Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Audiobooks: My Accidental Life-Long Friend

Audiobooks have always been a cross between a happy accident and something that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. To close out this year's Audiobook Month, I decided to oblige the Audio Publishers Association by writing about what makes them so special - and have others weigh in.

My father, a semi-retired folklore professor, used to read to me as a little girl novels such as Tolkien's The Hobbit and Roald Dahl's The Witches with rising and falling inflections, inhabiting the characters and bringing the books to life for me. As a folklorist, much of what he teaches in his classes is histories of oral traditions in various cultures and the art of storytelling. I remember long car rides down to my grandmother's from Pennsylvania to Virginia, long before smartphones and IPads, armed with the latest collection of Calvin and Hobbes and trusty cassette player, headphones, and recorded stories told by such greats as Laura Simms. My mom is a brilliant writer and storyteller as well; we always say the three of us are a bunch of frustrated actors and our family holidays together are never boring.

Perhaps it is not so strange that in 2010 I literally stumbled into a job as an audiobook proofreader/editor. I hadn't thought about audiobooks very much up until that point - they had only recently recaptured my interest, listening to Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company in my car to and from work at my old position as a journalist for the prestigious nationwide publication, Soundings. To listen to audiobooks and fix them up for a living was a career I had never imagined for myself  - but one that has forever shaped me as a person and as a writer.

Around this time, I was struggling for a way to keep my fledgling blog sustainable and relevant. I'd review a few movies here and there, and friends and family would dutifully read it, but I needed a spark - a drive. Since I was listening to audiobooks all the time, it dawned on me I could review a few that were particularly interesting in addition to my movie reviews! I had plenty of material to choose from. Soon, I began to learn more about the people that belonged to the voices I kept hearing in my head all day long and some of the greats like Xe Sands and Tavia Gilbert, whom you'll hear from below, became dear friends. I quickly learned that sometimes the right narrator can elevate even the most mediocre material into something quite fun. When my manager at the time suggested I apply for a chance to be a reviewer for AudioFile Magazine - the premiere publication in the audiobook world - I jumped at it. Three years later and I am still writing away!

Though life has since moved me onto other professional opportunities, audiobooks remain a huge part of my life, love, and livelihood and I will always be grateful for the vibrant and incredible community of professionals they have drawn me into.

Why Audiobooks? Industry Professionals Weigh In 

 Although I absolutely love books, picture books through adult novels and non-fiction, I fell in love with listening to audiobooks while working in libraries. My very first listening experience was Jim Dale in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and I was hooked. I can't go anywhere without listening to a book, because it ignites my wild imagination and paints word pictures across my brain and explodes. Now I work daily listening to audiobooks in quality control and proofreading. I love the stories listening invokes. - Deborah D Fleet MLIS, professional audiobook proofreader 

 Audiobooks have been a lifeline in times of loneliness and despair; partnership throughout hours while caring for my home and body; entertainment during healing from illness and injury; companionship during solitary commutes; a rich shared experience while traveling with loved ones. The best performances elevate and uplift my mind and spirit and connect me all of humanity via the most powerful tool a human has to make sense of the world around them — through story. A great audiobook is a magical and transcendent experience. - Tavia Gilbert, award-winning audiobook narrator, writer, and producer 

Audiobooks are...

That precious time and magical distraction with my daughter when she was young, speeding to places we didn't want to go.

That voice in my ear, telling me stories I might otherwise never have read, about Nabakov's house and finding Bernadette, about sentient zombie children and John (who Dies At the End), about female pilots and fierce wartime friendships, about how video games save the future and how a marriage might be saved by a ruse...and so very many other exceptional stories I might have passed right over in print.

The unbelievable combination of luck and audacity that allows me to do something I could only dream of back in that car, during that precious time with my daughter, wishing so hard I could be that voice in some other mother's car, distracting and inspiring and bringing bits of laughter and joy.
- Xe Sands, award-winning audiobook narrator and poetry aficionado 

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