly concur with its conclusion. Too many worthy works never get audio editions or are hacked into bastardized "abridged" versions, where considerations of time are given more weight than those of story. I've tried desperatedly to find unabridged readings of my middle-shelf selections. I would kill for an author-voiced version of Ray Bradbury's The October Country and grieviously maim for one of Richard Adams' Watership Down, but I fear they don't exist. The only author I know of who records every word of all his major works himself is Neil Gaiman. With a voice as rich as cream and as warm as wood smoke, you could listen to him read from the phone book and come away well entertained.

(Picture: CC 2008 by


Loren Eaton said...

Here's a nice treat. Gaiman has quite a few of his recordings up for free at For a short piece, try "A Writer's Prayer." If you'd like something a little longer, listen to "Chivalry," which is a middle-shelf story.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Also, if you at all like poetry, be sure to google T.S. Eliot's "Prufrock." It's recorded later in life, and he sounds like a bored-but-sonorous elderly Anglican minister--which is about perfect for the poem.

Loren Eaton said...

Stupendous! That happens to be my second-favorite Eliot piece ("The Journey of the Magi" being my first). Thanks for the tip.

For those wanting to hear Eliot read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," go here.

Belletristic Bloggette said...

Hello! I read your comment on Nathan Bransford's site and read your post accordingly.

Interesting. I guess I hadn't really thought of voice and style as synonymous. Thanks for posting this.

~Belletristic Bloggette