Susie Wilde: The best audios are satisfying journeys

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 08:39 PM

Generally, I am what a friend calls “an audio slut,” but I quit two audios in a row.

I had to ask myself, why did the voices of these two audios not work? Curiously, both were written by celebrities and both narrated their own work.

The first was Michael Moore’s autobiography, “Here Comes Trouble” (Hatchett, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12 hours) and the second is Ron Clark’s “The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers”, read by the author (Simon and Schuster, unabridged,11 CDs. 12.5 hours).

A teacher I respected told me about Ron Clark. She was so excited about going down to Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta where Clark and his dedicated band of teachers have developed techniques that are helping low-income students to succeed. Wow, I thought, I gotta hear about this guy and what a plus that he’s reading his new book. But quickly Ron Clark’s voice grated. It wasn’t his sometimes stilted folksy reading, but his tone. Yes, you do experience Clark’s high energy, but right from the beginning he has an odd mix of bragging and humility. He trumpets Oprah Winfrey’s support of all he has done and become with a mix of pride in all that she has recognized. After he shared her accolades, he spoke of his gratitude for her miraculous support of his work. I was disgusted. There is no doubt that his 101 tips have high merit, his obvious avoidance of education jargon is admirable and he has innovative teaching genius. But often his descriptions of student situations seem patronizing and his dynamic teaching doesn’t come across on audio. I still envy my young teaching friend, but my guess is that when it comes to Ron Clark, seeing is better than listening.

From the first in “Here Comes Trouble,” Moore’s voice is familiar and so is his attitude. Moore tells listeners that his audio will be short stories from his early years. I was turned off by his referring to it as his“ first volume” and that his motivation is to commit his stories “ to paper while paper, bookstores and libraries still existed.” Now, I’ve been a fan of Moore because of his on-target satires, and his audio is humorous, but he and I got off on the wrong audio foot when he began with his condemnation by Glenn Beck and the journalist who thought he should be murdered. Politics aside, this felt very self-involved. Belying the initial starting picture of him on a tricycle, Moore’s stories are more about his high school life. And are these really stories or rants?

I realized how crucial the element of surprise was to listening when I started Susan Orlean’s “Rin Tin Tin” (Simon and Schuster, unabridged, 10 CDs, 12.5 hours). Again, the author reads and Orlean’s voice is not as dramatic or dynamic as Clark or Moore. But she does use intonations and phrasing that work well enough. I was rapt from beginning to end in the story she tells of the canine icon, Rin-Tin-Tin.

Orlean, a staff writer for the New Yorker, initiated the story because she wanted to understand and she was willing to follow wherever leads led her. And I wanted to follow her, too, from hearing of Lee Duncan, a man dropped off at an orphanage in his youth, who feels like his life begins with the discovery of a litter of pups in 1918 on a battlefield in France.

Orlean is a gifted storyteller who knows how important it is to never lose track of her focus and yet take listeners on wonderful meanders that always intrigue. I was equally captivated as I learned about the origin of “Rinty’s” name, her descriptions of silent films, the quirky personages of Hollywood and Hitler’s love for his German shepherd. I savored her well-chosen words and tales told from beginning to end. Not every audio is a journey, but my favorites definitely are.


Read more at Susie Wilde’s website,