There are tons of classic books considered as being “must reads”, whether it’s because they are at the pinnacle of storytelling or invented the genre entirely.
Articles and industry leaders outline them with headings like, “You like Fantasy, then You Must Read so and so”, and “Science Fiction that Can’t be Missed in this Lifetime”.
So being someone with only one lifetime, I put them on my to-read list and swear I’ll get to them someday.
But that someday turns into some year, and the reality is that some year will probably never happen.
From a different angle, I may have actually tried one but just couldn’t finish, even though it represents the heart of the genre.
Have you ever experienced this?
No Time for Legends
Stories written by legendary authors like Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, J. R. R. Tolkien, H. G. Wells, and Jules Verne fall under this category.
While it would be great to catch up on “the legends”, unfortunately I’m too busy reading the awesome work of current generation masters.
I still haven’t read Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War, or Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive. I want to see what the recent hype over Hugh Howey’s Wool was about, and follow up with John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.
Surely there must be a way for a slow reader like me who spends most of his reading time writing awkward stories of his own to indulge in current sci fi fantasy while still appreciating the foundation of the previous generation.
When my friend Gina told me how great audiobooks are, I immediately recoiled from the very concept. Why would I want some stranger to read me a book for ten hours?
“Give it a try,” she said, and it brought to mind my initial resentment for ebooks.
And in the same way I now swear by my kindle, audiobooks are truly the new generation way to consume novels at speeds I never thought possible.
Because you listen, it frees your body to perform all manner of tasks at the same time – cooking in the kitchen, cleaning in the living room, washing the car, driving to work, even lounging on the beach (although that might be rude to present company). For me they also make a great lullaby if I can’t sleep, enjoying the story for whatever hour long it takes to finally drift off. The Audible app even gave me a Night Owl badge ha.
The book that really sold me on this idea is J R R Tolkien’s the Hobbit – beloved as a childhood cartoon, savoured as a novel, and as a movie… um… well needless to say the Hobbit is one of my all-time favourite stories.
Now I had actually read this one already and always wanted to give it another go. The thing about the novel is that it’s just written so damn weird. Tolkien writes as if Gandalf himself rounded up some wayward children by a fireside, then secretly licked a bunch of mushrooms before getting started (and not the kind Pippin and Merry liked to eat).
During action sequences there might be a reference to how golf was invented. And then there’s all that singing – the dwarves sing, the elves sing, the goblins sing, heck I think the lore goes that the entire world was sang into existence – and Tolkien writes the songs for them all with lyrics like “oh where are you going with beards all ah wagging, no knowing no knowing what brings Mr Baggins…”
And I’m reading and thinking, “Wait… what the???” unable to imagine how the tune or rhythm flowed, so I would skim past them all. No doubt these tropes were revolutionary during his time, but no one writes like that anymore.
When I found a copy of the Hobbit audiobook, this one read by Andy Serkis, I was totally entranced. Andy’s voice is calm when the situation is calm, excited when the action heats up, a whisper when characters need to be quiet, joking when referencing how sports were invented, and then there is the singing. Powerful as your favourite hymn, moving as a swift current, to the point where I would rewind and listen again.
Truly an epic.
I’m still a fan of reading books on my kindle, and on paper, because being a writer I like to take note of sentence length, punctuation, paragraph size, and it’s much easier to check/take note of word meanings and spelling, but I’ll take advantage of audiobooks just for the story of old and new classics that I’ve either already read or just wanted to experience.
If you’re still not sold on audiobooks, I’ve found quite a few free ones on Youtube – from current generation reads like Warhammer 40k to “the legends” like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – or you can google free audiobook sites for more details. Then sign up for a 1 month free trial on Amazon’s Audible to get a free book, and download the Audible app. The interface is pretty good too, with a sleep timer and car mode.
Give them a try. It’s not like you have to find more time to get started.