For this post I’m only talking about Austen audio books available through iTunes. Another time soon I’ll be touching on the many, many audio books available elsewhere.
In my version of iTunes there are currently over 30 Austen audio books available for purchase. Personally, I really enjoy a book on tape, especially when narrated by someone who reads aloud well. There is a large selection out there and it can be tricky to hit on the right one and disappointing if you don’t, especially if you’ve forked out anything from ten to seventy dollars. There are a few things to look for that can serve as guidelines for the uninitiated. Sound quality & narration are very important, especially in a recording you want to listen to more than once. Actors are often employed for narration and though I do like the practice, not all actors are necessarily good at voice work and narration. A lot of books on tape are read by actors whose talents are fine on screen but their skills don’t really translate to the spoken word. I recommend looking for an actor whose voice is expressive and enjoyable to listen to and preferably, who has experience in theatre or radio plays. Often Austen books are narrated by an actor who has featured in one of the film adaptations.
As far as sound quality goes, in iTunes there is a preview button feature in the space where you look up the details of a particular recording, which allows you to listen to a couple of minutes of the recording for free.
There is also abridgment to be considered. I wouldn’t normally recommend or buy an abridged edition, where some of the book is cut to make the recording shorter. But sometimes the abridging is done without losing too much around the edges, none that you would notice unless you were very familiar with the book in question, and abridged editions are almost always cheaper. It’s probable that if an abridged recording was narrated really well by a good actor and reasonably priced that I’d buy it.
I have scoured the details and listened to the previews of all the audio books available through my iTunes for a few recommendations.
Pride & Prejudice read by Joanna David
Recorded by Penguin Classics $AU14.99
Emma read by Fiona Shaw
Recorded by Penguin Classics $AU10.99
Recorded by Penguins Classics $AU20.99
Lady Susan, The Watson & Sanditon read by Norma West
Pride & Prejudice read by Emilia Fox
Sense & Sensibility read by Susannah Harker
Recorded by BBC WW $AU46.99
These recordings aren't cheap, there's no denying that. But I've found that I've kept & still listen to a few very good tapes I have, (yep, that's cassette tapes. I still have my walkman too) especially Tess of the d'Urbervilles read by Lindsay Duncan around '90 which I snagged at a swap meet.
A note on CD burning, recordings purchased via iTunes are copy protected and it's not possible to burn them. Believe me, I've tried. But for the more virtuous among us, fear not. Burning recordings that are published by specific media is not illegal or unethical and for tips on recordings that are in the public domain, free and therefor allowed to be copied, check this space for more shortly upcoming editions of Books on Tape Techie Time.