Audiobook Month & History of a Reluctant Aural Fanatic

This  Sunday, June 30, marked the end of several official things–but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the end of your celebration. End of the weekend? Carry that relaxed feeling into the work week! (Easier said than done?) End of June–but making way for that fun midsummer month, July!

As the last day of June, that means it is also the end of Audiobook Month. But if you’re like me, that’s something you celebrate every day all year! The Audio Publishers Association explains the campaign to increase popularity of audiobooks here.

As you may have gleaned from past posts, I LOVE audiobooks. In fact, they comprise the majority of my reading time these days. I listen to them whenever I’m in the car, be that my commute to work, a trip, etc. They sure make construction more bearable and epic.

Transform from this…

Embed from Getty Images
…to this, with the help of an audiobook!

In thinking about my love affair with audiobooks, I tried to remember when we first crossed paths. Although I mostly use audiobooks now during commutes and working out (OK, the latter activity is much less often than I’d like), I knew my history started long before that.

Hearing stories aloud is integral to the beginning of not only our personal development, but also the development of human culture. This fascinates me as a reader and a scholar of English literary history. Stories were told orally earlier than we can confirm–because there is no record of it, of course. 😉 Beowulf is widely regarded as the bridge between oral and written stories in English, hypothesized as having first been passed through generations orally before being written down. This is indeed a possibility, as storytellers back then made lines rhyme for memory purposes. (Think of the first stories we memorize–they are nursery rhymes. We memorize aural sounds even before we understand the story. The aural memory reinforces our development of story comprehension.) The poor translators have the additional task not only of translating Old English to Modern English, but also of making the lines rhyme and staying true to the meter as much as possible. Old English is not Shakespeare’s English; it is the Anglo-Saxon language that was in use around the times of 400-1100 A.D. It is entirely foreign to those without training, as you can see below. But with our understandings of nursery rhymes and aural memory, it is easy for us to imagine the importance of meter in ancient stories. Even so, to memorize something so epic in length is quite an impressive feat!

The original image of the Beowulf manuscript (via Wikipedia)

Many of us are lucky to have parents read aloud to us. For me, it’s one of my favorite memories. Our parents used to read to my sister and me all the time, and it was the only way they could get me to agree to go to bed. 😉 I’m sure it had an impact on our imaginations and love of reading from a young age.

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. <3

Our dad made a video of himself reading to Jennifer (left) and me so we could play it while he was out of town for business and not miss him as much. ❤

I also realized I used to listen to audiobooks all the time as a kid, with the help of this guy.

The one and only Teddy Ruxpin ❤

For those of you not in the know, Teddy Ruxpin was an electronic teddy bear who read stories off of a cassette tape that accompanied printed books, for kids to follow along. But after his mouth stopped working (I’m sorry, Teddy </3), I was left mostly to my own devices, no pun intended.
Actually, puns are always intended with me.

In mourning the untimely demise of Sir Ruxpin, I parted ways with audiobooks for a long time. I rented one in high school to “read” a book last-minute, but I discovered at 4 a.m. that night that this particular reader did not expedite my process. (One…of…those…slow…readers…you know the type.) 😉 I decided audiobooks would never be the same without Teddy. 😦

And then, in 2005, I sustained a traumatic brain injury. (If you’re new to my blog, you can read the basics of the story on my About page or Memoir Preview post.) Part of the injury included slower processing speed and multiple nerve palsies in my eyes. The palsies caused double vision, and I couldn’t see anything clearly at all, at first. Remember that Twilight Zone episode where the man has all those books and all that time but broken glasses? Now I had time off of school, but couldn’t see, at least, at first. But my story, luckily, had a happy ending. As I began to recover, I was able to start reading, albeit not conveniently. This is what reading a book was like for me:

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other--each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn't converge.

Double vision makes reading challenging! The lines were all overlaid on top of each other–each eye was like a separate camera that wouldn’t converge. I’ll never forget exactly how it looked: overlaid and askew.

What the text above looks like to normal eyes. (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

What the text above looks like with normal vision (and my eyes now). (Do you like the Beowulf theme?)

