On Reading Aloud

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When is a good time to listen to an audiobook? If you’re Sam Allingham, it’s while scanning the bar codes of old library books. Mindless labor provides time to lose himself in storytelling: “At its best, the book on tape leads the listener into a kind of reverie.” Use of the outdated term “books on tape” here is deliberate. For Allingham, the term evokes the childhood experience of being read to by our parents. The lullaby is never far away in this account.

Allingham’s essay for The Millions is noteworthy for its attention to Librivox, a website offering free recordings of thousands of out-of-copyright books. Avid listeners will know what a wonderful resource this is. They will also know how exasperating it can be to hear a great book butchered by an enthusiastic amateur. Allingham recalls a few of the worthy and worthless narrators, and ultimately praises the repository for this very quality. For him, the most memorable recordings have been by volunteers who make up for a lack of professionalism with a sense of “personal attachment” (for example, a Southern American woman reading Thomas Hardy).

You’ll find other recommendations—and warnings—here: “On Reading Aloud.”

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