So, electronic reading. I’m a bit ambivalent about it, truth be told. On the one hand, I love how convenient ebooks are, the way they let niche authors access previously unreachable readers, and the fact that electronic publishers have seen fit to put me in print. But long sessions with screens make my eyes ache, I miss good typography, and glass and plastic just don’t feel the same as paper. It hardly matters what I think, though. Ebooks are here to stay, and with them comes something I enjoy wholeheartedly: easily downloadable, unabridged audiobooks. Forget swapping CDs or shuffling cassettes. From Audible (the big pay-to-play site) to Overdrive (library collections) to Librivox (free recordings of public-domain works), it's never been easier to get the audiobook of your choosing. And rarely have I been so thankful for this development as when listening to Rob Shapiro's reading of Daniel Polansky's Low Town.
Low Town is a hardboiled/high-fantasy mashup, a scoop of Fritz Leiber that’s mixed with a measure of Donald Westlake and seasoned by a smidgen of H.P. Lovecraft. I enjoyed it in print, but didn’t love it like I thought I would. It looked good on paper, so to speak, yet it fell a little short of my expectations—at least until I heard it. Given that I’m still in the middle of my never-ending MBA program and thus face a regular, fairly lengthy drive, I’m always looking for stuff to listen to. The radio doesn’t cut it after a while, and podcasts simply aren’t long enough. But a digital copy of the audiobook version of Low Town was available from local library, and I snapped it up. Boy, am I glad I did.
Part of the appeal of the title’s audio edition is Shapiro’s performance. Beside possessing the requisite resonant baritone, he has a raft of accents at his command, everything from standard American to Caribbean to virtually all of the British dialects. Add to such strong characterization a steady reading cadence, and suddenly I was picking up on things I missed the first time around. Subtle characterizations. Interwoven plot threads. Lovely use of language. One of audiobooks’ unappreciated virtues is that they force you to hear every word, each adjective and all the descriptions. You can’t flip past paragraphs, at least not easily. And anything that helps you understand just a little bit better what an author wants to communicate is an unmitigated good in my book.
(Picture: CC 2007 by Alosh Bennett)