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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The INDY Audiobooks Poll: Triangle fiction writers talk reading technology

Posted by on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 11:14 AM

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For an essay on audiobooks this week, the INDY sent a questionnaire to authors around the Triangle. We were delighted by the variety and volume of their responses, which are reproduced in full here. 

CHARLIE LOVETT:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

I've never recorded one myself, and I don't think I'd want to. Although I have a theater background and people say I have a voice for radio, I am in awe of what professional audio book readers do—so much more than just reading the book.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I mostly read paper books, which should come as no surprise, since my novels are very much about the world of physical books. As a book collector, I have an appreciation for what I call the triangle of reading formed by reader, text and physical book.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

I find nonfiction tough on an e-reader, because I always want to flip to the footnotes or bibliography. I think the best audio books are novels, because novel-writing is storytelling, and for us humans, storytelling began as an audio experience, so it's ingrained in us to enjoy listening to stories.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

Absolutely. I could spend hours explaining to you why, and there are scores of reasons, but the biggest one is this—paper and ink form an information storage technology that is proven to last for hundreds of years with no degradation and no dependence on power supply, stable corporations and governments, etc. We'll never be able to say that about digital platforms.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

Listening to the audiobooks of my own novels has been a real lesson on how every reader interprets a text slightly differently. In one scene in First Impressions, I had imagined the final line of an argument delivered in a very loud voice. Jayne Entwistle, the audiobook reader, gave the line as a whisper. I got chills. It was remarkably effective and a great way to see how we each interact with a text in our own way.

Charlie Lovett is the author of several books of fiction, including the new The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge.

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SEAN JACKSON:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

Never made one but would love to do it. I know people who listen to books because they’re on the go or travel all the time. Though it would be nice to get someone with a great voice and a flair for the dramatic to really tear into something I’ve written.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I read anything and everything I can online, even on my phone. I have an e-reader/tablet thing and love that, too, though it just feels more rebellious to read The New Yorker on a phone in a supermarket line. Paper books are still great, but you can download so much from public libraries—been doing this for two years and I’m addicted. For some reason, the more recent the novel, the more sense it seems to make.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

I read my first and only Gary Shteyngart book, Super Sad True Love Story, on a tablet and that seemed fitting, considering there was so much fiddling with devices and whatnot in the book. And there’s something about certain poetry—or maybe all poetry—being read on a screen that just seems fantastic. I doubt that’s how the poets envision us reading their stuff, but again—it feels like cheating, which makes it provocative.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

I do. Too many hardline paper book readers and people who love to shop in bookstores for them not to survive. And the artwork on a lot of downloads is pretty crappy. The cover art itself is worth keeping paper books around. I don’t think books will go the way of canvas paintings and just seem to disappear. They’re here forever.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

Stephen King was the first e-reader-hater I saw who finally shrugged and gave in. The more ways to read, the better. Look at how many different ways we have to listen to music; why shouldn’t reading enjoy the same variations? I wish there were pay-per-listening options where you could select your favorite celebrity to read a classic because I’d love to hear Chris Rock read Moby-Dick.

Sean Jackson is the author of Haw.

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MONICA BYRNE:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

I didn't read The Girl in the Road myself—it would have been inappropriate, as one character is from India and the other from Mauritania—but I helped to both audition and cast the actors who did. I was amazed at how quickly they turned it around, and how good of a job they did. I also got an evil glee listening to how they read bits like "underfuckingwater" and "dear bitch, I am fifty percent." That's the playwright's lurid pleasure—making people say the dirty words you wrote.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

Right now, almost all e-books, just for the sake of convenience. But—and it's kinda weird to say, but this is how I think of it—some books transcend or somehow graduate from that form, as if I'm screening for the rare and special books for which I NEED a physical copy for pleasure and reference. So, most recently, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, Hild by Nicola Griffith, and A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar—I needed physical copies of all of those, because they were so good, and I wanted to cherish them bodily. I wanted them to take up actual space in my life, instead of just mental and virtual space.

