Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jennifer Kinney Boylan's She's Not There: an audible problem

As I'm still struggling with Sylvia, I decided to pick up another book to work on. I chose an audiobook to listen to while I'm driving, doing laundry, picking up the house, etc.

Sad to say, about two-thirds of the books I've "read" are books I've listened to. Not because don't enjoy sitting around for hours with my head in a book, but because my house will implode if I don't keep moving. Not to mention my frequent time behind the wheel of a car. What with errands, driving back and forth to Chicago, and folding laundry, I can listen to a ten hour-long audiobook start to finish in two days. Easily.

This time I branched out to the BookRiot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge part of my list. This task is "Read a book by or about a person that [sic] identifies as transgender." I picked She's Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

After listening to about half of the book, I've unfortunately realized that I'd like the book much more if I were reading it. It's a sad fact that most of the time, authors don't do particularly well by their own books. Jen Lancaster being a notable exception to the rule that Jennifer Kenney Boylan illustrates beautifully.

First of all, Boylan claims to have an androgynous-sounding voice, but it's more androgynous-lite. When I listen to the audiobook, I never think "I'm listening to a woman," and this undercuts some of the things she says. The power of her prose would be increased if I read all the way through the book, which starts when she's a five year old boy, and heard a woman's voice in my head. Or if she started narrating in a man's voice and then gradually became more feminine-sounding. (OK, it's a bit much to expect audiobooks to contain special effects. They're not movies.)

The thing is, in She's Not There, Boylan discusses her speaking voice and speech patterns. She worked with a vocal coach. She consciously tried to employ the rising inflection (referred to by linguists as "uptalk") that she claims many women adopt. She also mentions how ironic it is that the same rising inflection she criticized as a male English professor is now something she uses herself. In the book, she describes being nonplussed when she catches herself using uptalk. And she does it pretty frequently.

The thing is, when she reads her book aloud, you can't tell whether she realizes she's doing it. Is the uptalk deliberate, and employed for humorous effect, or is Boylan better than I am at sounding like a stereotypical young woman? I became so curious about it that I checked out the text over on Amazon. I couldn't see the whole book, but I caught a couple of examples where Boylan has added a question mark to her text to convey the use of uptalk. But when you hear it, you can't tell whether she knows she's doing it? And it bugs me?

I also find her sloppy S's off-putting.

But worst of all is her habit of separating nouns and verbs with a moment or two of silence, as though she were, adding a comma. That's what it sounds like when she, reads. And it's incredibly, annoying.

No comments:

Post a Comment