Audiobooks minus illustrations: great or ghastly?
Posted by: Mary Burkey
Subtract the illustrations from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, add the author’s narration and what do you get? This year’s Odyssey Award-winning title recognized as the best in audiobook production. Audiobooks for young listeners have long featured the audio rendition of text plus added music & effects. But what about audiobooks of titles for older readers minus the illustrations, as in the Absolutely True Diary or Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules? Even the Caldecott-winning, 550 page novel in words and pictures, The Invention of Hugo Cabret was re-imagined as an audiobook featuring music & sound effects. The Booklist audiobook review addresses some of the concerns of this comment about Hugo posted on an eariler Audiobooker post:
Is it just me, or is there something really off about the idea of an audio version of Hugo Cabret? Half of the book’s glory (hell, half of the book period) is the illustrations.
I’m never quite sure if an author is supposed to comment about their own work on a blog, but I’ve enjoyed Roger’s blog in the past and just came across this discussion of the audiobook. I wanted to say that I had the same reservations about the idea of an audio book for Hugo…it seemed that the whole point of the book is that it is told with pictures to reference it’s relationship to early movies. But I’ll tell you the reason I said yes (and worked hard with the producers) on this audio project. In 1931, sound was a new thing to the movies (having been introduced of course in The Jazz Singer in 1927), but directors such as Rene Clair thought that sound might ruin movies. He believed that movies were essentially a visual medium, and that sound would make the storytelling too easy. So (for example) in a movie he made in 1931, Under the Roofs of Paris, he used sound sporadically, experimentally, and left the rest of the movie “silent.” This actually was part of the inspiration for having the bursts of images in Hugo (it would parallel the bursts of sound in Clair’s film). SO, when the idea of the audio version of the book was introduced, I was intrigued by the idea of how to use sound the way Clair did. The structure of the audio book is very much like the actual book, in that there are two distinct ways of storytelling working together (hopefully) to tell the tale. We worked really hard to make listening to Hugo its own distinct experience. Yes, it’s different from the book, but the ultimate goal of it was the same, and for me I know I wouldn’t have undertaken the project if there wasn’t something unique that the audio book could do that was different from the book.
Oh, and the DVD is completely separate from the storytelling. It’s a half hour interview with me about making the book, and there is a section where you can see the picture sequences while I talk about the research and ideas that went into drawing them, kind of like a director’s commentary on a movie DVD. But the DVD is really just a bonus. The story exists entirely on the audio CD.
Hope this clarifies some of the ideas behind the audiobook.
Author Augusten Burroughs discusses his re-imagined adult audiobook “A Wolf at the Table” in this video from Macmillan Audio. I’m glad that audiobooks for grown-ups are experimenting with adding music & sound effects. But what are your feelings about titles that depend solely on sound, music, or the voice of a great narrator to convey the spirit of an illustrated tale? Great or ghastly? Does the listener’s impression depend on whether they listen with fresh ears or have experienced the print title first? I am curious in what your comments will say about titles like The Book Thief or The Wright 3 !