Tammy Grimes and Esther Averill. Audiobooks Don’t Get Better.

Even though I have this audiobook in my possession, I haven’t heard it for at least fifteen years.  I can only find it on vinyl and I don’t have a record player!  But, nevertheless, an ode to Averill and Grimes is in order.

I wish I could take better, not-dark picture in my living room. Sadly, this was the best of eleven...

I was a major audiobook kid.  I’m still very much an audiobook person.  I like to listen to them on the bus or while cleaning/putzing about the house.  If I’m doing something where I can’t devote 100% of my attention to the story, I’ll put on Charlotte’s Web read by E.B. White – my theory is that, if I listen to him enough, I’ll soak up some of his writing style.  Or I’ll develop a booming Massachusetts twang.

My favourite audiobooks as a chidler were Roald Dahl’s Matilda and The Witches (I can’t remember the readers – lovely British ladies) and the abridged Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island read by Megan Follows.  But nothing can ever top Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club read by Tammy Grimes (1978).

Grimes was a Broadway and television actress whose best-known audiobook accomplishment is likely Where The Wild Things Are (in addition to some other Sendak stories).  But man oh man, she nails Jenny Linsky.

Jenny Linsky is a black cat.  She lives with Captain Tinker (best name ever).  At night she rolls with her feline friends in the Cat Club: Concertina, Mr. President, Macaroni, The Duke, Romulus, Remus, Arabella, Antonio, and Solomon.  Anyone who doesn’t know these books is at a serious disadvantage in life.

I don’t know what it is about Grimes’ voice that lends itself so well to Averill’s stories.  There is something very old-fashioned and dear about the Jenny Linsky tales (the synopsis on the record calls them “unpretentious little classics”) and there is nothing particularly dear about Grimes’ voice.  It sounds very much like a cross between an ashtray, a cat’s purr, and a grandmotherly cajoling.

But there is something about Grimes’ reading that makes you believe she is just as pumped about the story as you are – she is utterly engaged and expressive to the hilt (but not in an overdone way).    I think I loved the audiobook so much because I felt like I had a kindred spirit in Grimes – she was just as wild about Jenny as I was. You could just hear it in her voice.

I borrowed the cassette tape over and over again from the library until one day it just disappeared (or, as I understand now, it went to the Land of the Weeded).  I thought about it often over the years and it was the first thing I looked up in WorldCat upon entering library school.  Now I just need to get my hands on (and learn how to use) a record player…

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