Classics make great audiobooks: Ruskin Bond

Timeless classics brought out as audio-books or podcasts may well ignite minds and open up the world of literature to many, a galaxy of authors debating on the topic at a literary festival here felt.

Having grown up on radio where many plays were aired, noted author Ruskin Bond said a great deal depends on how the voices behind an audiobook bring it to life and stimulate the listener’s imagination.

The eminent author doesn’t normally listen to audiobooks, but strongly believes the technology does help in making stories better known and in reaching a wider audience.

“Sometimes, children like listening to a story rather than making an effort of reading it themselves,” he said, while virtually attending the sixth edition of the three-day Tata Steel Bhubaneswar Literary meet here.

The 87-year-old was deliberating on the topic ‘Am I Audible?’ — the rise of podcasts, radio and audiobooks — with journalist Sandip Roy and Tanaya Patnaik, the executive director of Radio Choklate 104FM.

An audio book is basically a recording of a book that is available online. Its popularity is soaring worldwide, including in India.

Bond points out that reading a classic book can actually be a little troublesome and difficult.

“Sometimes, we hesitate to pick up a classic because of its length, language –Victorian (era) English or something earlier,” he said.

Therefore, the audiobook makes it more accessible, according to Bond. “I think, very often, it’s the classics that make good audiobooks,” the author whose audio-books such as `Tales of Fosterganj”, `Schooldays’ and `Road to the Bazaar’ have found a wide audience.

At the same time, he adds, one can try magic realism, fantasy or any genre or medium as an audiobook.

Patnaik underscored that the demand for good audio content was always there, adding that podcasts and audiobooks are a kind of an extension of radio.

Her friends, who stay outside the state and are not in touch with the language, would take a long time to read a page in Odia because they are not just accustomed to it.

“I think audio books would give them an opportunity to explore their language… and feel proud about what Odia literature has to offer,” she says.

Patnaik predicted that a lot of narration for audiobooks will be driven by artificial intelligence in the future.

regional literature

Regional literature can be promoted in a very big way as the opportunities are boundless in the AI-enabled narration for books in languages ​​like Santali or the Sambalpuri dialect, according to Patnaik.

“Books which will never be recorded, books which never have been recorded will get an opportunity to be recorded and be available via AI,” she adds.

However, Roy said, some things are harder to convey in an audio book, such as certain kinds of romance or wistfulness.

“Unlike television, you have to describe it to someone who can’t see you. They are just listening to you,” the ‘Don’t Let Him Know’ author said.

There are unaided words that can convey so much in a book when someone pauses. A reader reads a lot into the silence. That can become trickier in an audiobook, according to Roy.

Bond felt that it’s the performance that is important sometimes and one might need to adapt the writing a little bit in minor grammatical innovations to suit the requirements.

He enjoys reading out because, normally, he doesn’t “get a chance to do so”.

“So, the experience of making an audiobook was a good one and I hope to do it again.” JRC

Published on

March 13, 2022

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