reading as theater

When I was little, I loved being read to. My mother was good about this, and would often bring library books home and read them to my sister Mara and me. I also had some books of my own, and I never tired of hearing them. My favorites were The World of Pooh by A. A. Milne and Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen. I’ve still got them, and I note that I received both of them on my sixth birthday—Pooh from my friends the Burts and the fairy tales from my dad. They were well chosen, and perhaps even formative in making me a writer. Who knows how many times I listened to the adventures of Pooh and his plush-toy posse?

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Language was a spoken phenomenon long before it was a written one; we learn how to listen and to speak long before we learn how to read and to write. I remember seeing a documentary showing how babies in the womb become accustomed to the language spoken by their mother; on birth our brains are already significantly prewired to adopt the language spoken around us. There is something primal and emotional about the spoken word as against the written word, which is processed via the eyes (or via touch for those who read Braille).

All of this being the case, I can’t say I’m surprised that audiobooks are doing so well. According to an article in Forbes, audiobook sales are climbing, while print-book sales are flat and e-book sales are declining.  People are apparently rediscovering the joy of being read to.

For my own part, though, I have not been a part of this phenomenon, either as a consumer or a producer. I don’t listen to audiobooks. In part this is due to habit. My day is already structured to include reading—lots of it—and I’m perfectly happy to read from books, mostly print but sometimes e-books. There aren’t any obvious slots in my day in which to insert audiobooks: I don’t commute to work, I don’t ride an exercise cycle or jog while listening to things, I don’t take languorous baths where I might listen to someone spin a yarn for me. In part, too, it’s because I don’t read much fiction. I do always have a fictional work on the go (right now I’m reading Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods), but most of my reading is nonfiction, and I like to highlight these books as I go. So I don’t feel like I’m a real fit with audiobooks.

But I can understand why people are. For one thing, audiobook narrators tend to be good readers with pleasant voices, and it’s pleasurable to listen to a good voice. There is a feeling of human contact, of connection, even though it’s a recording. A narrated text also takes the work out of reading. Decoding words from a page and making sense of them takes effort. A narrator makes this effort and provides you, the listener, with the result. My wife Kim says that when I read to her, she understands the material better than when she reads it herself. A good reader passes his powers of comprehension on to the listener, which is a delightful benefit.

Then there’s the performance itself. A good narrator has a sense of drama and timing, has an instinct for storytelling, and may even be a decent (possibly professional) actor, and thus able to bring characters to life from the page. These skills help turn a reading into something more like a theatrical performance, or perhaps into a unique hybrid between a pure reading experience and attending a play—but all at your convenience, thanks to today’s delivery technologies.

So I want to get more into audiobooks, possibly as a consumer but certainly as a producer. I’ve always been a good reader aloud, so I seem like a natural and cost-effective choice to narrate my own audiobooks. I’m also seriously considering taking a shot at narrating the work of other writers, if they’ll let me. I’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, July 16 is Amazon Prime Day. From now until July 17, Amazon is offering special deals, including discounts for Audible, Amazon’s audiobook service. You could choose 66% off a general subscription

…or sign up for a free trial of the new romance package.

If you’re curious, you might check it out (just click on the links above, or the relevant graphic), and as an Amazon Associate, your humble narrator would get a small piece of the action if you went there from this website and took the plunge.

Happy reading and happy listening.

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