Mister Pip, a defence of audiobooks and two thirds of a vineyard

by Kit Munro

…you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch fire and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.

Lloyd Jones Mister Pip

There are many folk who are scathing about audiobooks; for example, this person. There are also folk who go out of their way to defend audiobooks; for example, this chap.

I will not add my voice to the cacophony of this argument. Fortunately though, I have stumbled across a book, in audiobook format of course, that provides a more effective defence of accessing literature through listening, than I ever could.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is set in the 1990s on Bougainville Island during the civil war. Mr Watts, the only white man left, takes over teaching the local children when the school closes. He says he has no teaching experience. So, aside from relying on local tutors, who take the students for a wide range of subjects (my favourite was the lesson on the colour blue), he reads to them. Mister Watts reads the children Great Expectations by Mister Dickens.

I doubt that Mister Jones intended Mister Pip to be a defence of audiobooks as a means of “reading” literature. Yet that is one of the great things about the writer-reader relationship. What he intended his words to mean and what I interpret them as, are both determined by the different intellectual baggage we carry. When he writes “trees” he may see Oaks or Manuka, when I read “trees” I might see Palms (in fact I see Pines and Weeping Willows).

I will not recount what I think are the arguments for audiobooks that are found in Mister Pip. To do so I think would give too much of the story away. What I will do is to challenge anybody to read or listen to Mister Pip and still believe that hearing a novel rather than reading it is a waste of time, or even inferior to reading it.

I began this post with a quote from Mister Pip. A quote that, I think, conveys how an audiobook is able to make the vines, sheep, or firewood in front of me melt away. Occasionally while listening, I will give a start to see I have reached the end of a vineyard row.

Today, while reading  Mister Pip we hit the 2/3 mark for the wrapping in the vineyard. Once we have wrapped another 5000 vines the job will be done, or very nearly done.

The problem is that there is another deadline. The sheep shearing must be done. By the 10th of October. Wrapping the vines has to stop while the shearing is done. On the plus side, while I am not a huge fan of vineyard work, I love shearing.

The woolshed waiting for sheep, wool, shearer and rousie.