The Handmaid’s Tale Revisited—Audiobook Edition Updated

Listen for new insights into the beloved—and prescient—dystopian classic.

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Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 classic dystopian novel THE HANDMAID’S TALE debuts April 2017 as a streaming series on Hulu.com. The book has been a bestseller for decades, but has had a resurgence in the months since the 2016 election. The New Yorker calls her “the Prophet of Dystopia,” and the title is fitting. Her story of Offred, a Handmaid who is enslaved to bear children for a government leader and his wife, studies the role of women in a society that has slowly and quietly stripped them of their rights. The tale remains chilling today.

Atwood and the team at Audible have created a special new audiobook edition, adding new content from Atwood to the sparkling performance by Claire Danes released in 2012. Back then, AudioFile reviewer Leslie Fine gave the performance an Earphones Award—you can read her review of the “timeless and timely” audiobook here.

We reached out to Leslie to see what she had to say about the new content:

The Special Edition audiobook of Margaret Atwood’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE offers some thought-provoking new material, outlined below.

Questions and Answers
The original novel ends with a keynote lecture from the “12th Symposium on Gileadean Studies,” framing Offred’s disturbing story as a curiosity from the past and ending with the eerie “Are there any questions?” Atwood uses this Special Edition as an opportunity to ask and answer those questions, with an eye for current events in the United States. A full cast performs this section, and for the most part, the performances here are fine, with the keynote speaker assuming a lofty, supremely erudite tone that suits the content. The questions culminate in the ultimate one: “What sort of political climate do you think could potentially break apart our current stasis and deliver us back in time, so to speak?” Listeners may indeed be interested in that response.

Afterword
The Special Edition audiobook gives listeners insights into the author’s purpose, thanks to the new afterword by Atwood herself. The author’s measured reading of her essay calmly offers a brief history of the novel’s origins and reflects on its historical and social context. Her pacing is such that the listener has time to absorb her words without feeling pressed. Perhaps best of all, Atwood mentions questions readers have posed over the years and offers her thoughts on the answers. Listeners can almost feel like confidantes of an active, imaginative, perpetually-prescient mind.

Essay
Following Atwood’s excellent afterword is an additional critical essay by Valerie Martin, the content of which is quite thoughtful and enlightening as it explores the role of THE HANDMAID’S TALE in our culture since its publication. The listener is offered only “Essay” as a preface, and the pacing here is much more hasty, which does detract somewhat from the experience. However, the ideas themselves are worth hearing. On another production note, this section would benefit from a more distinct separation from the Atwood piece, one that would include the author’s name at the outset, rather than leaving Martin’s name until the end.

If you haven’t yet read THE HANDMAID’S TALE, this audiobook is an excellent way to challenge your mind and perceptions. If you are already a fan of this novel, this Special Edition will offer you even more to think about.—Leslie Fine

What are your favorite book-to-screen adaptations? Share yours in the comments!

Tuesday Tease: It Happened in Scotland

A cozy Scottish village setting, a second-chance-at-love story, and narrator Kirsten Potter equal listening pleasure.

There are two reasons to listen to this audiobook: Kirsten Potter and Scotland. In the interests of complete honesty, I would probably listen to almost any Scotland-set tale. It’s the most craggy, magical place to visit, and they like butter as much as I do. (I’m including a link to the absolute best shortbread – Stag Stornoway Shortbread – that you can only get in the Outer Hebrides. It’s worth the flight . . .  and the ferry ride . . . trust me.) So take a cozy Scottish village setting and a second-chance-at-love story and add the memorable vocal stylings of narrator Kirsten Potter, and you get true listening pleasure. Did I mention it’s a series? I jumped in mid-series with this title and had no problem following along. I liked hearing hints about other characters and their stories, and I kept thinking it would be fun to go back and listen to the other stories.

In IT HAPPENED IN SCOTLAND, Rachel journeys to Scotland as a widow, bringing her daughter Hannah to meet her husband’s family, not realizing her old flame Brodie has also returned to the village of Gandiegow. Potter manages the intricate backstory of this contemporary, small-town saga with great aplomb. She incorporates Scottish terminology and accents into her character-driven voicings, differentiating Scots of various ages and temperaments, ensuring that each character is unique.

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IT HAPPENED IN SCOTLAND
Kilts and Quilts, Book 6
Earphones Award Winner
by Patience Griffin, Read by Kirsten Potter

Watch a behind-the-mic video and find other audiobooks narrated by Kirsten Potter at our website!

