I finished listening to Norman Dietz’s excellent recording of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on Saturday. Ironically the novel’s closing words faded just as I passed the huge Huck Finn’s Warehouse billboard looming over the commercially- and industrial-dense outskirts of Albany. It was a sign. Literally. I will have to re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as soon as I can.
In any case, I’m pretty fond of audiobooks, both in terms of their practical application as well as aesthetically. However, most audio recordings are rather uninspired and ultimately forgettable. I mean, ninety percent of the recorded books I’ve listened to remind me, in some way, of the famous Seinfeld episode where George Costanza becomes so addicted to audiobooks that he cannot read any longer and must resort to feigning a disability in order to get someone to record the book for him. Not surprisingly for a Seinfeld episode, the voice of the book’s narrator bears an unpleasant resemblance to that of a pre-pubescent Gilbert Godfried and George cannot bear to listen to the recording. I find I have the same problem with many audiobooks. Either the narrator’s reading of certain scenes and characters are simply ridiculous or the narrator’s voice is totally wrong for the recording.
While Norman Dietz does occasionally hit a few such snags, I find his reading of Twain to be one of the best audiobooks I’ve heard. Truth be told, the only instance in which Mr. Dietz’s reading seems a bit lacking is in his rendition of Huckleberry Finn, who comes across as more than mildly cartoonish and sounds awkwardly aged for a young boy. Plus, as often occurs in audio recordings by males, Dietz’s female voices seem a trifle hyperbolic at times. Yet these are relatively minor flaws in what is really one of the better recordings out there.
Dietz manages to evoke a huge cast of believable characters with his impressively versatile voice and, perhaps most importantly, seamlessly embeds them in the fabric of Twain’s narrative, which he reads magnificently. Treading the delicate line between the genuine appreciation of youth and the sensitive parody of youthful antics, the narrative voice of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is not easy to convey. Yet Dietz does so, and sounds utterly enthusiastic about it all the while.
Save for Ethan Hawke’s wonderful reading of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, this is the best audiobook I own, hands-down.
Originally produced in 1986 by Recorded Books, LLC, Dietz’s reading of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has been reissued in an inexpensive edition ($19.95 for four cassettes) by State Street Press.
Originally published at www.sobriquetmagazine.com.