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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You Should Be a Fan of Audiobooks

If you have a long commute like I do, or if you are planning to take a long family car trip, you should take advantage of either the books-on-CD (or cassette) that we have to check out or go to the ListenNJ link on our webpage ( to download additional titles.  I have an hour drive each way to and from work and in order to avoid the inane conversation and the thousands of commercials on the radio, I have become a major fan of audiobooks.  But being an avid audiobook user, you will find that you have a few other factors to consider when selecting your reading material. 

Not only do I consider the author and subject of a book, but I also pay attention to the reader (or readers) of the story and the inclusion of special effects.  I have over time come to recognize certain readers as brilliant and others as being less than adequate.  And now that there are downloadable recordings of books, this becomes more important than ever. 

There are about a dozen major publishers of audiobooks – Audible, Books-on-Tape, Brilliance Audio, Hachette Audio, HarperCollins, HighBridge, Listening Library, Penguin, Random House, Recorded Books, Simon and Schuster and Spoken Word.  There are, of course, many more than these that publish audiobooks but these are the ones that we generally carry since they are available from our approved vendor.  Most of the major publishers use theatrically trained actors, but I have recently heard that there are recordings of books in the public domain available that are read by a computer generated voice!  I can’t imagine my telephone voicemail reading a book to me…ugh.  I find the publishers that use actors as readers, of course, the most enjoyable, but not always.  For instance, there is an actor that reads some mysteries that adopts a voice like the narrator of a “film noir” type B-movie that can be extremely irritating after just a few chapters. 

I also have found that a book read by the author can be the kiss of death.  Even though it is the author’s own words, they are often incapable of adding the inflections and modulations that are critical to an enjoyable “read.”  The readers that I most admire are George Guidall, who reads for Recorded Books (see and Lisette Lecat, who reads the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith.  George Guidall holds the record for having read the most unabridged books – over 900.  Because he has this kind of clout, he gets to select just the books that he wants to read.  Did you know that you can search in the catalog for your favorite reader by putting their name in as the author?  In the case of George Guidall, this will bring up a list of books that sure to be enjoyable.  But watch the number of disks – he just finished reading Don Quixote which is in two parts and is overall 35 discs that runs for over 40 hours.  Even George Guidall’s skillful reading couldn’t coax me to complete that book.  And it is wonderful to have someone like Lisette Lecat, with her exotic accent, pronounce all the Setswana words and place names in the Precious Ramotswe series.  The reader of the HighBridge recording of The Secret Life of Bees, Jenna Lamia, is also a remarkable reader who is able to cover the entire range of accents, ages and nationalities of the characters and even sing the songs that are written in the story. 

I don’t care for the recordings that use special effects, particularly when I am listening in my car.  Popular added noises are gun shots and sirens, which can be very disconcerting when you are driving.   I am also not a big fan of books where there are too many readers.  I prefer the readers who are able to use a separate and distinct voice for each of the characters, like Jim Dale does masterfully in all of the Harry Potter books. 

As to downloading audiobooks from ListenNJ for use in your car, your car stereo will have to be able to play what is stored on your iPod or other MP3 player.  I don’t believe it is possible to burn a CD from your computer for use in your car, unless your car stereo is able to play MP3 files.   I have seen people driving with their earbuds in, but that is not only dangerous, it is illegal - you need to be able to hear a siren or a horn.   The newer cars are often equipped with either iPod docks or plug-ins to attach your mobile devices, but there are other adaptors you can purchase that will allow you to hear your   downloaded music and books without having to actually replace your sound system.  The simplest adaptor is one that plugs into a cassette player, if your car still has a cassette player!  There is a great tutorial on the ListenNJ site as to how to download the proper format for your device.  You just need your library card number and PIN and identify yourself as a patron of the “Libraries of Middlesex Automation Consortium (LMxAC).”  

I hope that you give audiobooks a try.  Yes, a lot of people think that this what their grandparents listen to, but in a recent review of audiobooks in Publisher’s Weekly, Parul Sehgal pointed out, “we turned to audiobooks for escapism and edification—and we got more than we bargained for. The industry took the business of entertaining us very seriously and readers turned in unforgettable performances.”  Enjoy!

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