Eventually, I was able to see a single image if I held it up to the tip of my nose (and then farther and farther away as I recovered). I read the entirety of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked with the pages touching my nose. I probably just looked engrossed, which was also true. It was the first book I read after my TBI; it and the musical really inspired me and showed me that being different is not only okay, it’s what makes you extraordinary. (I watched the musical with a patch over one eye, and Jennifer and I got special seating near the front–it was magical, in more ways than one!) I was determined to force myself to read in the traditional way, with a lovely paper book, and of course, with my nose so close to the pages, it was a constant aromatic treat, as well. (I wish they made a perfume of “new book smell.”) I wanted the pleasure of reading on my own; not someone else reading to me. However, after I got LASIK eye surgery two years ago, there was no pleasure in even keeping my eyes open, let alone reading–so I decided to give audiobooks another shot with the longest one I could find at the library. Perhaps the nearly 53-hour, 41-disc unabridged The Count of Monte Cristo was a little ambitious for post-surgery entertainment; I never did finish it.

Jennifer had a different idea after she got her LASIK: she asked me to read to her. She would call out, “Read to me, Seymour,” in reference to the plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. I’d never seen it, but I recognized the tone of urgency. I looked up pictures to post the namesake here, but true to the name, it is pretty horrific, so I’ll let you Google that yourself. 😉
We had both just read The Hunger Games for my fabulous children’s/YA literature class with Alix Reid at DePaul, which opened up, or reopened, a whole new genre to me–and now, it is my favorite genre both to read and write. Jennifer and I were both hooked on dystopias, and I went to our local library to ask for suggestions. They recommended Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, an apocalyptic YA novel. At first I recorded myself on a computer, but it turned out Jennifer wanted a live performance–and perform I did. One thing I remembered about being read to, and hearing audiobooks, was when people did voices, and I did not want to disappoint. The main character, especially in the beginning of the book, sounded like she needed to have a “valley-girl” voice to go with her diary narration (despite her being from the East coast). After some verbal rotten tomatoes from Jennifer, I learned my lesson not to do extreme voices for exposition, which comprised about 75% of the book. (Click here to hear an example.) It’s not that the book was bad; it’s just how I heard the main character in my mind.

After a few days of reading until I lost my voice (usually about two uninterrupted hours at a time), I insisted that Jennifer switch to audiobooks. However, we both read traditionally after our eyes healed, until I started my new job. I began encountering horrid construction every single day, no matter what route I took, which made my journey take as long as two hours occasionally. Even blasting Taylor Swift or classical music couldn’t quell my frustration for long. “If only I could use this time to read,” I thought. Lightbulb! I began to check out several audiobooks at a time from the library, to make sure I was never without one. (I do recommend renting them when you can, since they can be expensive–worth it for favorites, but a costly gamble when you’re not sure.) It turned my route from frustrating to epic, as illustrated above. I eventually convinced Jennifer to join my fulfilling commuting habit by recommending my favorite at the time–and I think it remains my favorite.

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Click to go to Amazon and hear an excerpt.

In addition to being an amazing book, the voice actor does a wonderful treatment of the text. He is grave when he needs to be and light when the story calls for it. Somehow, he manages to do all different accents perfectly throughout the story, even when switching between characters in the same scene. (You’ll see why there are so many different accents in the same scenes when you read the book–I don’t want to spoil it!) I absolutely loved this book and reading; I thought it did a terrific job of bridging younger and older audiences seamlessly, and I had the pleasure of telling the author himself when he came for a book signing to a local bookstore recently. I also asked him when he’d be writing a sequel for this book, and he sighed in his hilarious way and said more people would have to buy copies of this one first before he’d be allowed to write a sequel. So start buying, people. 😉

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare, read by Ari Graynor. Click the image to go to Amazon to hear an excerpt.

While Jennifer loved The Supernaturalist–indeed, she’d read the book in the past, but wanted to hear the audiobook–her personal favorite is City of Bones. I loved it, too. The reader is just right for this text–sassy, direct, emotional (when called for). I’m not sure she’d fit with a more “gentle” book, but this one was the perfect fit. The readers they have for the sequel books are also good. And if you haven’t read this one yet, you definitely should before the movie comes out, according to Buzzfeed and many other articles I’ve read this summer. (The movie looks AWESOME, but I can already pick out a few differences from previews.)

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

Another favorite! I loved Mandy Williams’s quiet, steady reading of this book. It really matched the feel I got from the main character. All of it was perfectly lovely; even the horrifying parts were achingly beautiful. I felt so connected to the titular character and her world. The sequel is coming out next year, and I can’t wait!