Solve: Crime for Kids

Crime written for kids by authors such as John Grisham, Kathy Reichs, Ridley Pearson, and James Patterson is reaching listeners of all ages. What have you heard lately?

lock-and-keyThere seems to be a proliferation of adult mystery and suspense writers dipping their toes–or taking the full plunge–into writing for younger readers. John Grisham has kid lawyers, Ridley Pearson brings a young James Moriarty to life, Kathy Reichs and her son created a “pack” of young crime fighters–one of whom is the grandniece of Reich’s Temperance Brennan–and James Patterson has an entire imprint for children with books spanning the age range.

These mysteries aren’t limited to American writers either. The Scandinavian rage that’s captured the adult side of the genre is present on the YA shelves as well. Salla Simukka’s AS RED AS BLOOD, the beginning of The Snow White Trilogy, is a prime example.

But children’s or YA mysteries aren’t anything new. Many of us learned to love the genre from series such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown or books like THE WESTING GAME.

And while the classic stories as well as the newer generation of mysteries continue to hook youth on reading and listening, the same stories are captivating adults as well. What is it about these audiobooks that make them so magical to audiences of all ages?

I talked with actor and narrator Peter Berkrot who’s performed some YA audiobooks. I wanted to know how he approaches an audiobook intended for young listeners and if he does anything different from the audios he performs for adults. For the most part, his preparation is the same, but he says, “in the acting choices and in honoring the writing, I find that good YA books tend to strip away any excess writing and leave us with an essence of each character. Not to say that YA novels aren’t as sophisticated or intelligent as their adult counterparts. On the contrary, young readers are incredibly insightful and can detect inauthenticity when authors get too clever or complex. There is often a parable-like quality to good YA, allowing direct access into the spirit of the character. Just as in real life, young people have not developed a capacity for self-deception and complex psychology; novels of this sort take us more instantly into the truth of the characters. So I trust the writing and stay out of its way.”

hunt-killersI’m not sure I broke it down enough to notice that before, but he’s absolutely right. I’m sure that’s what I found so intriguing about Charlie Thurston’s narrations of Barry Lyga’s I HUNT KILLERS trilogy. And the fat was definitely trimmed from Bill Cameron’s PROPERTY OF THE STATE, which isn’t on audio but I’d love to see recorded.

I also had the chance to chat with Kirby Heyborne about narrating for younger listeners. Since he’s been so successful in this realm of audiobook recording I wanted to know his secret to narrating for children and young adults. He told me he took some cues from story time with his own kids: “I found that when my kids were little and I read to them for bedtime, they preferred me not reading down to them. They were more interested when I was invested in the characters and made them sound fun and believable.” Isn’t that really what we all hope for in a good audiobook performance? No wonder the books that are intended for younger audiences strike a chord with adults as well. By the way, Kirby is also a fan of THE WESTING GAME, “My all time favorite mystery novel. In fact, it’s one of my all time favorite books of any genre.” Mysteries have that effect on many people!

A conversation I found especially fascinating was the one I had with Amy Rubinate. “I’ve been directing a lot of middle grade, YA and picture books lately, and it has caused me to look more closely at my approach to the work.” Amy has narrated books for young readers for a long time and has developed an instinct for the characters and plots in these stories. “But when I’m directing, I have to put more thought into it in order to convey that information to the actors. The best thing I can do is cast the books well – then not a lot of direction is needed; the narrators lock right into the work. But we also spend time in session weighing how to approach subtle aspects of character that would be reflected in the narration; for example: how much innocence/wonder would still be present in the voice and spirit of the spunky 12-year-old protagonist, given the hardship he has endured.” I think it would be especially fun to be a fly on the wall in those sessions!

When I asked Amy about her favorite mystery from childhood, I was reminded of a story I, too, adored, “My favorite audio mystery/thriller when I was a kid was a ‘story record’ of the Disney movie, The Rescuers. I listened to it hundreds of times, and mimicked all of the voices. They did a novelization of the movie with wonderful narration, interspersed with dialogue cut from the movie. Bob Newhart, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Geraldine Page…it never failed to enchant me. I think the repetition of great work like this is one of the things that made me able to handle dialogue easily many years later.” I think I’ll be picturing the little dragonfly, Evinrude, all day today. What great memories.

There are a lot of wonderful titles out there making selections for young–and young-at-heart listeners–explode. How about you and your young audiobook fans? What titles have captured your imaginations and entertained you lately? Do you ever listen to a title together? Feel free to share your experiences and recommendations in the comments today.

There’s no mystery about it – our website is full of more great audiobooks for children and young adults!