Friday, April 15, 2011

Audiobook of the Week: Charlotte's Web

I've neglected audiobooks for several weeks, but that's all changed. I'm currently listening to Charlotte's Web, read by none other than the author himself, E.B. White. I have to admit that it took me a little bit to get used to listening to E.B. White; he had a classic New York accent that you don't really hear much anymore, which is a little at odds with this barnyard story (White was a sophisticated man who wrote short stories for The New Yorker before writing children's books)! Rather quickly, his "WIL-buh" and "SHAWL-it" became endearing rather than a distraction (I mean, it's E.B. White reading his most beloved children's book!), and I soon settled in.

I also noticed that he was much less enthusiastic when reading scenes that involved humans. His reading was rather understated in the first chapter, which is set at Fern's house and doesn't involve any animals talking. It wasn't until the story moved to Zuckerman's barnyard that he really came to life.

If you're familiar with modern audiobooks, you know that they are slick productions, complete with professional actors and sound effects. The narrators (this is the preferred term over "reader") often incorporate voices for different characters, change voice modulation for dramatic scenes....anything that a professional actor would find natural to do.

E.B. White did none of this. Sure, his voice does change (somewhat) among the characters, but not anything like you would hear on a modern recording. He certainly makes no effort to make the female characters (human or animal) distinctly feminine. He's *reading* the story, not performing it-and there is a difference. There's no trappings that deflect from the story being read, which makes for a nice change (as much as I love certain modern audiobooks with all its bells and whistles).

Finally, I'm finding that I'm picking up on certain details that I never really caught before I began this CD. Namely that 10 year old Avery Arable brings his air rifle on the school bus. Along with a doughnut. I've read this book many, many times, and that little detail slipped right by me until I heard it read out loud. Huh.

This is a treasure; I highly recommend it!

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