"When I listen to a book, the experience is, oddly, much more interactive. The reader brings another dimension to it that I can’t. I make my own movie when I read, but the reader is bringing a new thing into my movie that is outside of my skull."
Talking with Nevada Barr
Nevada Barr’s enthusiasm for audiobooks is palpable. When it comes to the spoken word, Barr says, “I’m a serious audiophile.” Barr was named for her native state of Nevada. But she grew up in northeastern California and currently lives in New Orleans. She is the author of 17 novels, including 15 featuring Park Ranger Anna Pigeon, each set at a different national park. Barr knows the ranger service intimately, having served in numerous parks as a patrol ranger and law enforcement ranger.
Barr’s listening habits, like her travels, are “all over the map,” she says. “One of the nice things is that I don’t listen to the usual writers over and over like I do when I buy books. I’ve listened to the complete Harry Potter series. Jim Dale is like an entire cast in a box. Will Patton reads the Robicheaux novels [by James Lee Burke], and, oh, he’s so good! Right now I am listening to two books,” says Barr. “I have [Phillip Margolin’s] THE FUGITIVE in the car, and I listen to Harlan Coben’s THE WOODS when I paint. I paint a lot. It’s heavenly. You put on a wonderful story, and the afternoon just drifts by.”
In 1978 Barr received an MFA in acting from the University of California, Irvine. “Imagine how many jobs I got with that!” she jokes. But her acting experience has helped her become the storyteller that she is. “The strengths of my books are character and dialogue,” she says. “You can’t spend that much time pretending to be other people, speaking their words, without absorbing some skills in writing dialogue. And another thing that came from the theater was the sense of studying characters. As an actor, you always wander around looking at people with interesting tics or who walk in a way your character might walk. You’re constantly eavesdropping on conversations in restaurants and watching people move. I think that habit comes over into the books and makes them a whole lot richer. Barbara Rosenblat is able to bring that into the spoken word, which is, of course, theater. And it comes full circle.”
When asked about her influences as a storyteller, Barr says, “My mother and father read to us all the time. Daddy was an incredible storyteller. He told jokes and stories and poems and ballads. He had a marvelous sense of humor. I grew up loving stories, and I don’t mind hearing them over and over.”
Barr gives a thoughtful response when asked how reading a print book differs from experiencing a book with one’s ears. “When I’m reading to myself, it’s very internal. A movie is being played inside my mind. Nothing exists outside my skull. But when I listen to a book, the experience is, oddly, much more interactive. The reader brings another dimension to it that I can’t. I make my own movie when I read, but the reader is bringing a new thing into my movie that is outside of my skull. It’s very lively and interactive. I won’t say it’s better than reading, but there are lots of times when it serves a better purpose. When I’ve been really sick or depressed, I’ll go to bed and put a book on the boombox, and I’ll lie there quietly and let somebody read me a story. Then you fall asleep,” she adds, her pensiveness turning sardonic, “and the next day you have to find the place you fell asleep at.”
As a trained actress, it’s surprising that Barr has never recorded her own work. “I offered,” she jokes, “and they turned me down. Damned if I was going to audition to read my own book. Besides, it’s hard to read an entire book out loud. Barbara [Rosenblat] does a better job than I would.” What’s up next? “I’m within spitting distance of the end of the next Anna Pigeon, and it’s set in New Orleans. It deals with the park service’s New Orleans jazz historical park, and it will be out next year.”--Steven E. Steinbock