I only read audiobooks now when driving long distances—right now, Blind Descent by James Tabor, which is stunning. But I used to listen to audiobooks all the time when I worked in labs as a day job. That's what made it bearable—I was double-using my time, so every minute I spent at the day job was also "counting" toward my night job of writing.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

I read Sula by Toni Morrison as an audiobook. Morrison herself read it. On one hand, it was incredible, because she's such a powerful reader; on the other hand, the language is so intricate, and the meanings so layered, that you'd have to pay really close attention to catch everything. That's one I'd rather have read on the page, and probably will someday.

Vox by Nicholson Baker would be kinda amazing in audiobook. It's a book-length conversation on an ’80s sex hotline. So dialogue books, or books driven by a strong story, seem better to me for the audiobook form.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

Oh sure. It will just evolve to different niches and purposes. For example, right now, my default reading is done on my Kindle, but physical books are the ones I liked so much that I bought. I also bring two or three physical books when I travel, for the times when I can't charge my battery, or we're taking off or landing, or I want to swap with other travelers.

Recorded music has only been around for a hundred or so years, and in this age of iTunes, people still collect vinyl. We've had five thousand years' worth of physical books. That's a lot of nostalgic inertia. So yeah, they'll stick around—the culture is big enough to hold many niches.

Monica Byrne is a playwright and the author of the novel The Girl in the Road.

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MUR LAFFERTY:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

Yes. It’s much more difficult than anticipated; reading aloud for hours on end can wear you out. Production takes about four times as long as the recording, so for self-published audiobooks it's a huge project.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I listen to mostly audiobooks when driving or doing chores. My other reading time is usually evenly split between paper and e-book. I don't really have a preference. Each has pros and cons.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

A lot of nonfiction books, like self-help books, will have quizzes or forms to fill out in chapters, and if the narrator simply reads those straight, a listener is likely to get lost. It's a frustrating waste of time.

A good narrator can break a book. Sometimes I've avoided buying a book because the reviews complained about the narrator. A good narrator can make me prefer an audiobook over the other versions (anything by Jim Dale springs to mind).

With e-books, the only thing I really dislike is not having a tactile reminder of how much I have left to go in the book. It seems small, but I didn't realize how much I would miss looking at a book with a bookmark and knowing exactly how far into it I was. Now I get a percentage, but that doesn't feel the same.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

It will survive. There are too many hardcore paper lovers for them not to. But I think most people will move to hybrid experiences. I buy paper books for collecting, or if I think I may want to re-read or give to someone to borrow. E-books are for books I'm not sure about and don't want to invest the whole $15 or so. Audiobooks are things I feel OK listening to while driving around in the car with my daughter.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

Listening to anything is a vastly more intimate experience than reading, and people will usually have a different experience when reading with their ears as opposed to their eyes. Audio forces you to listen to a scene instead of glossing over, so you might get a better sense of the content. (Yeah, you can fast-forward, or tune it out. Still, it's hard to flip a few pages ahead when you're driving.)

Mur Lafferty is the author of many books of fiction, including Ghost Train to New Orleans.

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ERYK PRUITT:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

A local production company (KV Works) helped produce my first novel, Dirtbags, as an audiobook. I narrated the book, which authors are not advised to do. I worked with the best sound technician in the Southeast, so it sounds extremely professional. (A sample can be heard here.) The experience was a blast, However, we waited to produce it until a year after the release of the book. This is not the smart way to do it. Next time, I would release both at the same time so that the audiobook could piggyback on the marketing efforts of the novel.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I strictly read paper books. The only time I will read an e-book is when it is sent to me by another writer or publisher in search of a blurb. Even then I can't read closely. The only time I listened to an audiobook was to research the production of my own audiobook.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

I personally think you strip away one additional layer of imagination with an audiobook. There is no book that I have read with my eyes that I'm the slightest bit curious how it sounds when another reader takes a crack at it. Reading is personal and one of the few things we are allowed to do alone and audiobooks make me feel like I'm reading over someone else's shoulder.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

If they are good for nothing else, future hipsters will keep paper books alive. Vinyl records had been predicted to be phased out for years and we are watching their renaissance.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

It's not a real book if you can't hold it in your hands, lick your finger, and turn the page.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter and the author of two novels, Dirtbags and Hashtag.

