Two vintage audio recordings of Raymond Carver reading his work recently appeared (and then disappeared) on YouTube. The audio was removed due to copyright infringement, but we were able to sneak a listen before it was taken down. The recordings were of Carver reading two of his short stories, “A Serious Talk” and “Fat,” which the YouTube user had transferred from a 1983 cassette tape published by the American Audio Prose Library.
The recordings came from a reading Carver performed in New York City in May 1983, in conjunction with an interview with Kay Bonetti. The accompanying interview was published in Saturday Review in the September/October 1983 issue and can be read via GoogleBooks as part of a compilation of Carver interviews edited by Marshall Bruce Gentry and William L. Stull called Conversations With Raymond Carver. The American Audio Prose Library released a tape of this interview, along with the cassette of Carver reading “A Serious Talk,” “Fat,” and a third story, “Nobody Said Anything.”
The rare recordings allowed us (briefly) to encounter Carver’s stories in his own voice, with the aid of his tone and pacing. A 1989 review of the recording in the Philadelphia Inquirer contrasts Carver’s mode of reading with that of actor Peter Riegert, who provides the vocal performance for the audio book of Where I’m Calling From, released by Random House in 1989. The Inquirer comments that “Carver reads with a bit of a sigh and a shrug,” whereas “Riegert picks up on the chips that many characters have on their shoulders and evokes distance - there’s usually an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice.” Carver himself, they observe, imparts a “gentler, more wistful quality” to his stories in the 1983 recordings.
In listening to the “Fat” and “A Serious Talk,” I heard a lovely empathy in Carver’s spoken voice, as well as a pervasive calmness. His voice does have an odd quality, here, though; the Philadelphia Inquirer commented that he “sounds congested.” The Youtube user who posted the recordings observed that listeners can hear the writer sucking on a cough drop as he reads, stating, “Carver was already having some breathing problems due to his years of smoking.” Though he would die of lung cancer in 1988, it’s uncertain whether Carver’s congestion at the time of the recording was due to the early stages of that disease or a simple cold.
Even with the slightly nasal quality the congestion adds to his voice, Carver’s smooth baritone makes these recordings easy to listen to, and for any fan of the writer, hearing these stories in Carver’s own voice is a real treat.
While we understand the need to exert copyright control, we’re secretly glad we got to sneak a listen in before they were taken down. If only they were still available for public purchase or consumption in some way; perhaps they’ll be re-released at a later date.