open the pages, read the words, savor the magic

Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories

These days, if there’s anything people like to debate about, it’s the pros and cons of print book versus e-books. I myself like to get into these debates because I have strong feelings about both formats (like how I own iPad and like to read books using iBooks but still strictly buy print books only for newly published novels – trust me, it’s complicated). But lately I’ve been thinking about how, instead of debating this issue, I should probably debate about audio books vs real books.

Can you call an audio book a ‘book’? For one, the format itself is, well, not a book. They come in CD or MP3 and it doesn’t even have any pages. You listen to it instead of read it as the words are not written anywhere near you. I never really understood how audio books worked, to be honest, or how I could enjoy ‘reading’ a book that way.

Then, with audio books, you depend a lot on who’s reading the story. Harry Potter audio books are read by two different people – Stephen Fry for the UK editions and Jim Dale for the US editions. Whose voice, whose pronunciation, whose accent is better? Will the US edition of any audio book be read in American accent? What if there’s a book that focuses on a specific location, an exotic locale or a foreign city, where a particular kind of dialect is required? Will these people – usually recording in English-speaking countries – be able to voice that dialect properly? All of this strikes me just as a little bit confusing – especially because I’m probably suffering from OCD and I love to nitpick down to the smallest details. So naturally I simply avoid buying or listening to audio books completely ever since I discovered its existence.

It is a surprise, then, that I willingly listened to this audio book: Sherlock Holmes: The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries And Other Stories by John Taylor.

I wouldn’t even start listening to this one if it weren’t for the fact that one of my recent favorite actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, was reading it. It is no secret that Cumberbatch has shot to insane levels of popularity for playing a modern-day Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, Sherlock, so perhaps the fact that I knew the one reading the story would be someone who was more than capable of handling the character Sherlock Holmes convinced me to try it out.

The highlight of the entire work is, for me, undoubtedly Mr. Cumberbatch’s excellent reading. There’s no denying that I was extremely taken in by his sexy baritone (he has a memorable voice that rivals Hugo Weaving’s and, more similarly, Alan Rickman’s) but what convinced me to stick through this whole audio book experience and not give up on it the way I did the other audio books was HOW Cumberbatch read it.

Proving to be the excellent actor/reader he is, he gave nuances to the characters in the story. His Holmes (who, when read by Cumberbatch, somehow reminds me of the personality of Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes from Guy Ritchie’s movies) is distinguishable from the other characters. And his Watson (who sounds entirely like Cumberbatch’s own version of the character) was yet again very different from Holmes. All the minor characters – clients, villains, police – sound like they had personalities, thanks to him.

Speaking of the stories written by John Taylor themselves, I’m pleased to report that they came across as very Conan Doyle-esque. They are what I call “official fanfiction”. (Although perhaps the recently released House Of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider series is even more official because it is a Sherlock Holmes adventure story written and published with the official sanction of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate.) Sir Arthur is probably the “most adapted” male British author from his era (or from the entire history of English literature). I don’t know how he would feel about that but the good news for Sir Conan Doyle is that many of the people adapting his works into various forms never really do a poor job. Therefore, likewise with this collection of stories by John Taylor, they are in Sir Arthur’s style and there are only very minor differences from the canon.

Has this book changed my mind about audio books? No. As I said, the whole experience is entirely dependent on the reader and I don’t want to depend on anyone else when I’m discovering a story. The experience is less personal that way. It works for many other people, I am sure, but regrettably, it’s not for me.

However, with the plethora of Holmesian entertainment out there, it could quickly get very boring if you don’t find something new. There are only so many episodes of BBC’s Sherlock that we can watch and it’s not like Guy Ritchie can make and release exciting new Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. every month. Print books are great but what if we’re just looking for something different? If that’s the case, this audio book, with stories written by Taylor and read by Cumberbatch, is perfect for when you’re looking for more Holmesian entertainment outside the canon with a voice that could caress your ears.


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