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TERESA FROHOCK:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

No, I have not. It is something that I would have found very appealing many years ago, but unfortunately I am physically unable to undertake the task now. I have lost enough of my hearing that I now have a speech impediment, which makes it difficult for me to read aloud. Given that I once performed onstage, it would be incredibly fun to do, though.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

If I could listen to audiobooks, I'd be plugged in almost all the time. Unfortunately, my hearing is such that I am unable to enjoy them anymore. With as little time as I have nowadays, I'm incredibly envious of people who can listen to books on their morning commutes.

My reading is divided between paper books and e-readers with 90 percent in paper and about 10 percent on the e-reader. My full-time job requires me to be on the computer eight hours, and then I spend a significant amount of time on the computer in the evenings, either working on my novels or marketing. By the time I get a chance to read, I have been switching between various screens for about sixteen hours.

After all that time online, paper is just more soothing to my eyes. I also have fewer distractions with paper so I find it easier to immerse myself into the story.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

I own several photography books and even some annotated books, such as The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated Uncensored Edition, and these are all works of art in their own right, so I believe these books are better in print. I imagine innovative books that utilize visual storytelling, such as House of Leaves, would also suffer in either the audio or e-reader formats.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

I think there is room for all of the formats. Law and nursing books work better in e-formats due to the rapidly changing nature of the content. However, libraries depend on paper for the lower cost, and paper also gives librarians and booksellers a chance to tailor items to their clientele's needs. Subscriptions to e-book databases can be very high, and the selection is usually more generic.

Audiobooks give the visually impaired and blind a chance to enjoy a wider range of material. Likewise, e-books give people with visual impairments a way to change the text to a more legible format.

Books are about communication—communicating ideas and stories—and the more people we can reach, the broader our world. Why should we limit our formats when we have such limitless imaginations?

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

For relaxing or research, I will always prefer print. There comes a time when I have to disconnect so I can slow down my noisy brain, and for some reason, print does that for me.

Teresa Frohock is the author of the Los Nefilim series.

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KIM CHURCH:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

Audible made an audiobook of my debut novel, Byrd, and it was a vicarious thrill. Lauren Fortgang, the actor who read, did a wonderful job. She very graciously consulted with me and made me feel a part of things and we became friends through the process. She came to my New York reading (yikes!) and cheered me on. She has been one of Byrd’s biggest cheerleaders. I'm grateful for her talent and enthusiasm and lucky my book is available in this format.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I mostly read paper books except on long car trips or if I'm sick and want to be read to; then I listen to audiobooks. I have an e-reader but don't use it as often as I thought I would, maybe because I already spend so much time at a computer screen.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

It takes longer to listen, so audio may not be the best format for long books. Of course as soon as I say that I remember a cross-country drive when my husband and I totally lost ourselves in John McPhee's long book about Alaska, Coming Into the Country. We loved that book and can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about moose.

Mysteries are tricky in audio format, because you can't turn back to look for clues.

For me, the biggest advantage of e-readers is adjustable type size. A book just came out this year that I'd love to read, but it's only in print format and the type is impossibly tiny. So never mind that one.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

There's no substitute for the sensory experience of reading a paper book. I can't imagine a world without paper books.

Kim Church is the author of Byrd.

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JAMES MAXEY:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

My novel Bitterwood was made into an audiobook read by Dave Thompson. I’m really happy with the result, since it’s a novel with a wide range of characters, from really old dragons to nine-year old girls. Dave proved up to the task of bringing the cast to life. I was surprised, however, by just how much work was required on my part. I figured, eh, I’ve written the book, he’ll be doing everything else. But, listening to the chapters closely for small discrepancies between the written text and the narrated text took me weeks. In the end, the final result made it all worthwhile.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I used to consider audiobooks to be not really reading, and only a few years ago I couldn’t imagine reading an entire novel on an electronic device. Paper forever! Except one day I was stuck in a dentist’s office with nothing to read, wishing I’d brought along a book. I’d just gotten a smartphone, and decided to try out the Kindle software. In less than a minute, I’d downloaded a book I’d been meaning to read, and dove right in.

