Talking with Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg, known for her life-affirming books about people in crisis, likes to listen to audiobooks with one exception: her own works. “The truth is I don’t listen to my own tapes because it’s hard to hear someone read your work in a way that you wouldn’t. So with my own work I tend to just listen a little to hear what the voice is like.”
Recently, however, one of her books surprised her. “I just got a copy of DURABLE GOODS. When I first started listening to it, I couldn’t stand the voice of the narrator [Jen Taylor], and I was really disappointed because that’s my favorite book. But then I kept listening and I got drawn in. And for the first time, I got divorced from the fact that I wrote it myself and just listened to the story. So I do plan to finish listening to that one!”
Berg’s favorite audio of her own works is Megan Gallagher’s narration of RANGE OF MOTION, a novel about a woman whose husband has been in an accident and is in a coma. “I think that the whole presentation conveyed the spirit of the book. There were those kind of New Age musical interludes when the husband’s thoughts were presented, which served to ground a part of the story that might have been confusing on audio. And Gallagher’s voice seemed to hold to the intent of the story, which was to express a kind of gratitude in ordinary life.”
Mostly Berg listens to audiobooks in the car. One of her most memorable experiences was hearing Frank McCourt’s narration of ANGELA’S ASHES. “I had driven from Chicago to Boston, and when I got there, I sat in the driveway to hear some more!” Another audiobook that gets raves from Berg is Jackie Burroughs’s presentation of Alice Munroe’s OPEN SECRETS. She also listens to short stories, poetry, and National Public Radio collections. “There’s an Ira Glass collection that I thought was outstanding.
“One thing listening to audiobooks does for me is to remind me of how important rhythm and cadence and lyricism are to writing. I care a lot about how my sentences sound, particularly at moments of great reflection. Those types of moments—or exchanges of dialogue between two people—can be poetic in the largest sense, and they need to sound that way on the page, as well. This is something I really prize in the work of others, as well. For me, the greatest pleasure in reading is to come across a passage that I want to say out loud and hear and read over again.”
Whenever Berg does public readings, people ask her if she narrates her own work on tape. “I have to tell them ‘no,’ but I would love to! As a reader myself, I’m very interested in how an author sounds. I understand that audiobook narration is not easy, and I think you have to be kind of a ‘kick butt kind of gal’ to get that opportunity. But I’d definitely like to do it!” —Elizabeth Dodge
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