... in which the author speaks about audiobooks. 
The first time I listened to my own words spoken out
loud by someone else was when Glen Ford played the
role of the school teacher in the film version of THE
BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.  There was no such thing as
an audio book back then.  Or if there was, I had never
heard one.  I have since listened to many actors
reading my words, and my reactions vary each time.
There is the actor I want to strangle.  (I use the word
"actor" generically; for some unfathomable reason, the
word "actress" is no longer politically correct.  "Actor,"
then, for actor or actress, "he," then, for he or she.)  He
is the one who sends me off in a rage, wondering how
he could have so egregiously misunderstood the true
sensitivity of my immortal prose, the
Shakespearean-like cadences, the sonorous thunder
of a masterpiece!  How come he didnít read it the way I
heard it in my head while I was writing it?

There is also the actor to whom I want to send a dozen
roses.  Heís the one who grasps every nuance, every
meaningful pause, every inflection, every suspenseful
turn of plot, every tear-wrenching line, every joke, every
sly reference!  Surely, this actor and I are twins,
separated at birth.  But even he doesnít quite get it the
way I heard it in my head.

Then there is none other than I myself.

Oh boy.

Iíve recorded three or four of my own books now, and
my reactions vary.

You have to understand that recording one of these
books isnít the same thing as sitting down and reading
a bedtime story to your kids.  Oh no.  What they do is
lock you in this tiny airless chamber while outside this
cubicle your engineer and your director drink beer and
eat sandwiches while constantly stopping the session
because your stomach was rumbling, or there was a
slight rasp in your throat, or you missed a word (or even
a sentence), or you were speaking too softly (or too
loudly), or your plosive P was popping all over the
place, or there wasnít enough difference between your
male voice and your female voice, or you simply werenít
reading with enough feeling ("Can you give us a bit
more feeling, please?) or who knows why these skilled
torturers choose to stop your fine performance every
two or three seconds when you thought everything was
going along so swimmingly?

You do it over and over again.

For three days that seem like three weeks!

At the end of that time, they do not even have the good
grace to say, "Itís a wrap," or something similarly
professional that would make you feel like Mel Gibson
or Eddie Murphy.  Instead, they say something
consoling like, "It went well" ("For a writer," they are
thinking) or "That was a nice reading" (meaning "Donít
give up your day job") or "Sure hope we can work
together again sometime" (which means "I am moving
to Afghanistan right this minute!")

And months later they send you the tape.

And you drive along in the privacy of your automobile,
and you hear your own voice reading your own words,
and Iíll tell you something.  It still isnít the way you heard
it in your head.

However hard you try, you canít make your New York
inflections sound British; however breathy you make
your voice, you still canít sound like a woman; however
much you think you are Evan Hunter or Ed McBain,
somehow youíre not either one when it comes to the
unrelenting ear of the microphone.

I donít know why this should be.

Perhaps, in much the same way that a printed book is
never complete until a reader brings his own sensibility
to it, an audio book is never complete until a listener
filters through his own innermost feelings the voice of
that angelic actor or his inept counterpart ó or even the
author himself.

Maybe thatís it.


  © Evan Hunter


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