Thursday, July 23, 2009

Words vs. Pictures of Words

Today I drove from Seattle to Salt Lake City, so I listened to a book instead of reading it myself. Safer for the other highway drivers, y'know. I shared the car with five other people, ranging in age from 74 to 6, so I tried to pick a book with broad appeal. I came up with the audio for The Green Glass Sea, a book by Ellen Klages and narrated by Julie Dretzin.

It was a good pick. The story covers a few years on The Hill, the Los Alamos base where the nuclear bomb was developed. Dewey and Suze, two pre-adolescent girls whose parents work on the project, meet and become friends. The kids like the developing relationship between the girls, from antagonism through respect to friendship and collaboration. The adults also enjoyed the history, as the girls encounter famous names such as Bethe, Teller, Feynman. It's a fascinating look at a very small town during a crucial moment of history, and Klages' beautifully evocative prose brings each day to vivid life. I'm not sure I liked Dretzin's reading; it felt like she was enjoying the language as she spoke it, which is understandable but distancing. When I read the book, the prose was transparent, but listening to it I felt pushed to notice the phrases, to see how each sense was evoked, to appreciate the tiny metaphors.

Tomorrow I'll officially ask the other listeners to rate the book, and maybe update with their responses. For me, I give the book an A and the reading a B-.

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