s a lover of books, I am doubly blessed because I always have two books in my life at a time: one resting on my nightstand and another loaded in my MP3 player. Audiobooks have been a special part of my life for a decade, not only as the soundtrack for my (almost) daily walks but as the living voice of some of the books I treasure most.
Among my favorites are Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, read by Alyssa Bresnahan; Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, narrated by Jenna Lamia; John Grisham's The Last Juror, read by Michael Beck; Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, read by Barbara Caruso; and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, with narration by Laurel Lefkow and William Hope.
Abridged or unabridged, fiction or non, CD/cassette or download: there's something for everyone in audiobooks. According to a 2006 study by The Audio Publishers Association, nearly one in four Americans has given audiobooks a try. People are listening on treadmills, in their cars, while cleaning house or walking the dog. For those who have little time to curl up with an actual book, audiobooks can expand available "reading" time dramatically.
Literary purists insist that the intimate experience of reading words on the page is the only way to absorb a book and all its nuances. I've even been accused of cheating because I allow others to do the reading for me. Surely these skeptics haven't experienced the way a skilled narrator can elevate a so-so book or take a great book to even greater heights. And what could be more intimate than hearing an author read her or his own words, as done so effectively in Toni Morrison's Beloved, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Jane Fonda's My Life So Far and Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain?
As the voice of Harry, Hermione, Ron and company in the U.S. audiobook versions of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, Jim Dale brings each of hundreds of characters uniquely to life. His voice has become so integral to my enjoyment of the books that I can't imagine simply "reading" the upcoming final installment. Fortunately for me and other audiobook devotees, the audiobook release typically coincides with the hardback release of a book.
Among my most profound hours with audiobooks were those I spent with Jonathan Safran Foer's post-9/11 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. While I walked and listened, I felt that I was covering the streets of New York with nine-year-old Oskar as he sought the lock that fit the key his father had left behind. Oskar's first-person narrative is beautifully voiced by Jeff Woodman, one of the book's three narrators.
I had loved reading Michael Connelly's gritty novels featuring LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch for several years when I heard that Len Cariou had begun narrating the audiobook versions. Within the first few sentences of The Closers, Cariou's voice had become an essential part of the package for me. It's the same with Jonathan Marosz' reading of Harlan Coben's tongue-in-cheek mysteries featuring sports agent/sleuth Myron Bolitar. Knowing that Coben narrates the latest audiobook in the series, Promise Me, I chose instead to read the printed book so I could imagine Marosz' voice in my head.
Many times, I have discovered a new author because I longed to hear again the voices of readers such as George Guidall, Barbara Rosenblat, Richard Ferrone, Ron McLarty and especially Frank Muller, considered by many to be the best of the best in audiobook narration. Unable to record since a devastating motorcycle accident in 2001, Muller is the enduring voice of Stephen King's The Green Mile, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac's On the Road and many more.
A little Internet research will tell you everything you need to know about renting or buying audiobooks, as well as the various media on which to play them. For my money and if you're an avid listener, a subscription to www.audible.com provides exceptional value. For $22.95 a month, you can download two complete unabridged audiobooks and keep them forever. It takes less than 10 minutes for me to select a book on the website, download/transfer it to my MP3 player and be out the door for my walk.
In the world of audiobooks, the right combination of reader and book is like the perfect marriage of singer and song. To me, it is pure pleasure for the ear and the mind. I have laughed, cried, learned, grown and walked thousands of miles with my audiobooks. I can't think of a better walking companion.
Diana J. Ewing is an award-winning freelance copywriter and public relations consultant, who has recently expanded her writing endeavors to include short stories and nonfiction humor. She won second place in WOW!'s first quarterly flash fiction contest. Diana lives in Laguna Niguel, California, with her husband, David, and their dog, Bogie.
Email Diana at firstname.lastname@example.org