Enchantment

Enchantment, read by Stefan Rudnicki and Gabrielle de Cuir. Click on the picture to go to the Amazon site to hear a preview.

This is the audiobook I’m listening to right now, and it’s already becoming a favorite. The book switches among many different points of view, and it’s an interesting technique. I definitely think it helps to have the dual narrators, especially of different genders, in order to differentiate breaks in P.O.V.

One audiobook I can’t believe I’ve never heard is anything read by Neil Gaiman. I’ve devoured his books reading them traditionally, but I’ve never heard one on audiobook. Because he’s one of my absolute favorite authors (perhaps favorite ever), I know I’d be very picky over how I felt his work should be read. There’s such a cadence in his language that makes the words as much a pleasure to read as the story itself. I have heard some of his videos on YouTube before, and his voice is very nice, so I’m sure his own narrations would be great. Actually, a radio production of Neverwhere was recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4, which I tragically discovered only after the broadcast was taken down. I hope it will be available for purchase/rental very soon; the cast included Benedict Cumberbatch and Natalie Dormer, two of my favorites–I’m sure it was phenomenal!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these favorite audiobooks I’ve posted are among some of my favorite books, period. A great voice can’t save a bad book, but a bad voice can ruin a good book, I’ve realized. A great voice + a great book makes for an amazing experience. Jennifer learned this earlier than I, when I valley-girl-read Life as We Knew It to her (it was only a few seconds at a time before I went back to my normal voice, which was of course hoarse from reading aloud for hours). I realized it the hard way when I forced myself to stick with a fantasy classic that a reader made WAY too dramatic. Every syllable was a different tone; when the main character was running, he wheezed through the sentences; when something was funny, you could barely understand him through his own laughter–which of course made it not funny at all. I’ve realized that you can’t let the reading/performance get in the way of the story–and isn’t that a lesson that we’re taught as writers, too? So often I’ve been guilty of that in the past, where a main character’s voice will overpower the story. It’s something I still have to watch out for, to this day. And if I am fortunate enough to publish something to audiobook someday, I know I will be very picky as to whom the narrator will be.

Speaking of audio versions of my own written work–as I mentioned in my “Noir–Poetry on the Radio” post, one of the neatest things I’ve gotten to do as an author was to read some of my work on DePaul’s radio station, which included a fairy tale and three poems I’ve written. The radio hosts invited me to read and discuss a whole hour of my own work. Click here to listen. If you’d like to hear just the fairy tale, it’s approximately the first twenty minutes. If you’d like to hear just the poetry, it’s near the end–the “Noir” blog post will instruct you where exactly to listen for that. I’d already experienced audiobooks by this time, so I was afraid to be too dramatic with “voices,” but I think if I were to do this again in the future, I probably would differentiate them a little bit more.

I hope you enjoyed my tribute to Audiobook Month. Even more so, I hope you will continue to enjoy audiobooks throughout the year. Besides myself, my sister is the only one I know personally who regularly listens to audiobooks, and I’d like to increase awareness of this fabulous medium. Why not make your adventures of shopping, commuting, and working out a little–or a lot–more epic? I’d also encourage people with visual challenges to use audiobooks; technology makes these books wonderfully accessible.  Swords and dragons not included with CDs, but you have your imagination for that. 😉

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9 thoughts on “Audiobook Month & History of a Reluctant Aural Fanatic

  1. Well Amanda, that story I recorded on tape for you was easy and fun compared to the Harry Potter series that you guys made me read to you sitting in the hallway at night strategically placed between you and your sisters bedrooms so that you could hear the story. You both kept me sitting there until I was cross-eyed being so tired from the days work!! :-). It was all SO worth it though!!

    Of course now we can’t get you out of your car to come in for dinner with your wanting to hear more of the audio books!!

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    • I forgot to include that story! Thanks so much for being so generous with your time and with us. ❤ I can't believe we didn't get you a chair! It was hard to find a good stopping place in Harry Potter! Now that I'm working myself, I can't imagine what it would be like to stay up so late reading to kids! If my kids end up being anything like me, I'm sure I will find out. 😉
      LOL, it's true! Sometimes it's hard to pull myself out of the car when an audiobook is on a really good part! 😉 I think Jennifer and I both had that problem with City of Bones, haha.

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