Transcribing an oral account is tricky because the author has to maintain the voice of their interviewee while at the same time making it readable. Mark Twain had a cynical view on transcription, calling it twaddle: “The moment ‘talk’ is put into print you recognize that it is not what it was when you heard it; you perceive that an immense something has disappeared from it. That is its soul.” But listening to stories, especially of minorities, is crucial to the task of becoming more worldly—take McSweeny’s Voice of Witness series for example—and, sorry Twain, but removing the narrative of a recorded interview just isn’t in the cards.
Luckily, unlike in Mark Twain’s age, we have audiobooks. I just listened to Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out and it’s an excellent example of something that just wouldn’t have been the same experience if I’d simply read along. While not recorded by the individuals who spoke the words in the first place, the voice actors did an excellent job of maintaining the conversational vibe of the interviews. Voice actors, if not the interviewees themselves, can now portray all those things that Twain warned would be lost: “Color, play of feature, the varying modulations of the voice, the laugh, the smile, the informing inflections, everything that gave that body warmth, grace, friendliness and charm and commended it to your affections.” Added to this, the author Susan Kuklin did a good job of shaping the essential aspects of the interviews into a fluid narrative.
That said, I’m not sure if I could recommend the book in paper form. Its eminent readability comes from hearing these stories being told. The voices establish a more immediate human connection that’s essential to these stories. Reading words on paper is one thing, but this is a book about humanizing a minority, hearing their plight. Words on paper just don’t do it justice. The book has the added benefit of photographs of the individuals interviewed, but the voice actors have an edge in vitalizing their personalities.
Good book though, all things considered.