Why has no-one ever before told me about the joys of audio books?
Faced with the prospect of a boring, solo four-and-a-half-hour car journey last week, I asked around about the best way to pass the time. Obscure local radio stations and over-used MP3 playlists notwithstanding, the consensus seemed to suggest listening to stories.
So I ventured into a dusty corner of my local library and discovered a small but significant collection of audio books.
I chose ‘The Hills of Kilimanjaro’, a collection of Ernest Hemingway short stories. (Him again. I’m re-living my teenage years somehow). Good enough, as they say around here.
But I also picked up a box of ten CDs (which represented nearly 12 hours of listening) ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ by Kate Atkinson, read by Steven Crossley (who was really good with all the accents and the male and female voices). The time then passed easily enough as I drove from one side of Ireland to the other, and then down some (Rosslare Port is a long way from where I live).
But I hadn’t expected to be at the end of my journey and so gripped by the story that I would have to transfer the CDs to my laptop and sit listening well into the small hours because I wanted to know what happened. And a laptop and earphones are way more awkward to fall asleep with than a good old paperback.
I like Kate Atkinson’s style – literary crime fiction stuffed with strong characters given to sarcastic exchanges, albeit in absurdly twisting stories of unlikely coincidences and happenstance. I’d not read this one before, not least because of the title. It sounds like some religious self-help tome – or perhaps some frothy rom-com. Not that there’s anything wrong with either things, they were just not what I wanted to read at the time.
Which goes to show that titles can be incredibly important. To me anyway.
Before I even read the blurb on the back cover, the title has to appeal. But then, that’s only if I’m trawling the bookshop looking for something interesting, without any particular guidance. Although I often end up reading recommended novels that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention. Like ‘Burial Rights’ by Hannah Kent (I loved it), ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara (I hated it), and ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss (I’m still reading it). All were Book Club suggestions that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my attention because of iffy titles.
I did go through a phase of trying to avoid any books with ‘girl’ on the cover (which was quite difficult at one time recently), although I stumbled across ‘The Girl in the Red Coat’ by Kate Hamer and enjoyed it. Gillian Flynn’s excellent ‘Gone Girl’ has a lot to answer for (and that was one clever title in my humble opinion).
Then there have been Rachel Joyce’s books ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ and ‘The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy,’ which weren’t in the usual style of titles (I loved them both, too).
And I read (and mostly enjoyed) ‘The World Hums in B Flat,’ by Mari Strachan which I picked up just because of the intriguing title.
Kate Atkinson’s other works all have clever titles, among them: ’A God in Ruins’, ‘Life after Life’, and ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ (what’s there not to like about using Emily Dickinson in a book title?). So I’m probably missing something from why she chose the title: ‘When Will There Be Good News?’
No matter – I enjoyed the audio version very much.
Trouble is, I have my long journey in reverse tomorrow and only Hemingway’s stories for company. And as everyone knows, there’s rarely any Good News in those tales.