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That Sticky Matter of Abridgement

Among Other Sticky Matters


My niece, Jejune, who is making a name for herself narrating and producing audiobooks, sometimes comes around to treat her impecunious uncle to a snack at the Weltshmerz Rathskeller next door to AudioFile West. On one such occasion, she brought some of her fans, "audiobook connoisseurs" she called them. Our conversation went something like this:

Gal in T-Shirt: What do you do, Mr. Rasovsky?

Me: I write and produce radio plays.

T-Shirt: (Yawn.) 

Guy in Cowboy Hat: Are those anything like abridgments? I canıt stand abridgments. Theyıre like those compilation CDs of great romantic themes pulled out of classical music. Abridgments trample all over the intent of the author. Theyıre an abomination of literature.

T-Shirt: Oh, I donıt mind ıem for mysteries, thrillers, romances, and other mere entertainment. But for serious books . . .

Hat: What about serious, entertaining books? 

Me: What? As opposed to non-entertaining, serious books?

T-Shirt: Of course, there are works that have a foot in each category. If you have to make a choice, Jejune, err on the side of art.

Jejune: Youıre forgetting that there are commercial considerations.

T-Shirt: Art is not about commerce, gosh darn it! (This group must have just come from Sunday school.)

Me: Thatıs news to me.

Jejune: Thereıs a sizable segment of the listening public that wants more than short stories but less than full tomes, you know.

Me: And those 12-plus-hour numbers get kind of pricey.

Jejune: Iım asked to do longer abridgments these days, too. Three hours used to be standard. Now, six hours is slowly becoming the norm. You get more of the good stuff in six hours.

Bald Guy: Actually, I kind of like abridgments.

Hat: Philistine!

T-Shirt: Not for classics!

Baldy: Oh no, never! But not just for ear candy either. When Iım reading, and I come to a long passage of description, I just skim over it until I get to another good section. On an unabridged audio, Iıd have to listen to the whole boring thing. Now, long descriptions may be okay on paper, especially when you can easily skip ıem, but on tape, they just impede the action. So, I think that dismissing abridgments out of hand is just snobbish.

Hat: You calling me a snob?

Baldy: Well, you called me a philistine!

Lady with Coke-Bottle Glasses: Actually, I prefer abridgments. Just about any book can be cut without doing too much damage.

Baldy: If the abridger knows his business.

Glasses: I mean, whether I hear the abridgment or the full length, I bet Iıd still get the same score on a pop quiz. I can still go to a cocktail party and say, "Wasnıt that book just marrrrvelous!"

Baldy: Even a three-hour abridgment?

Glasses: Of course not! I wouldnıt stoop to a three-hour abridgment. What do you take me for?

Jejune: My only trouble with abridgments is that the ones the publishers give me to produce are often hackwork. Now, donıt you dare quote me on this, Uncle Yuri, but some of the majors I work for are tone deaf to literature. They cut out all the things that make the book worth reading.

T-Shirt: Or listening to.

Hat: Same difference.

Me: Not really. Personally, I listen because I enjoy hearing a good performer read. I wish the things they read were edited for oral delivery, rather than just cut to fit a commercial length or presented in full to satisfy purists. I donıt care how long the thing is as long as itıs a good job. A good job can be any length as far as Iım concerned. If I want the author unalloyed, Iıll resort to the printed page.

Hat: You seem to be saying listening is inferior to reading.

Me: No. Just different. 

Jejune: You donıt think gifted narrators can communicate all the values the author put into the original?

Me: All they can do is interpret the original, which is what readers would do themselves, and then use their skill and personality to communicate that interpretation and make it interesting. Thatıs why I can enjoy listening to two different versions of the same book, even if Iıve already read the book. If I were all that interested in the book, Iıd read it and do my own interpreting.

Hat: You are saying that listening is inferior!

All: Snob!!! 

Me: Okay, Iım a snob. But listening and reading both take mind work on the receiving end, just different kinds of mind work. To say one is superior or inferior to the other is to compare apples and oranges. But to say that youıre getting the authorıs work by listening to the audiobook version is to be mistaken. Thatıs why I donıt care about your silly issue of abridgment. Rather than publish cassettes of reading matter, I wish authors would write expressly for audiobooks.

Glasses: Like Stephen King just did.

Me: I want audiobooks to grow into Spoken Arts Audio. Thatıs the way to build audiences and increase the quality and variety of whatıs offered.

Hat: Heresy!

T-Shirt: Poppycock!

Baldy: Pagan!

Jejune: Oh, Uncle Know-it-all, you only want more people to buy the radio plays you make.

Me: Well . . . that, too.


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