I’m delighted to welcome guest blogger Ericka Taylor, reflecting on audiobook snobbery and other revelations discovered while listening to Her Own Vietnam.
The Listening Cure
By Ericka Taylor
The first time I read Her Own Vietnam, I had nothing but praise for the book. Page by page, I’d grown appreciative of the expertly-drawn characters whose strengths and failings made them as real as anyone I passed on the street. The story was compelling, and nicely balanced scenes from the present day with ones that took place during the Vietnam war. The writing was excellent. Plus, the novel exposed me to the trauma experienced by women veterans of Vietnam and the lack of support available to them when they returned home. Her Own Vietnam had more than fulfilled its role for me as a reader. What more could I ask?
Well, it turns out that this book is the gift that keeps on giving. Listening to the recently-released Audible version of Her Own Vietnam cured me of an audiobook snobbery I was only partly aware that I had.
A simple system that worked well
To be clear, I’ve enjoyed audiobooks for years. They are my companions on long walks and during the preparation of big meals. Most usefully, they keep me alert and engaged on the 10-hour drive between my current and familial homes. But, historically, the books I listened to were never the books I was most excited about and couldn’t wait to read.
That’s because I see good prose as something to luxuriate in. When I run across striking language, I want the freedom to go back and immediately re-read it, sometimes even multiple times. If a book was rumored to have lovely prose, I wouldn’t consider it as a candidate for an audiobook. It was a simple system, and it worked well. Then, I was given the opportunity to listen to Her Own Vietnam. Since I’d read it already, I figured I had nothing to lose. It turns out that I had plenty to gain, though.
Spoken aloud, language can linger
First, the novel is masterfully narrated by Robin Miles, who personifies the characters so well that it’s easy to forget she’s not half a dozen different people. Second, lo and behold, hearing beautiful prose is a pleasurable experience! Spoken aloud, language can linger, its echoes reverberating in a way that doesn’t happen for my interior voice, anyway. Hearing, rather than reading, that a letter the protagonist, Della, receives “threw its thin light on all Della had been refusing to see,” that she had been “finally ambushed by her own history” does nothing to diminish the power of the words.
And why should it? Stories, after all, are a core part of what it means to be human. They predate the written word, offering the reminder that listening to a story was, for much of our species’ history, the only option. Thanks to Her Own Vietnam, the universe of what books I can listen to has grown exponentially. The equation seems so straightforward, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before: Good Original Text + Good Narrator = Good Audiobook Experience.
Ericka Taylor’s nonfiction and interviews have appeared on the literary site Bloom, in the magazines Bark and Willow Springs, and in the anthology Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran. She has an MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University, and is currently at work on a novel.