Mary Wagner

Mary Wagner
Wisconsin, USA
February 13
Former journalist, now criminal prosecutor, and award winning essayist and photographer, proves its never too late to make mid-course corrections! Vices include Belgian chocolate, Irish castles, great shoes, long clean shorelines, classic cartoons, big skies and Lee Child "Reacher" novels. Multiple degrees earned in the "school of life" include mother of four, former girl scout leader, truckstop waitress, cocktail waitress, office temp, judicial clerk, and radio talk show host. Latest essay collection, "Fabulous in Flats," just went live, preceded by "Running with Stilettos" and "Heck on Heels." Visit my website at


MARCH 2, 2012 9:46PM

Audio Book Snob

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I am still finding my sea legs in the world of appreciating audio books.

I  came late to the table on this new-fangled phenomenon, but that's pretty much par for the course for me.  Now that I've finally mastered the art of burning a song to a has long since evolved to being played  on an iPod.  I'm an author, and I have yet to buy an e-reader.  And so it goes.

At long last, though, I have joined the ranks of folks who listen to books on CD as they drive around. And I've turned out to be far, far more finicky than I had ever foreseen!

I had put off this notion for many years, while friends who knew that I drive on average between 30,000 and 40,000 miles a year shook their heads at my stubborness.  Lord knows, I had TRIED to make some use of my driving time before this--trying to learn French, Spanish and German at various times--but it just didn't take.  And since I was a child,  I have found JOY in the physical act of reading. 

All that changed, unfortunately, when I aged into trifocals and the act of reading at the end of a long day of eye-strain at the office morphed from relaxation to irritation.  And so I finally sucked it up, went to the library and got a replacement for the library card I had long misplaced, and started to cruise the catalog.

I picked "Ivanhoe" for my maiden voyage, and was not disappointed. The narrator was some guy who sounded quite suitably British through and through, and did a very creditable job of channeling the heartiness of Robin Hood, the sinuous immorality of Brian de Bois Guilbert, the intractable inflexibility of Cedric, Ivanhoe's father, and even the crazed and vengeful hag, Ulrica who memorably brought down a castle under siege by setting fire to the fuel magazine.  Not bad!!  I was off and running, and imagined the next hundred thousand miles to be an unbroken stream of  mental stimulation.

The next book I picked was a similar delight, but for a host of other reasons. I had ordered up the audio version of Frank Delaney's historical novel, "Tipperary," as a crash course in conversation before meeting the author at an upcoming literary event in Chicago where we were both going to be speaking.  I knew nothing about the book beforehand, but had learned that Delaney originally hailed from County Tipperary, which was my own ancestral seat. When the audio set arrived, it turned out that Delaney also narrated his own work.  I was mesmerized by the story, entranced by the history lesson running parallel my own roots and featuring scenes set in places that I had visited, and swept away by the author's rich voice. Okay, I confess, I could listen to Frank Delaney read names from the phone book for an hour and consider myself lucky.  Sigh... 

I followed "Tipperary" with another of Delaney's historical novels, "Shannon," also fondly and skillfully read by its creator with a marvelous Irish brogue.  The miles sped by, roughly one CD per leg of my trip to and from the courthouse where I work, the same red-tailed hawks watching from trees and fenceposts along the interstate but my mind traversing emerald fields and gravel roads and ocean away. And then, thoroughly steeped in images and memories of Old Erin, I changed course and stepped into modernity.

That's where I hit a snag.  Recognizing that not every narrator matches up with the voice inside a reader's head, I'm going to skip the next book titles so as not to offend.  But let's just say that the first novel I picked was the latest in my favorite series of suspense novels featuring an ex-military hero who is large, steadfast, testosterone-overloaded, smart, resourceful, precise and lethal. And I could not envision the highly-recommended award-winning narrator describing the first scene through my hero's eyes in a military uniform for any reason ever, even as a lowly file clerk in a windowless basement.  I ejected the first CD after ten minutes, and spent the rest of the driving listening to "classic rock" and trying to erase the narrator's image from my mental data base.

The next audio foray was a ghostly suspense story by a best-selling novelist whose work I greatly admired.  The story was voiced by a pair of distinguished actors, and again I felt a disappointing auditory disconnect. Was I being too critical in thinking that the character of a mother crazed with panic at the thought of harm to her children should seem to have more personality than a limp vegan noodle? This time I stuck it out for all eleven CDs, since I really, REALLY wanted to find out how the story ended. And I chided myself often for being just too plain picky.

Third time had to be a charm, I thought, and I forged ahead through my library's catalog.  I'm a sucker for a good detective story, especially with a strong female lead, and this time I indulged myself with the debut novel in a long-running and popular series of detective stories.  Oh heck, the book was very good, and so I'll even admit here that it was "Deja Dead," the first book by Kathy Reichs, whose forensic anthropologist heroine Temperance Brennan spawned the hit TV series, "Bones," a favorite of mine.  And darned it I didn't hit another bump in the road.

This time, I discovered that when it comes to body parts being sliced up and pain being inflicted and maggots dropping to the floor and blood spiurting everywhere...I'd rather skim through those parts at the speed of light on the printed page rather than have every bloody detail imprinted slowly and deliberately on my consciousness.  Who knew??  Again, I made to the end of the audio book...but I'll be taking the next book in the series out on paper.

And yet, just as I nearly overcome with vexation and impatience, on this morning's drive I inserted the first CD of Amy Tan's 2001 novel "The Bonesetter's Daughter." And almost instantly I was swept away, nearly giddy with delight at feelng myself being drawn into a story with an almost tidal pull...and which seemed to have just that much more authenticity by being read in part by the woman who created it.  

This is still a new adventure for me, as I sort through what types of books will hold my interest over the miles, and make a short list of what narrators will kill a book for me right out of the gate.  But one thing's for certain. I'm back to enjoying the world of books and imagery and imagination and great story lines...and I'm really glad to be there!


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I don't listen to them at home, but they are a great way to travel. On our yearly trips from NH to FL and then back...listening to books helps with the long hours on the highway. It is difficult to get any decent radio and our ipod music is getting stale after hundreds of hours of play. I think the classics would be a great idea. However, I am told that certain readers far exceed others. Am going to look for the Bonesetters Daughter. Informative/excellent post. Thanks
And for another long drive, I'd highly recommend "Tipperary" as well! I didn't realize, until I met Frank Delaney in Chicago and listened to his talk about William Butler Yeats just how much of Yeats' personality is built into his main character--the infatuation with a beautiful but unavailable and unreceptive woman, the determination to make himself into something great or noble. Oh that reminds me...I've got to find some Yeats poetry on CD!
With The Bonesetter's Daughter behind me, I'm now making my way through "The Paris Wife" (about Ernest Hemmingway's starter wife) for my book club...which will lead me next to his immortal "A Farewell to Arms." Something has to erase Jennifer Jones' hysterically overwrought performance in the 1950s movie. The audio adventure continues!!