Speak easy hit from word go

The ABC cel­e­brates 60 years of its highly suc­cess­ful Book Read­ing pro­gram

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page - GREG THOM

WHEN the first book was read aloud to ABC ra­dio lis­ten­ers 60 years ago, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place. World War II was a vivid mem­ory, most men wore hats and Don Brad­man’s ‘‘In­vin­ci­bles’’ were wip­ing the floor with the English cricket team.

Aus­tralians are still tuning in to hear the writ­ten word.

In an age of high-speed broad­band in­ter­net ac­cess, fast-paced tele­vi­sion news and mul­ti­me­dia en­ter­tain­ment op­tions, Ra­dio Na­tional arts ed­i­tor Richard Buck­ham says there is still a place for book read­ing on the wireless.

‘‘Peo­ple still love nov­els. They still love the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing read to and they still like to hear a re­ally good reader tell them the story,’’ Buck­ham says.

To cel­e­brate the 60th an­niver­sary of Book Read­ing this week, Ra­dio Na­tional has se­lected three mile­stone nov­els first pub­lished in 1948— The City the Pil­lar by Gore Vi­dal, Ruth Park’s Harp in the South and Cry, the Beloved Coun­try by Alan Pa­ton.

Each work was cho­sen for its pi­o­neer­ing de­pic­tions of po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and sex­ual is­sues that still res­onate with read­ers to­day.

‘‘Gore Vi­dal, who is still writ­ing, as a very young man writes this book about a young gay man and for the first time some­one writes about gay life in a way that doesn’t por­tray the char­ac­ter as ei­ther ef­fem­i­nate or neu­rotic,’’ Buck­ham says.

In con­trast, Harp in the South was in­stru­men­tal in turn­ing the so­cial spot­light on in­ner-city Aus­tralian life.

‘‘It wasn’t about the bush and it woke peo­ple up to the fact that there was poverty in the mid­dle of our cities,’’ Buck­ham says.

Cry, the Beloved Coun­try brought the harsh re­al­ity of South Africa’s bru­tal apartheid regime to the world.

Such tales are part and par­cel of Book Read­ing’s legacy that at one stage was re­spon­si­ble for lit­er­ally stop­ping lis­ten­ers in their tracks. The ser­vice has aired at vary­ing times over the years, in­clud­ing one pe­riod in the ’70s and ’80s at 8.50am.

‘‘Peo­ple used to write or ring and say ‘I had to stop the car, or stay in the car and was late for work, be­cause I had to find out what hap­pened,’’ Buck­ham says.

‘‘That was al­ways good. We al­ways loved mak­ing peo­ple late for work.’’

BNow broad­cast in 15-minute episodes at 2pm and 11pm week­days, it takes about two weeks to fin­ish a novel. In years gone by, read­ings could take up to six weeks.

Tastes have also changed. Many of to­day’s lis­ten­ers would raise their eye­brows at some of the nov­els read in the past.

‘‘You are hard-pressed to recog­nise a lot of them from the late ’40s and ’50s be­cause, of course, a lot of pop­u­lar fic­tion just doesn’t last,’’ he says.

Fea­tured books have not al­ways been con­fined to pop­u­lar fic­tion.

‘‘Back in those days, peo­ple were still in­ter­ested in hear­ing a Jane Austen or Henry Law­son short story,’’ Buck­ham says.

Tech­nol­ogy such as the in­ter­net has served to broaden the pro­gram’s ap­peal.

Vis­i­tors to the ABC web­site can lis­ten to read­ings ei­ther by 15-minute episodes or in their en­tirety at their leisure. Pod­cast­ing plans are in the works. UCKHAM says the in­ter­net has not only en­abled the ser­vice to reach more lis­ten­ers, but has been a boon for au­thors as well.

More than 60 per cent of the writ­ers high­lighted are Aus­tralian, with con­tem­po­rary au­thors al­ready fea­tured this year in­clud­ing Alex Miller, Tim Win­ton, He­len Gar­ner and David Malouf.

‘‘The in­ter­net is a global medium and it takes Aus­tralian writ­ing all around the world,’’ he says, adding it’s rare for writ­ers to read their own books on the pro­gram. In­stead, ac­tors such as Mel­bourne-based Anne Phe­lan, Ju­lia Blake and Fred Parslow step be­hind the mic.

Hav­ing the right voice con­vey­ing the story is in­te­gral to the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘‘If it’s a re­ally good read­ing, if the reader has a real knack, then I think you end up feel­ing they’re read­ing just to you,’’ Buck­ham says.

‘‘It’s a sort of one-to-one ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

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