In conjunction of a new edition of Self-Reliance, which is unfortunately interspersed with comments by other authors, breaking the flow of the text, there is also an audiobook version read by novelist and radio host Kurt Andersen. At just over 90 minutes, Andersen gives the essay a spirited read, but his narration is overly emphatic, and he reads just a bit too quickly, making it hard to follow this oft dense text.
It’s very hard to read Emerson – read out loud, I mean. His sentences are truculent and full of traps, and reading a text like Self-Reliance is as difficult as reciting Shakespeare. You may want to stress certain words, but you may find, as you go on, that they might not be the words that should get the most stress. Andersen overstresses the text; he puts too much stress on too many words, making the text a roller-coaster. I would think that a more sedate reading would be appropriate, allowing the words to speak for themselves; in many cases, I think the stress that Andersen uses is exaggerated and misplaced. But we don’t know exactly how Emerson gave his lectures, so any such reading is personal.
Nevertheless, having an audio version of Emerson’s keystone essay on my iPod is certainly nice, so I can listen to parts of it whenever I want. While there are a couple of other recording of Self Reliance, and of other Emerson essays, this is by far the best, in spite of my above comments. Had it been just a bit slower, and a bit less “gee whiz” at times, it would be nearly perfect.
(As an aside, Andersen’s Heyday is an interesting novel set in 1848. While it’s good but not great, Andersen did a lot of research about this period for the novel, and is well versed with the background of the times in which Emerson wrote Self-Reliance.)