Audiobooks and me: we were not an obvious fit. We did not meet cute. We got together warily and over time, like a Jane Austen couple.
My first experience with an audiobook was in the mid-1980s, when someone gave me a cassette tape of the actress Claire Bloom reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. Listening to that tape was like sitting under a waterfall of gorgeous language, with Bloom’s voice giving the words just enough edge to remind you that beautiful things can be dangerous.
I wore out that cassette tape. But I didn’t listen to any more books.
About a decade later, I accidentally rediscovered audiobooks. I was searching in my local library for a novel I was eager to read, and they had it – but only in CD audiobook format. In the mid-1990s, that meant you went home with a black plastic box, larger than a hardcover book, that contained 8 or 10 silvery, smudged CDs nestled in paper sleeves.
Our library had shelf after shelf of CD audiobooks. The fact that a few were in lousy shape was a minor inconvenience, something you could expect to encounter every now and then in much-handled library materials.
Until one time my partner and I were listening to a riveting mystery novel – it was Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson – on a long car trip. And as we approached the thrilling conclusion, the CD stuttered and stopped. Dead. Silent. We tried everything, but we could see a deep gouge in the disk, where those tantalizing final paragraphs were forever out of reach.
After seven hours on the road, we drove straight to a bookstore to read the last pages. And that was the end of my flirtation with library CDs.
I blame my phone
When I first heard about the creation of Audible.com in 1995, I was scandalized. I had a very slight acquaintance with Don Katz, who founded Audible; long ago, he had dated a close friend of mine, and I had spent a weekend visiting them in New York. Don was a terrific and very accomplished nonfiction writer. His second book, Home Fires, had been published in 1992, and it was brilliant.
It baffled me that he would abandon the writing life to start a business. And what made him think people would buy audiobooks over the internet? Was he crazy?
Guess not. In 2016, according to Audible’s website, members downloaded almost 2 billion hours. At least half of that was probably me.
I blame my phone. Soon after I got my first smartphone, I downloaded the Audible app. And I’ve been going steady with audiobooks ever since.
Going to the chapel
Audiobooks and me: we do so many things together. Take walks. Fold the laundry. Mow the lawn.
In July we plan to put a ring on it, when my novel Her Own Vietnam transforms into an audiobook available through Audible. It will be very strange to hear my own words spoken not by the flat Midwestern voice in my head, but by the supple and versatile voice of Robin Miles, the ultra-talented narrator.
As with any long-term relationship, I expect to learn a lot. And I’ll share it here. Stay tuned.