18 April 2012

Audio Book Review: The Night Circus

If you read my blog with anything resembling regularity (so yeah, basically if you're my mom. Hi, Mom!), you might recall that last year one of my favorite books was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I was lucky enough to be an early reader and proponent for it, and my review was about as gushy as I've ever gotten over a book.  I also dyed my hair red in honor of Morgenstern's appearance at my bookshop, and then treated myself to a re-read of the novel before the year was out.

Thus, it was a little over-the-top even for me when I decided to listen to audio book of The Night Circus.  But wait!  Before you get all judgy-McJudy on me, you need to know who performs the book, and that is the great, the inimitable Jim Dale.  That's right, as in arguably the best reader of audio books produced in the US. (Alas, I can't quite pit his readings of the Harry Potter books against Stephen Fry's.)

Reading and listening to The Night Circus turned out to be two vastly different experiences.  There are always some differences, of course, with the two media.  The audio version is always a more leisurely read because you can't skim ahead like you can with physical books.  The surprising difference for me is the emotions that this audio book evoked in me: while I loved reading the book, I was more or less emotionally removed from the story, but Dale's performance of it moved me to tears on a couple of occasions.  I also found that the audio version lacked the magic for me that it held during my reading of the book (both times), and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why.  My best guess is that when I am caught up in a story, racing to turn the pages, that the act of suspending disbelief is both intensely personal and immediate: I am part of the story.  I think perhaps that the listening creates a slight remove from the source.

Because I had already read The Night Circus, it was relatively easy for me to maintain where in the overall story arc we were during the audio.  The book jumps back and forth in its timeline so often that I think I would have had a good deal of difficulty figuring out when something happened if the audio had been my first experience with the store. However, the strangest effect the audio had on me was a lessening of my passion for the story, and I think that is the first time that that has ever happened to me, as a good audio version of a book only serves to increase my fondness for the story.  And rest assured, Jim Dale cannot create anything other than a good audio book.

NB: I listened to two Jim Dale-read books back-to-back: this one and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. If I hadn't done that, I might not have noticed that Isobel and Hermione are voiced almost identically to each other, as are A. H. and Dumbledore. 


  1. Uh oh, it sounds like I should probably read the book before the audio? Do you think it may be a confusing read what with the timeline shifts if I read it on audio first?

  2. I remember your love of The Night Circus! Because I do believe your hair dying because of the story is still one of the coolest things ever!

    I'm not so much into audiobooks (as in, I haven't listened to one since I was really little and needing to be entertained in the car) but this does sound good, especially if it made you cry! (not in a mean way...) Also, randomly, I'm kind of thinking about getting the audiobook of Bossypants, just cause I was reading it and thinking of Tina Fey saying it and it was just a whole lot funnier that way, so yeah. I may get into audiobooks sometime!

  3. Oh, how I love this book. I heard that little snippet of the audio at that pre-pub party (you were there too, if I'm remembering correctly) and I was entranced by Jim Dale's voice. I've never done "audio" before, and so your comments reflecting the difference in emotions felt between reading and listening are very interesting to me. Someday I'll check it out I'm sure!

  4. At least your mom reads your blog! MY mom only sees it if I throw the link onto her facebook page :)

    An old follower, Dee from e-Volving Books

  5. Well, what can I say except that I'm extremely proud to be your mom and also be mentioned in your blog. Loved both the actual book and audio version. In fact, it's a book I'll consider re-reading as soon as I finish this monumental stack sitting here.

  6. barkless, I'd definitely recommend reading the book before listening.

    Laura, I've listened to the Tina Fey book and it was *very* funny.

    Sarah, yes! I was at the night circus party. Wasn't that a fun night?

    dee, I bet *my* mom would read your blog if you'd like!

    mom/anon, thanks for all of the comments!

  7. Guess I forgot to mention that I, too, loved your red hair. Please, Sir, will you do it some more?

  8. I'm not judging - I love to reread. I still haven't read The Night Circus yet though, I really need to.


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)