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Friday, July 26, 2013

A few musings on audiobooks.

I had a recent reader ask me to write a general post about my experience with audiobooks. I have been an avid listener ever since I discovered Recorded Books and Books on Tape back in the early nineties. I bought many for the library and they became quite popular. Once I discovered MP3 technology, I would convert them to MP3s and then begin listening on a variety of little devices. I then graduated to digital download audiobooks after reading an article in the Atlantic by James Fallows about Jon Katz, the founder of Audible. I think my library was one of the early adopters of digital audiobooks and I negotiated a deal with Matt Fine, then a VP at Audible, for the distribution of audiobooks to library patrons, in 1999. In fact, Matt and I were doing a presentation on Audible for libraries for the South Suburban Library System (long since merged into oblivion) on 9/11. We couldn't figure out why the audience kept leaving the room for hurried whispers and visits to a TV in the other room. Matt had to rent a car to get back to NY.

Enough memoir. I almost never listen to an audiobook while doing nothing else. I always use them as adjuncts to some other activity, e.g. driving (wonderful), mowing (I place earbuds under special noise-suppression headphones - my lawn takes about 4 hours with a 46" riding mower), in the shower or doing the dishes (hook up an iPod to external speakers), or while watching a grandchild play soccer (useful for drowning out the inane parental comments), etc.

Do I occasionally miss something or lose where I am? Surely, but that's what rewind is for. Do I reserve certain genres for particular activities? Absolutely. History for interstates or mowing, mysteries for city traffic, and so on. The iPod is great for the car and my wife and I always pick a book we both want to listen to. It's easy to pause so we can discuss some aspect of the book. When traveling, I always take along a small cassette recorder so I can record my impressions or notes, which helps when writing reviews.

All that being said, the narrator of a book can be crucial. A bad reader will easily ruin an otherwise good book, and a good reader (I have many favorites) will often make a mediocre book better. In general, I prefer Australian and English readers. I love the articulation and precision of the reading, but among Americans, Michael Kramer, Richard Ferrone, Grover Gardner, George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblatt, and many many others. The death of Kate Fleming/Anna Fields was a great tragedy. She was one of the best. Rarely can an author successfully read h/her own books; Lawrence Block being an exception. He's perfect.

Do I remain an avid print (digital almost exclusively, of course) reader? Absolutely.
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