Revisiting the Audiobook

The thing I’ve chosen to write about is both exactly and not at all like the type of thing I normally pursue as a consumer of media. It’s a podcast called “Obscure,” hosted by comedian Michael Ian Black. It’s sort of an audiobook, but also not really; sort of a comedy, but also not in the slightest.

Every episode of “Obscure” consists of Michael reading aloud a chapter of Thomas Hardy’s 1895 novel “Jude the Obscure,” inserting commentary and interviews when relevant. In a sense, “Obscure” was made for me – “Jude” is one of my all-time favorite books. However, the catch is that I’ve always resented the idea of having to listen to someone else read aloud from a book, especially when the reader is not the author of said book. In my past experiences, the reader is always way too fast or way too slow, and the concept of reading along with somebody else deprives me of one of the things I love most about reading – the solitude it provides, the feeling of being completely alone with myself.

“Obscure” changed all of that for me. It’s not really an audiobook at all, at least not in the way we normally think about audiobooks. Michael’s constant interjections, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, turn it into an entirely new kind of art form. Having read the book already, it’s absolutely fascinating to hear his reactions to the tragic events of the book, to see how they differ from my own and also mirror them. Maybe I’ll never come to love the traditional audiobook, but I think it’s safe to say I’m a massive fan of this obscurely categorized thing Michael Ian Black has created for introducing me to a wholly unique way of connecting.

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