Audiobooks

Pick of the week The New Testament

You can lose 80 per cent or more of the original text in an audio abridgement of a substantial novel. Nervous giggles were the response of producers to my innocent suggestion that the percentage of abridgement was marked on the slipcases of audiobooks. Readers speak at an average rate of 150 words a minute. The late Jon Pertwee was famously leisured at 120. Kerry Shale is usefully brisk at 170. That means 9,000 words can be fitted on the average cassette. A two-cassette abridgement could be printed out on 60 pages. A recent magazine cover giveaway of Anthony Trollope audiobooks left only 5 per cent of the lives and loves of the good folk of Barsetshire.

Such travesties of the real thing give all audio abridgements a bad name. But when an abridgement is good it is very, very good, particularly with a first-class reader. In a busy age, many of us just can't find the time to do the reading we'd like: there is a case for saying that looking and listening now gives even well-educated moderns more cultural stimulus than reading. And seen as tasters rather than substitutes, abridgements have an undeniable usefulness.

Most classic literature was after all written to be read aloud. After listening to The Old Testament (Naxos, 8hrs, pounds 16.99) and, The New Testament (Naxos, 8hrs, pounds 16.99), I now have a far more coherent grasp of the Bible than I ever got from going to church. It is read (in the Authorised Version) by a variety of excellent voices (oh God! oh Philip Madoc!) and sensitively abridged "with the intelligent lay reader in mind" by Perry Keenlyside. The New Testament has almost every word of Matthew, only trims repetitions from other gospels, and gives virtually all of the extraordinary Revelations. "I used the Book of Common Prayer as a guide, in order not to omit anything people would miss. It had a knack of picking the best bits!"

Short, powerfully visual novels, these days often written with half an eye on a future screenplay, are well suited to the skilled abridger's lancet. Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (Reed Audio, 3hrs, pounds 7.99) fits comfortably into a two-cassette format; Ger Ryan's heartbreakingly vulnerable voice doubles its emotional effect.

The greater the author, the more controversial the idea of abridgement. "Abridging Austen was like cutting holes in fine lace," says Heather Godwin, whose Emma (Naxos, c4hrs, pounds 8.99) won last year's Talkies award for abridged classic fiction. "I hated the idea of doing it at all - she of all authors ought to be sacrosanct. But I said I'd have a go. And although it was heartbreaking at one level, and it took an incredibly long time, in the end I wasn't ashamed of what I'd done." She describes herself as "filletting" Austen, leaving dialogue intact and trusting the nuances of the reader's voice to substitute for spelt-out descriptions.

Chris Wallis of Watershed Productions says that he found it far easier to hack great chunks from Ivanhoe than to decide which one of every three words of Ben Elton's tightly written Popcorn (Simon & Schuster, 4hrs, pounds 12.99) had to go. He succeeded brilliantly but remains uneasy. "It's quite a short book, but so well-written that every word was working. It's much easier to cut bad books than good ones - sometimes I think I actually improve bad books." Some authors (among them P D James, Len Deighton and Anita Brookner) refuse to allow their books to be abridged for audio. You certainly have a choice: tape versions of many novels, new and old, are available unabridged from such companies as Cover to Cover, Isis and Chivers. But be warned. Besides being pricey, the complete version is not always the best.

It's interesting that we accept the idea of a film or radio dramatisation of a book, however famous, without a murmur. Yet both lose or distort far more of the original than an abridged audiobook does. Arguably, the skills of a good audio abridger are equal to those of a good screenplay writer. David Baldacci's much-hyped Absolute Power is a middling quality thriller in print and a horlicks of wasted talent on the screen. The best of the three versions is in fact the audiobook (Simon & Schuster, 3hrs, pounds 7.99), in which the turgid forensic detail is trimmed and the dramatic action tightened, but the story remains true to itself: the hero dies.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'