Celebrating National Audio Book Month

Barbara Vey -- June 1st, 2010


Because Joysann is an audio book aficionado, I bow to her expertise in celebrating National Audio Book Month.

An Audie Award is prized by Spoken Word artists

My passion is fiction on audio. I had started my library job back in the early ‘90s, and that’s when I learned about them. At that time the big thing for visually-impaired outreach patrons was the state-supplied Talking Book Program, which required a special machine. This was/is a truly essential service, and I‘m not knocking it, but I listened to one of those, and it was awful. Very literally someone simply read (read well, of course, but disinterestedly) into a microphone and recorded whatever, from books to newspapers and magazines, and just droned on and on. But a new medium was becoming more easily available then, and that was books recorded to cassette tapes that could be played on ordinary players in cars or at home. One time I heard one patron explaining to another that these were for “blind people, and should only be checked out for them”. Oh, was she wrong. These were for the pleasure of everyone!

Mind you, audio books had been around for a long while already, but I had just discovered them. I remember first falling in love with audio books when I was gardening in my yard, weeding not being a favorite thing, with a Walkman plugged to my ear, and Stephen King and Blair Brown reading Rose Madder to me. I was enthralled. I don’t know what the heck I did to my yard – it so didn’t matter. From there I went through every Stephen King book I could lay my hands on, whether I’d read it before or not, whether read by him or not. And, in between, I started on everything else. Stephen King reads his stuff very, very well, by the way.

Now, nearly twenty years later, I’ve become totally addicted, and I can’t live happily without an audio book close to hand. And that’s not a bad thing.

I have my particular readers/narrators whom I adore, and often simply having their names on a book cover will make me decide to “read” (listen to) something. George Guidall, Dick Hill, Davina Porter, Simon Prebble, Scott Brick, Kate Reading, Phil Gigante, and so many others, are names that can catch a listener’s eye (ear?). There are many talents one knows from stage and screen, like Derek Jacobi and James Marsters who also record books.

Barbara Rosenblat

My very favorite is marvelous Barbara Rosenblat. When she reads, every character becomes as large and as vivid as if on a movie screen, visually complete in the mind’s eye, with no relevance to sex, age, race, nationality, or locale; all the characters are simply real. Jim Dale, of course, brought audio books to a whole new level with Harry Potter, and daily there are more productions vying for that magical performance.

At first, long ago, I couldn’t have told you who a narrator was, barely able to put title to author consistently, but that’s no longer true. One of the first names I committed to memory came with the reading of The Green Mile when narrator Frank Muller took my breath away. He read many of Stephen King’s books, as well as other fascinating fiction and non-fiction, and the world lost a special talent to a motorcycle accident. Another tragic loss to accident was of Kate Fleming/Anna Fields, who will always be, to me, the voice of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, though she read many wonderful books by other talented authors. It’s bittersweet to play an audio book and hear them again, knowing they’re gone forever.

Stephen King is not the only author to read his own books. Many non-fiction authors do, and more and more frequently fiction authors. Garrison Keillor, of course, and Tom Bodett are fabulous by their very nature, being radio performers. The late Roger Zelazney did one of the most memorable readings I’ve ever heard with A Night in the Lonesome October. Neil Gaiman reads several of his stories, and I’m presently listening to the mystery The Inheritance read (quite well) by author Simon Tolkien, and I’m looking forward to hearing how Barry Eisler does with his new release, Inside Out, later this month.

There’s another thing, though; that other side. An audio book narrator can make or break a story for me, and I’ve had to learn not to dismiss either the reader or the author out hand. If a voice is annoying, or the narrator’s performances are not top rate, a book can be ruined. Conversely, a performer has to have something to work with. I’ve had to learn to find the book in print to see if it’s the story that reads poorly to me, or find another audio book read by that narrator to see if the performer is consistently annoying, whereupon, of course, I will avoid him/her, either one.

Blackstone Audio, Brilliance Audio, Harper Audio, MacMillan Audio, Penguin Audio, and on, and more names I don‘t know or am not recalling, publishing houses are producing audio books, often now released at the same time as the print, and bringing the magic of books even to those who can’t find the time to read. And, of course, audio books are now available in a variety of ways: cds, mp-3, downloads, self-contained pocket-sized gizmos, and who all knows what else.

My husband thinks my headset is permanently attached.

I’m no expert… this is only my opinion and experience. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the audio book world, but if I’ve enticed even one of Barbara’s readers to give an audio book a try, I’ve celebrated National Audio Book Month properly.

Bottom Line: I still have to figure out how to listen on the motorcycle without losing a single word to the wind.

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