Wired for Sound


Back to John Schwartz, who recently wrote a piece titled “The Voice” for the New York Times (see the blog post for May 20, 2012).

Schwartz also wrote “Wired for Sound” for the New York Times Book Review in November 2011. This piece takes on the suspicion felt by some readers that listening to audiobooks is “cheating” or “second-rate reading.” Schwartz brings this out in a light-hearted way by comparing his reading habits to those of his wife, a print loyalist. The two compare their different responses to David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

For some reason Schwartz turns for advice to Howard Gardner, a Professor at Harvard’s Ed School, who admits that he never listens to audiobooks. Interesting commentary nonetheless.

Read the story here: “Wired for Sound.”


Audiobooks: Are They Really the Same as Reading?

Last April, journalist Jenni Laidman discovered that an audiobook is more than just some guy reading. The epiphany came after hearing Ron Silverman read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. That’s when she encountered the Nathan Zuckerman of her imagination.

Logging over 100 audiobooks gives Laidman the authority to ask the perennial question: isn’t reading a book superior to listening to it? She turns for advice to Don Katz, founder and CEO of Audible.com. Actors formerly told to “read bland” were given very different directions by Katz, who brought in marquee names to read books in a dramatic fashion: Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Colin Firth, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, and Hilary Swank, to name a few.

The next person turned to for advice is Arnold L. Glass, a professor of cognitive psychology at Rutgers, who has good things to say about both reading and listening. The piece concludes with clips from five great narrators, including Simon Slater’s reading of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

You can read the story here: “Audiobooks: Are they really the same as reading?”

The top five list is here: “Five great audiobook performances.”

The Pleasures of Being Read To


Last week the New Yorker blog took on the difference between the inner ear and the outer ear. But it does more than reflect on this distinction in the manner of an armchair psychologist. The post runs the two kinds of reading by an actual neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran.

John Colapinto, the post’s author, observes that narrators often enhance the reading experience for him. His examples include John Hurt reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (a book he’d previously found tiresome) and Frank Muller doing The Great Gatsby. Muller’s readings are so good, in fact, that Stephen King paid his medical bills after a motorcycle crash in 2001. Not all authors are so generous. Colapinto admits to turning off a recording of one of his own books after only a few seconds. The reader’s voice was just too different from the voice in his head.

You’ll find Colapinto’s story here: “The Pleasures of Being Read To.”

Let’s Go Reading in the Car

Last Friday was a banner day for audiobooks in the New York Times. In addition to a feature on narrators, Judith Shulevitz reminisced about listening to audiobooks during long car trips. Choosing titles for the kids gave her a chance to re-read classic tales from The Odyssey to Peter Pan and Ramona Quimby. Better yet, this form of storytelling mesmerized her kids.

Shulevitz’s pantheon of children’s book narrators includes Philip Pullman, Roald Dahl, and Madeleine L’Engle in the category of books read by the author. Favorite voice-actors include Tim Curry, Stockard Channing, and Kenneth Branagh. This is one of the few essays to actually defend abridgements.

It’s disappointing to find an avowed fan of audiobooks agree with her son’s third-grade teacher about “passive listening.” Passivity is a risk in any format. I’ve had some of my most engaged reading experiences when listening to audiobooks, and some of my least when daydreaming my way through print. Listening can be darn hard work.

Parents (or anyone interested in children’s books, really) will appreciate the list of favorite titles included at the end.

Here’s a link to the story: “Let’s Go Reading in the Car.”

The Voice

Here’s a story on audiobook narrators from last Friday’s New York Times. It’s called “The Voice,” and its main interest is in how the speaker’s voice affects the experience of listening to an audiobook. As anyone who has listened to a book knows, a narrator can make you fall in love with a book or make you gag.

The story’s author, John Schwartz, mentions a few narrators he’s enjoyed over the years: Jill Tanner, Kate Reading, Edward Herrmann, Grover Gardner, Robin Sachs, and others. Some of these narrators (like Jim Dale) will be familiar; others (like Wil Wheaton from the film “Stand By Me”) you’ll want to give a chance to win you over. The piece ends with an amusing anecdote about converting the novelist Gary Shteyngart to the spoken word.

Here’s a link to the story: “The Voice.”

Schwartz has written about audiobooks for the Times before. I’ll link to his other articles in a future post.

Welcome, non-readers!

Welcome, non-readers! I’ve started this blog to keep track of audiobooks in the news. My blog will post links to stories about audiobooks as well as to stories of interest to those of us who listen to books. Every now and then a new essay about the pleasures of listening to audiobooks appears in the press. Curiously, most of these pieces act as if no one has ever mentioned the topic before. My blog aims to bring such amnesia to an end by allowing readers to follow the many fascinating accounts that have been written about listening to books. I hope audiobook fans will enjoy reading these stories and let me know what you think of them.