Book 28: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling, read by Jim Dale, isbn 9780807281956, 7 cds, Listening Library, $49.95
Listening to this on cd while on my current travel swing for work, I realized that I read most of the Potter books long before I started blogging on Livejournal, and definitely before I started putting so much effort into my book reviews here. I came to the Potter books relatively late: it wasn't until Goblet of Fire came out in hardcover that I gave in to the recommendations of the countless teenagers (and quite a few random adults) in my life who were virtually ordering me to read them. This first book hooked me enough to read the second; the second likewise; but it was the third, Prisoner of Azkaban, that made me a fan who would read the whole series in hardcover and buy the books the day they came out.
Being the obsessive-compulsive I am when it comes to book series (and comic books, and tv shows on dvd, and ... okay, yeah, just about anything of a continuing nature), I also decided I had to have the Potter books on cd because they were performed by one of my all-time favorite actors, Jim Dale. I got the first four, lent them to various people ... and never actually got around to listening to them myself. The first two were returned in less-than-good condition (boxes crushed, cds scratched), and I pretty much tucked them away for a long time. Even with all the travel I've done the past four years, I kept avoiding bringing the Potter cds with me. I think perhaps I was afraid of aggravation at the skipping on the cds (which was not as bad as I thought it would be) and afraid of disappointment because I'd built Jim Dale's performance up so much in my head. A needless fear, as his performance is everything I thought it would be. His light tone fits this first book especially, and he makes the character voices distinct. Of course, the characters with the heaviest accents -- Hagrid, McGonnagle -- are the performances that most closely match the actors from the movies (Robbie Coltrane, Dame Maggie Smith), but for the most part Dale eschews trying to match the actors and just imbues the characters with his own take on what they would sound like. It's a wonderful performance overall.
Because I never actually wrote a book review for this when I read it, I'll say a few words about the book itself. Listening to it, the joy I had in discovering an interesting new world returned. I entered Rowling's world not knowing much about it. I remember thinking her characters were a bit simple but not simplistic, if that makes sense. I took to Harry, Ron, Dumbledore and McGonnagle immediately in those early chapters; I wondered how much of a threat Draco would become as the series went on (the answer, of course, was "not much of one until HBP"). I knew early on that Snape would not turn out to be the major bad-guy of the book (the set-up for him to be the bad-guy was TOO obvious, something that really stands out in Dale's reading), although I didn't call the real villain's identity at all. Overall, I felt the book was a good start, and a nice tight little mystery on it's own. Had I read the book when it was first published, I'm not sure I would have immediately rushed out to grab the second book -- knowing books 1 through 4 were immediately available may have helped my decision to push on to the next book right away.
I was very proud, the past few months, that my now-twelve-year-old nephew has decided to read the Potter books (after he'd read, and gotten me hooked on, the Percy Jackson books and I told him his excitement for the Jackson books matched my excitement for the Potter books). And I think that also played a part in my decision to "reread" the Potter series by listening to them on cd. I do plan, on the next travel swing, to bring Chamber of Secrets.