Sunday November 18, 2012

Audiobooks changed my life. That is said without hyperbole. Nor am I trying to be precious. Listening to audiobooks really did change every aspect of my life.

Much of my young adulthood was spent at the movies. I reviewed theatrical releases, videos, and then DVDs for many years.

Until I couldn’t.

The day came when I knew that if I saw one more Mexican vampire movie I would have to stake myself just to stop the pain -- and the squishy sound effects.

At that particular juncture in my career, I had already been listening to audiobooks for years. Before those heady days of sitting in the dark for hours on end, I was working as an editor at a small weekly newspaper chain outside of Boston when some of the swag being handed around came my way.

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There seemed to be a lot of "Star Trek" at the time, then books in public domain, and badly abridged versions of the most popular novels.

It took me a couple of years, but I eventually discovered that the Boston Public Library has hundreds, if not thousands of titles by Recorded Books, a company that only releases unabridged versions and only hires professional actors to narrate.

Sitting in traffic was suddenly close to pleasurable. Of course, one could really only listen in the car in those days, unless one wished to sport a boom box as an accessory.

Then Sony gave us a little gift called a Walkman and suddenly, we were all mobile.


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Sure, the devices were clunky and I wore a big bag around my neck with a machine bouncing against me, but I could go for a walk, or to the gym, and be entertained in a way my nerdy, wannabe intellectual mind much preferred to music.

When I left Boston for the country and finally wrote my last film review, I told my mother that, as crazy as it sounded, I wanted to be the country’s "Audiobook Queen." I wanted to write about audiobooks and nothing else.

And for years that is exactly what I did. I wrote (and still write) for magazines and newspapers and websites. I have listened to thousands of audiobooks. I judge them.

For a few years, I ran my own online audiobook magazine. I even co-produced "Black River," an original story by Dean Koontz, for www.audible.com. I hear voices in my head all the time.

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After a year or two, I noticed that the way I perceived information had changed. "Tell me," I would say to people. "I’ll get it quicker if you don’t show me."

The computer became less daunting to me, as I learned to download books when new devices appeared. (Downloading was much more complicated in those early days.)

I said goodbye to bulky cassettes and boxes of CDS and weird packaging stuffed with foam that literally blew out of open car windows.

Strange, double-sided cassettes in which the sound always bled through became sleek MP-3 devises and Audible became my favorite stomping ground.

I learned and taught people to download from the library, intruded on restaurant conversations, and struck up friendships by "talking audiobook" to strangers. It turns out almost everyone loves them.

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I also discovered that I read more than ever, as I listen while I drive or do household chores and read in bed.

My 8-year-old daughter and I have both been known to hang iPods around our necks, curl up on the couch, and lose ourselves in stories for a cozy hour or two while we knit.

This little girl, a self-proclaimed audiobook "addict" has the vocabulary of a child four or five years older, and I know that comes from voracious reading and a serious listening habit.

As for me, I have found Nirvana now that I can listen to an audiobook in the car and, thanks to new technology called Whispersync, I can pick up the story where it left off on my Kindle at the end of the day.

I think of it as reading like a Jetson, because we may not have the hovercrafts promised to me in cartoons when I was a kid, but, between vacuuming robots and technology that lets me listen and read a book at the same time, I feel like the World of The Future has finally arrived.

As for topics: Dystopian futures and serious literary novels are always favorites, but please, do tempt me with a smart werewolf book, or anything in which vampires don’t sparkle.

I want to hear Scott Brick read just about anything, and I still listen to an old version of "Cold Comfort Farm," read by Eileen Atkins, about once a year.

Oh, and David Sedaris reading "Holidays on Ice" and Patrick Stewart narrating "A Christmas Carol," and I wish I had time to hear Jeremy Irons read "Lolita" again and ...