Thursday, July 11, 2013

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (audio reread)

Unabridged audiobook on 3 compact discs, 3.75 hours. Read by Adam Grupper. Recorded Books, April, 2013. 9781470351236. (Borrowed from the library.)

Ivan, a silverback gorilla, contemplates life as "the ape at exit 8." He has a few friends in Stella, the elephant and Bob, the stray dog who likes to sleep on his stomach. He has little regard for humans and almost no memory of life before living in his painted cement "domain."

I read The One and Only Ivan with my eyes back in July but never got around to reviewing it. Not because I didn't love it, I adored it and had some Newbery hopes for it. I just fell behind  in my reviewing. I mentioned it in a post at the end of the year when I looked back on all the books I read in 2012 and noticed all the books I loved but didn't review.

So when I saw that SLJ gave the audiobook a starred review last month, I put it on my list to revisit, but with some trepidation. You see, among this novel's many strengths is Ivan's voice. He is an ape of few emotions and even fewer words. The voice in my head was rumbly and gravelly with lots of pausing as the short sentences and couplets reflect in the book. 

     "Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels 
      and leave them to rot."

     "Humans speak too much. They chatter like chimps, 
     crowding the world with their noise even when they
     have nothing to say."

     "Gorillas are as patient as stones. Humans, not so much."

Perhaps it is for this reason that I rarely reread books that I've read with my eyes with my ears. My audio reading consists mostly of fantasy, YA, or books I tried with my eyes and didn't get into but got lots of great reviews. 

But what with the starred review in SLJ and the fact that I attended the Newbery banquet a couple of weeks ago, I felt the need to reread the book after listening to the author's acceptance speech. I can't begin to describe my disappointment when I realized that Adam Grupper's voice for Ivan was not gravelly and rumbly and that, while his pace was rather slow, did not reflect the poetic rhythm of the writing.

I almost stopped reading within the first few minutes of the audiobook. But then, I was ironing and the cd player was in my pocket. I decided to give it to the end of the first cd and just concentrate on Applegate's lovely writing. (Plus, I rarely abandon a book because I'm stubborn like that.) 

I'm glad I soldiered on because then came Bob's voice. It matched the one in my head. So I committed. I got teary when <spoiler alert!> Stella died. I finished my ironing and sat and sat, totally immersed, and listened to the story in one sitting. And, while I didn't fall completely in love with Grupper's reading, I did fall in like and came to appreciate his performance and interpretation of the book. I'm not sure I would've given it a star had I been the SLJ reviewer though.

I don't wish to dissuade you from reading The One and Only Ivan with your ears. I just want to say that to read it with your ears means that you're missing out on the white space. Yes, the white space. Sure there are lots of lovely bits of spot art that endearingly portray characters but the white space speaks volumes. There aren't many long paragraphs in this book. Most are two sentences, many are one. Ivan doesn't waste any words, after all. The white space represents Ivan's thoughtful processing, his gradual awakening. It's Important.

There are many moments of lovely writing to stop to appreciate along the way here as well. Sometimes, it's nice to stop to marvel over a turn of phrase or an observation. This is rather difficult to do when reading with my ears, especially since I'm usually doing it while walking my dog, gardening, driving, folding clothes or vacuuming. But perhaps I'm listening wrong.

My apologies for this non-review. I suppose this post is more musing than analysis, perhaps it's fodder for an essay post on expectations or some such. 

How do you read with your ears?

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