The Alchemy of Audio Books
Guest Post by Diana Raab
The first audio book I ever listened to was of Frank McCourt reading his memoir, Angela’s Ashes. It was during a two-hour drive to Los Angeles and no doubt, my destination came too quickly. In addition to hearing his amazing story, Frank had a distinct and compelling reading voice which simply made you want to listen to the entire book at once.
Some weeks ago, I was invited by a colleague to read my recently released, Writers and Their Notebooks for a reading marathon at The Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in Santa Barbara. The small and efficient office was set up with a few recording booths and after signing in I was asked what I wanted to read. T.C. Boyle had just read there the day before and obviously the person checking me in did not know I was also an author. My friend stepped in (thankfully) and said, “She’s going to read her own work, of course.”
It was one of those honored moments when I felt proud to be a published author. I was equally honored to learn that soon my book would be made available to blind and learning disabled persons across the country. I had read sections of my book at signings, but never entire chapters at a time.
I was handed a copy of my book which had been marked up with instructions on to how to read it out loud. My glass-enclosed booth faced another glass-enclosed cubicle occupied by a woman who would spot me and give hand signals telling me when to start and finish.
At the start of each page I was to announce ‘new page.’ When I forgot, she stopped the tape and rewound it for me to start over. After a few pages I got into a rhythm and, as difficult as it was, I had to resist the temptation to change or edit the words.
After reading for a while, I came to the beginning of a new page, looked up, but did not see the woman make any motions. I coughed to get her attention while watching her eyes following the lines on her copy of my book. She stopped the recording and said, “Oh my gosh, I’m sorry, your voice was so hypnotic.”
There are not many times in a writer’s life when one gets that mushy feeling in the heart. I can safely say this was one of those times. I was delighted that my reading was seemingly as effective on this woman as Frank McCourt’s was on me. It made me want to donate more of my time to the worthy cause.
That night I came home to find a recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly highlighting, “Everything Audio.” One article of great interest to me was called, “Storytelling: Authors Reading Their Own Work,” by Adam Boretz. He made a few comments which really resonated with me. “The greatest challenge,” [of recording an audio book] said novelist Sam Lipsyte, “was being shut up in a booth with no sense of how things are really going. With an audience, you can tell if you are losing them, if they are falling asleep, laughing in the wrong places. But this was more of a floating-in-space deal.”
One author compared audio books to the southern tradition of oral storytelling. Other authors feel that reading their book out loud changes there perception of it and offers them new insights. Deepak Chopra, who has recorded many audio books, says that reading his books out loud sometimes leads to new insights and ideas. It can also give the author ideas about where to edit in the book’s next revision.
Some writers claimed that it was important to get a good night’s sleep before the reading and make sure to also drink enough fluids. The funniest statement about doing audio recordings, however, was made by novelist Joshua Ferris who said, “I think the biggest lesson I learned is don’t drink sparkling water because it makes your stomach gurgle.” Now that’s something to remember!
Diana Raab is a memoirist, essayist, poet and author of seven books and editor of two essays collections, including the latest, Writers and Their Notebooks (2010) with an introduction by Phillip Lopate. She is a journaling advocate and teaches in UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and in various conferences around the country. Her forthcoming book, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey is forthcoming from Loving Healing Press in June 2010. Visit Diana Raab.