Recorded versions of your favorite stories can be “read” without taking your eyes off the road.
By Jonathan Lowe
You exit the diner . . . the chicken-fried steak was delicious and filling, and the caffeine from that cup of Colombian dark roast coffee is starting to kick in. You climb into your motorhome and start it up. Do you turn on the radio or play travel games to help pass the miles?
One on-the-road entertainment option you might not have considered is an audiobook. As with printed volumes, books recorded on cassette tape or compact disc are akin to a theater of the mind. Quite often, the image that plays in your head is better than what you’d see on screen. You and your family can take in the scenery along your chosen route while also enjoying a good book. Not sure whether audiobooks are right for you? Ask yourself these questions.
What do I like to read?
Whatever you like to read, it’s probably available on audio, in both abridged (shortened) or unabridged (full text) formats. The genres include mystery, Western, true adventure, science fiction, romance, humor, self-help, literary, and biography. Plus, audio versions of popular titles are frequently released at the same time as hardcover editions.
Will I really enjoy someone else reading for me?
With a good reader you will. And you’ll appreciate being able to do other things with your hands and eyes besides turning pages and reading. Audiobooks have grown in popularity during the past few years as more busy people discover their advantages. The days of a dry reader mumbling sentences are in the past. Talented narrators and actors now perform the parts, often accompanied by sound effects and original mood music. Although audiobooks previously were available only on cassette and CD, MP3-CD formats that can include up to 12 hours on one disk are becoming more common. This is the future of audio, as more vehicles are equipped with MP3 technology.
How do I find good readers?
Read reviews in AudioFile magazine or online at www.audiobookstoday.com. You’ll soon find that the really good readers enunciate clearly and possess the acting skills to jump between dialog, narration, and action while using appropriate dialects and different character voices. Some of today’s great narrators include Frank Muller, George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblat, Grover Gardner, Richard Ferrone, Susan Toren, Dick Hill, Sandra Burr, and Will Patton. These professional narrators often do a better job than the more famous stage and screen actors who sometimes read audiobooks.
Where do I get audiobooks?
Libraries carry audiobooks, but sometimes their selection is limited to older titles. A better option may be to visit one of a number of Internet rental or sales sites, such as www.talkingbooks.com, which sells audiobooks online and over the phone (888-508-2737), and also rents them at Talking Book World stores. At www.recordedbooks.com (800-638-1304), www.booksontape.com (800-521-7925), and other sites, you can rent audiobooks online. Books in Motion, (www.booksinmotion.com, 800-752-3199), a recorder and publisher of audiobooks, offers titles online but also has racks of rental titles at many truck stops. Cracker Barrel offers rental audiobooks in their restaurant stores along the interstates.
Can I trust the major bestseller lists to find a good book? John Grisham’s books are listed as number-one bestsellers by the New York Times prior to being released. But, many good books receive no press at all. The bestseller lists don’t tell you about those books, so why not try something new? You might be pleasantly surprised. Here are several suggestions to help you get started listening to audiobooks.
- Brian Haig’s first novel, Secret Sanction (Time Warner AudioBooks), is about a judge advocate general (JAG) sent to investigate a purported massacre by U.S. troops during the war in Bosnia. Actor John Rubenstein lends a sense of meticulous reporting to the tale while maintaining a feel for discovery along the twisting path of the plotline.
- Dick Wilkinson brings his deep, versatile voice to the reading of Dalton Walker’s Shiloh — Blood Rival (Otis Audio). This story is about an Old West tycoon who hires a bounty hunter to bring back his daughter. The publisher’s trademark guitar-strumming transitions are augmented by occasional gunshots and the sound of galloping horses at key intervals.
- The Last Time They Met (Time Warner AudioBooks), by Anita Shreve, is a literary romance that plays with time itself. The story moves backward from the point of two lovers meeting again (after years apart) to show earlier encounters, giving the listener a different perspective on how relationships develop and change. Actress and singer Lainie Cooke narrates in a breathy, sensitive style on the unabridged recording. A more enjoyable and robust reading is by actress Blair Brown on the abridged version.
- The Minority Report And Other Stories (Harper Audio), by Phillip K. Dick, is science fiction set in the future when crimes can be prevented by a technology that anticipates what a person will do. A movie version of the book, released this past summer, stars Tom Cruise. The narrator is Keir Dullea, star of the classic science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
- The Power Of Now (New World Library), written and narrated by Eckhart Tolle, is a layman’s guide to spiritual enlightenment, providing a path to one’s true inner self. Practical and profound, this is the best self-help book I’ve ever heard.
- P.T. Deutermann is the author Sweepers, a best-selling novel about an elite CIA task force trained to track down rogue agents. The author’s latest novel, Hunting Season (Brilliance Audio), is about an ex-Sweeper whose daughter disappeared near an abandoned military complex. The FBI has dismissed her as a “runaway.” This is another great read by narrator Dick Hill, who conveys all the characters’ emotions with consummate skill.
- Christopher Whitcomb was part of the elite FBI Hostage Rescue Team at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas. Hear his take — he also narrates — on those operations and learn what life is really like inside the FBI for a recruit today in Cold Zero (Time Warner AudioBooks). Another non-fiction book worth checking out is Generally Speaking (Time Warner AudioBooks), read by Lieutenant General Claudia J. Kennedy, the first woman to become a three-star general in the U.S. Army. As Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, she oversaw policy affecting thousands of soldiers worldwide.
- In Code Of The Woosters: Jeeves To The Rescue (Audio Partners) by P.G. Wodehouse, characters are eccentric, to say the least. Just ask Gussie Fink-Nottle, or Stiffy Byng, or the Rev. H.P. “Stinker” Pinker. There’s nothing vitally serious going on here, but then you can say that about most murder mysteries, too.
- In The Snow Falcon (Brilliance Audio), a first novel by Stuart Harrison, Michael Somers has returned to the Pacific Northwest to uncover secrets from his past. No one trusts him because of a night of violence he perpetrated years ago. He rescues a wounded falcon and, while nursing it to health, befriends a lonely boy who hasn’t spoken a word since witnessing his father’s death in a hunting accident. They face a hunter again as they prepare to release the falcon back into the wild. The story is about redemption and healing, taking its lesson from nature itself.
- If you prefer description and characterization to be original, then any of James Lee Burke’s mystery novels will impress you. Perhaps his best — and my personal favorite — is Purple Cane Road (Simon & Schuster Audio). Will Patton performs this regional story with a native and intuitive skill. In the book, Dave seeks the truth about the long-ago murder of his mother, following a new lead implicating crooked cops. During his gritty and sometimes grisly hunt, he manages to learn more about his mother, and at the same time gains an identity that he can finally grasp in being her son. Most of Burke’s books are available unabridged from Recorded Books www.recordedbooks.com).
- A poetic family story filled with romance and jealousy leads to a violent incident that becomes difficult for the youngest of the family to let go. That is the plotline of Swimming (The Publishing Mills) by Joanna Hershon. Narrator Kate Reading is in top form, giving a believable, almost haunting performance to this sensitive tale that will enthrall female listeners.
Regardless of the type of book you like, you’re likely to find it on audio. So, listen to the recorded version of your favorite stories, and watch the miles go by.
Jonathan Lowe has a review column at www.audiobookstoday.com, and is a judge in the Audie Awards. His own novels on audio include Caribbean Coup and Dark Fire, both available for rent from Books in Motion