The Uncomforatble Intimacy of Audio Books
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Last week, Lady Smut blogger Madeline Iva titillated us with tales from the Virginia Love Fest panel with the men who read romance…or perhaps that was just me. Had I been there, hearing the one guy say most of the time, “it’s like: ‘Up on the hog babe, let’s go for a ride.'” would have generated a mini-orgasm on the spot. I won’t lie. But I haven’t entirely made it through the accompanying video of the panel and here’s why: it all kinda makes me squishy and not in a good way. I too dig the deep and sexy man reading voice. Hoo. Shah. Maybe that’s the whole problem.
This is the thing about audio books, something I wholeheartedly support and appreciate. I don’t listen to audio books. Like, at all. I like music when I drive, mostly because I get into a zone and let my brain works on its own pathway, especially on long trips. When I have listened to books while I drive, I do a lot of rewinding because I miss things due to zoning out. Then, if I’m listening while commuting to the day job, I don’t want to stop once I get there (providing it’s a good book, and it almost always is).
A few years ago, I went through an audio book stage. I got all the Outlander and all the Harry Potter books on CD from the library and, one by one, loaded them first onto my compute and then onto my iPod. (Then, shortly after, my brand new iPod crashed and I vowed never to buy an Apple product again, but that’s another story.) I listened to each and every one of them and I loved them. How had I not been listening to audiobooks all this time? This was the BEST THING EVAH.
Mind you, this was before Wispersync and Kindle Fire and the Kindle app–I don’t even think smartphones were all that common at the time either. It was big, expensive CDs that you were better off getting from the library. As I did.
So I was hooked. I got some murder mysteries out and continued “reading” in this way.
Then I tried a romance.
Big mistake. Huge.
I got Linda Howard’s Cry No More from the library and plugged it in. Here, for the first time, I had an audio book with two narrators, a man and a woman, each reading the POV chapters for their respective hero and heroine of the story.
I was a huge Linda Howard fan in the 80s and 90s but hadn’t read her in a long while, so I thought I give this a chance. I didn’t like the book at all, it’s slow and boring, and maybe that’s because I was listening to it and not reading it in my own mental voice. The narrators were competent, the story just dragged.
And then came the sex scenes, read in both the male and female narrators voices. Together.
It majorly squicked me out.
Romancelandia deals with a lot of crap accusations of being porn for women, an accusation to which a vehemently object. Listening to the audio version of Cry No More, I had to check myself. Because I felt like I was listening to porn. Transferring the sex and romance scenes from the page to real men and women reading the words for me, out loud, transformed the entire “reader” experience for me and not in a good way. I was disturbingly turned and seriously uncomfortable, but not in a “damn, that was a good scene” way, rather in a “I should not be listening to these two people bang” way.
This, I think, is the uncomfortable intimacy of an audio book. When we read, it’s private. We’re in our own heads imagining our own versions of what were reading, what the author has crafted for us to sink into. When it’s suddenly read aloud, it’s completely different (duh, right?), and I wonder now if that difference transforms the material and/or the experience into something else. Especially having a man read the hero parts, like boy! howdy! does it make the goings-on super intimate. Like I was right there and not as a participant. Welcome to Voyeursville via audio books.
Now, I’ve changed a lot in the years since I listened to Cry No More, and I can’t say that I’d have the same reaction I did back then, but that reaction was strong enough that I haven’t had the desire to listen to a romance or any other sort of book since.
Back in April of 2013, Lady Smut blogger Elizabeth Shore wrote about her uninspired experience with audio books. She had a much less satisfying experience.
“Taking the first point, about the performance, leads me to think that the romance audiobook clip I listened to made me feel squishy because the performance was as enthralling as watching paint dry. Or perhaps, in this case, listening to paint dry, meaning there was no performance whatsoever. The reader made the decision to be dry and unemotional. It may work for some, but for me it was a complete snooze with a dash of discomfort. If the hero is baring his soul and revealing his issues and declaring his love well, damn it, I want emotion.”
For her there wasn’t enough intimacy offered by the reader/performer. For me, too much.
Thinking about this post this week made me realize how readings of our own books aren’t that much different. I did my first reading last summer at The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Culver City, CA for the Orange County Lady Jane’s Salon. I was beyond thrilled to burst my live reading cherry at the only romance bookstore in America. I had an absolute blast. One man even said that even though it wasn’t his kind of book, I was the best reader and had the best content of the four of us authors who read (but he’s my sister’s partner, so he has to say that).
But I also chose a scene to read that would make my story seem enticing (and had swear words and naughty talk, because, it’s me) but it was not a super sexual scene that would squick people out to hear read live and in person by the creator (aka, moi) and/or make my face turn red against my own internal wishes. Dang physical reactions!
Our own Rachel Kramer Brussel wrote last year about why she reads her erotic romances to live audiences.
“I’ve found that audiences are incredibly hungry to hear people talk about sex in public in an honest, open, unashamed way. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction, or what the exact details are: if you stand up in front of a crowd of people and are talking about getting naked, people will listen.”
Well, yeah. Duh again. But people who attend erotic readings are indeed prepared for what they get and are going for those reasons. Of course, if you’re listening to a romance novel as an audio book, you should know that you’re going to get the same heat in your ears that you once consumed through your eyes. And having the many, many intimate and sexual scenes in the Outlander novels read to me didn’t bother me one iota. It was adding in the male narrator and having the narration become a two-pronged, back and forth exchange complete with inflections and emotional heft–I need a cold shower stat.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all in any way shape or form against audio books or suggesting they’re porn or inferring that we shouldn’t have romance novels on audio. Surely, you know me better than that by now. Only that I, for one, was shocked but the unexpected intimacy that came from listening to a romance novel and it made me so uncomfortable, years later it’s made me have zero desire to listen to another.
I guess I like reading and talking about my romance…I just don’t want to listen to it. Which, judging from those male book readers, is my very big loss.
Coming to the RT Booklovers Convention? Join the Ladysmut.com bloggers for a very special reader event – Never Have You Ever, Ever, Ever — and win crowns, toys, books and more. (Ooo, and we’ll have brownies….) Goodybags (with fun stuff!) to first 100 people in line! Wednesday, May 3 at 1:30 p.m. Link: https://www.rtconvention.com/ event/never-have-you-ever- ever-ever
Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, WILD ON THE ROCKS, is now available. Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.