An Epic Discovery

I have recently made a discovery.

As it turns out, it is possible to purchase an audio file which contains a spoken-word version of a text, which you may or may not have previously partaken of. This spoken-word version may even be read by someone you recognize from other media. It is verily the continuation of the venerable oral tradition in storytelling which began with grunts and hooting in the earliest days of mankind and has culminated in parents reading storybooks to pre-literate munchkins.

“Uh, but Chris,” you might say, a bit hesitantly. “Aren’t you talking about an audiobook?”

Yes. I am indeed talking about the audiobook.

“Ahem,” you might continue, trying to be polite. “You are aware that audiobooks have been around since vinyl, right?”

Vinyl? What’s that?

Anyway, all kidding aside, it has indeed taken me this long to discover the wonders of the audiobook. I remember many years ago, a family member of mine had an audio version of one of my favorite books: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. (Yes, I am a Goodkind fan; for his stories and characters, not his politics. If you don’t like it, take it up with the rest of the Internet).

This audiobook consisted of no less than 20 honest-to-goodness cassette tapes. Each tape had two tracks; one on the left speaker and one on the right. You listened to each tape 4 times – 2 sides, 2 tracks each.

Since none of my cassette players at the time included a ‘balance’ feature to change from right to left, I never got to experience this marvel. However, in recent months, an impending long-distance car sojourn made me consider the possibility that music would simply not be enough to keep me engaged while staring at hundreds of miles of asphalt. I subscribed to Audible (though I severely despise their DRM) and downloaded my first audiobook. I chose something which I had already read in print, something excellent, and read by a familiar voice. It was ‘Storm Front’ by Jim Butcher, book 1 of the Dresden Files, read by the amazing James Marsters.

Butcher happens to be one of my all-time favorite authors, and Marsters has an excellent voice and very neatly captures the essence of Harry Dresden. It was excellent – so excellent, in fact, that I’ve since listened to Dresden book 2 (Fool Moon, better than the first in almost every way) as well.

In between, for a second long trip, my wife and I listened to another book by another favorite author: A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold. The Vorkosigan Saga is another thing to which I was a latecomer, but have since devoured all of.

A Civil Campaign could not have been any better. I had read it twice previous, but this time was the best yet. The reader infused the story with life and brought the side-splitting humor across perfectly. This is perhaps my favorite of the Vorkosigan Saga for its wit, charm and humor, and experiencing it as a story read aloud was simply amazing.

If, like me, you’ve always skirted the audiobook issue due to concerns of quality or time or what-have-you, I encourage you to give it a try. Pick a book you already know and love… it will make the transition easier. The format has truly arrived in convenience (I listened to all three books via my Android smartphone and the Audible app) at last, and it was well-worth the time. Also, for the price of three months of subscription, I’ve gotten approximately 35-40 hours of entertainment. Not half bad.

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2 thoughts on “An Epic Discovery

  1. Entertaining take on this venerable format. I used audiobook casettes when I was taking grad classes in English so that I could hear the nuances of really excellent writing before putting pen to paper. Now I use CDs to entertain myself on my 45-minute commute. Hard to say which is better, hearing the author read their own works or hearing professional actors.

    • I’m a bit torn on that myself – whether the author or an actor is better. I think it probably depends on whether the author can actually read a story aloud or not… some have it, some don’t.

      There also seems to be a third category that’s arisen – the professional audiobook reader. Not necessarily an actor per se, just someone who is particularly good at narrating a story and specializes in audiobooks. I’m pretty sure the person who read ‘A Civil Campaign’ was one of these, as I couldn’t find his name anywhere, but he was exceedingly good, clear and properly conveyed the sense of humor that was so strong in that book!

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