Guy Stuff – Read Me a Story

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Audio books offer adults the childhood fun of being read a story—and more!

Many years ago, very few recorded books were available and almost all were intended for use by the visually impaired. Today, according to the Audio Publishers Association, nearly 30 percent of Americans have listened to audio books during the past year, and the industry’s sales exceed one billion dollars. Not unlike other entertainment entities that recognize excellence through Grammies, Oscars, and Emmies, the audio world recognizes outstanding performances with their national Audie Awards.

Why audio books?
Audio books are most commonly used by commuters and long-distance travelers.  Speaking personally, I almost never drive more than a few miles without listening to a recorded book, and for distance travel, nothing helps the miles click by as quickly as an engrossing tale. One of my brothers finds it too distracting to listen to a book while driving, and that may be the case for others as well, but I, along with other audio book listeners, find it no more distracting than listening to a CD or the radio.
Other marvelous opportunities to “read” while otherwise engaged are during hobbies and exercise. As with making a long drive pass by quickly, listening to a book can also help the monotony of treadmills or the fiftieth time you’ve walked or jogged the same neighborhood route. As for hobbies, often time your hands and eyes are completely engaged in your crafting, but your mind and ears may be nearly idle. Once again, this is a chance for an enjoyable way to entertain or enlighten yourself while only one half of your being is busy. Imagine listening to The Great Gatsby, or a John LeCarre bestseller or Hamlet while sewing, wood-carving, model-building, quilting or whatever it is you do. Heck, if you’d like to travel back in time to your more serene childhood, you can listen to audio books as bedtime stories.

Thanks to the narrators
Although I pride myself on my ability to imagine, I have discovered that an exceptional narration by a talented reader can bring a book more vividly to life than I may have been able to imagine by reading silently. This can be especially true when the narrator is skilled at accents and dialects. As a white male, there is no way that I could have appreciated and understood Zora Neale Hurston’s brilliant novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God anywhere nearly as well as when I listened to it performed by the great actress, Ruby Dee. Hearing her read the book was truly an eye-opening pleasure. And although I had previously read Steinbeck’s immortal Grapes of Wrath, the full humanity and power of the book came alive for me only after hearing Dylan Baker’s superb narration.   
The Audio Publishers Association recognizes great narrations and audiobooks through its Audie Awards. AudioFile magazine celebrates narrators through its Hall of Fame of Golden Voices and publishes a list of best books. If you have never listened to an audio book, it might be a good idea to start by listening to one read by one of those Golden Voices or one that has earned an Audie Award.  The AudioFile website is www.audiofilemagazine.com and the APA list of Audie Award winners (dating back only to 2001) can be found at www.audiopub.org/audies-gala.asp.   

Not only the classics and not only novels
I have friends who never read novels. If you share this preference, the audio book world remains wide open to you. A nearly limitless selection of biographies, histories, essays, humor, and a wide range of other non-fiction including self-help and foreign language instruction are available on audio for your daily commutes, trips and hobby times. As a playwright, another form with which I am particularly familiar is the original cast recordings of plays. 
If your taste runs to the current best sellers rather than the classics, you’re in luck there as well. In today’s publishing world, nearly every major title and author is released on audio. Everything from thrillers, to beach reads, to romances, to spy novels, mysteries, crime, courtroom, detective fiction, and whatever falls in between can be enjoyed as a read-aloud tale by an excellent narrator.

Where can you find them?
As with just about every medium imaginable today, you can buy audio books on CD, but they’re fairly expensive to own. I’m a huge fan of libraries and prefer to check out the audio books I “read” from my local library. The Upper Hudson Library System in our region is a tremendous resource of 29 autonomous libraries each with their own collections. With today’s amazing technology, you can view their catalogues and download audio books from the libraries as well. What an incredible resource! Visit www.uhls.org (more about our regional libraries in a future “Guy Stuff” article.)

The original cast recordings of three of Ed. Lange’s plays, which were produced as audio books by Family Classic Audio were finalists for Audie Awards in 2000, ’05 and ’07, and one of the three won. He also directed another play for Family Classic, which was an Audie winner.
Ed. Lange may be reached at skipper@capital.net.
 

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