In a perfect world, any book I wanted to read would appear in my hands at the snap of my fingers. That’s never going to happen with paper books, but it’s pretty close to the experience of e-books. Being able to pluck any book I want from thin air anytime, anywhere, feels like a superpower. As for audiobooks, taking a job with a one-hour commute changed my opinion of the format pretty quickly. There’s a huge amount of classic literature available on LibriVox for free, and these days I’m filling in lots of gaps in my classics education via audio.

What’s most surprising about my new diet of audiobooks is that I think it has vastly improved my own writing. If you write a lot of books, it’s easy for thoughts to flow directly onto the page as written words without ever being heard internally. Audiobooks have helped me reconnect the written word with the spoken word.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

Faulkner on paper makes my eyes glaze over with his labyrinthine sentences, but in audio the cadence and pauses in the reader’s delivery untangle the thickets of prose and turn it into something wonderful. As for books that would suffer, I would say graphic novels would obviously have a tremendous challenge in moving to audio, and reading them on my phone or tablet isn’t very satisfying.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

Of course. Novels survived the advent of movies and television. And books themselves can be a great sensory experience. Think of the awe-inducing heft of a book like the The Brothers Karamazov. There’s something viscerally satisfying about reading a book like The Maltese Falcon in a crumbling yellowed paperback that smells vaguely of cigarettes.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

Audiobooks helped me lose weight and keep it off. I used to be a real couch potato. I preferred lounging around the house to going outside and actually doing stuff. But when I switched to listening to audiobooks, I’d want to keep listening to the story after I got out of my car. If I went inside, I found it too easy to get distracted. So I started hiking the trails along the Eno to have a few extra hours to listen to Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy or H.G. Wells. Whenever I’m coming up the hill toward the Eno quarry, I think, “Are we not men?” since that’s where I first listened to that section of The Island of Dr. Moreau.

James Maxey is the author of many books of fiction, including Bitterwood.

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TONY DANIEL:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

No, but I used to abridge audiobooks for Random House and Simon and Schuster back in the days of CDs. That was a very interesting gig that taught me a great deal about story. You had to cut sometimes 60 or 70 percent of the book and still have it make sense.

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I listen to audiobooks all the time. It is a way to read when I'm doing something else like exercising or driving. The advent of Amazon's Whispersync has been a boon to me, also, since I will alternate reading on my e-reader and listening. I have subscribed to Audible since its inception.

3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

Having the right reader is paramount. Professional actors are professional for a reason—they've studied how to have the best possible voices they can. An amateur reader (or the author) is almost unendurable for any length of time. I'd rather have the computer read to me than that.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

Sure it will, as a boutique item. Mass market paperbacks are going to disappear in the next 20 years, however. E-books serve the same purpose, and they come out when the hardcover comes out, so no waiting.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

I have written, produced, and directed a great deal of audio drama, professionally at the ScyFy website and at Baen Books Audio Drama. It is a form that is fantastic to work with. You can create motion picture-quality soundtracks on a very low budget and paint amazing pictures in listeners' minds. Actors LOVE doing this stuff, too, and it shows.

Tony Daniel is senior editor at Baen Books and the author of novels including Guardian of Night.

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SAMUEL MONTGOMERY-BLINN:

1. Have you ever made an audiobook? If so, what was the experience and the result like? If not, would you ever want to? Why or why not?

I've tried a few times, but anything longer than a short story is simply hideously painful to get right in the editing process, at least for me. I'd love to narrate a few short stories for podcasts, especially if they're the ones doing the post-processing!

2. How are your reading habits divided among paper books, audiobooks, e-readers and other means? Are there certain kinds of reading you prefer in a certain form?

I'm almost entirely "reading" using audiobooks (about 60 to 80 per year in audio versus 10 or fewer in print), and have been for about five years; the 10 years prior to that it was more an even split between paper books and audiobooks, though I was reading quite a bit less, more like 10 of each. E-books are close to a margin of error for me: a handful a year, primarily novels in manuscript when I don't want to be carrying around a sheaf of loose-leaf pages. I've started queuing up short fiction on my e-reader in the past couple of years, but trying to fit full-length reading into a full schedule of work, school pickup, and youth hockey road trips, if it weren't for audiobooks I wouldn't be able to get to nearly the number of books I want to read.

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3. Are there any books you can think of that particularly benefit or suffer in audiobook or e-reader forms?

Books written in dialect or with experimental prose benefit immensely (from an "ease of access" perspective) from the audiobook format: Cormac McCarthy's The Road, with its lack of dialog tags; Sandra Newman's The Country of Ice Cream Star, with its purposefully decayed language; Manly Wade Wellman's The Old Gods Waken, with its colorful Appalachian dialect. I think first-person accounts like Andy Weir's The Martian or Jane Rogers' The Testament of Jessie Lamb also make great audiobooks. And any book that purports to be an oral account, from World War Z to Elizabeth Hand's Wylding Hall (which is set up as the transcript of a documentary film) are obvious fits.

There are two kinds of books that don't work as well for me in audio. The first are books that are more or less non-linear in format, with chapters (or even scenes) jumping back and forth in time, flashbacks, dream sequences and so on. In print, there are scene breaks, italics, asterisks, something to offset what is going on. In audio the story just keeps going and you can be thrown for a few loops trying to figure out what in the world is going on.

The other kind of books that suffer for me in audio are very long books with huge casts of characters and places with similar-sounding names. The best narrators can overcome this kind of thing, and here I'm thinking of Roy Dotrice for A Game of Thrones, but for more "monotone" narrators I find myself having to track down a print or e-book copy just to get a few spellings committed to memory and try to keep people and places sorted out. (Of course, those kinds of books suffer in print as well, though at least you have the different spellings to go on.)

I would also have said that books with special formatting literally could not work as audiobooks, such as Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, with its upside-down and inset text, but now I've heard a sampling of Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren and I'm completely intrigued. I'm not sure how many typographic tricks I'm willing to endure in audio, but for Dhalgren, I'll make at least this one exception.

4. Do you think the paper book will survive new technologies, and for how long? Why or why not?

Yes, or at least as long as we have physical bodies that inhabit physical spaces. We like to surround ourselves with talismans of our interests, and printed books on the bookshelf are (for lack of a better term) our "trophy kills" as readers—it's hard to display one's digital audiobook collection, or get one's PDF document signed by the author in a way that seems meaningful at all. I can look at my bookshelf and pull down a memory and flip through, picking out a favorite scene or phrase, in a way that I can't with a tablet or e-ink device. It's also a completely different experience to "browse" an e-book store than it is to walk through a real bookstore or library, letting the spine of a book catch your eye. Following the quirky curation of a favorite bookseller or librarian is a compelling enough complement to any "you might also like" algorithm that a team of software engineers might come up with that I do hope we can keep our cathedrals of books around for a long, long time.

5. Any additional audiobook thoughts, anecdotes or perspectives here, please.

First, I have to give a shout out to the Durham County Library for having a fantastic audiobook collection, both physical CDs and a growing digital collection. If you wait long enough in the hold queue, you too can listen to Gone Girl. Second, the right narrator can really make an audiobook work: Wil Wheaton wouldn't be my first choice for a British comedy of manners, but he's great on a (literally) self-referential geek-out fest like Ready Player One. Lastly, there are so, so many audiobooks being published right now, and it's not just bigger publishers going through author's backlists. The self-publishing revolution has come to audiobooks as well, and the quality can be remarkable in both directions. So check out the reviews, listen to samples, and find a few favorite narrators to follow. Washing dishes or waiting in the carpool pickup line will never be the same.

OK, I lied. One more thing: Do keep reading, too. I think we lose something essential if we allow ourselves to be completely disconnected from the physical text, whether it's an atrophy of imagination or unwillingness to simply enjoy an activity that isn't multitasking. Take the time to just sit and read—your brain can turn all that text into something hallucinatory and magnificent, no actors required. Plus, sadly, not every book worth reading is available in audiobook. (I have a list, let me tell you.) Plus, reading it yourself is faster. (Unless you are brave enough to listen at double speed, which is the only way to get through some of the assigned reading in many an English Lit course with your sanity intact.)

And if you’re looking for recommendations, I do blog about audiobooks at The AudioBookaneers.

Samuel Montgomery-Blinn is the publisher of Bull Spec.

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I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

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