June/July 2012

Discover the World of Audiobooks

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AudiOpinion How to Listen to an Audiobook A longtime audiobook producer shares some tricks of the trade. by Paul Ruben Sometimes the simplest of proposals—even when consid- ered thoughtfully—can bedevil one's capacity to respond coherently, let alone with insight (especially when limited to a certain number of words). So when AudioFile magazine asked me to write about how to listen to audiobooks, the thought that stutter- stepped from my mind was, "Well, if you're driving—with both hands on the wheel!" Further reflection prevailed. Reviewing my 20 years of experience as an audiobook producer (including having directed, and more recently coached, dozens of talented profes- sional and emerging narrators), I imagined if I looked at the proposed topic through the lens of the relation- ship between narrator and listener, I could suggest to consumers how they might better appreciate the spoken word. Additionally, I could provide vocabulary that specifically indicates what makes for engaging or discon- necting audio programs and why one narrator enthralls while another leaves a listener somnolent or dazed. thesis is: Only the narrator can emotionally connect you to the author's story. The core of this essay's Let me begin my attempt to unpack with this simple question and response: How to listen to audio- books? Connectedly. That was easy. Now the explanatory hurdle: Merriam-Webster defines connectedly as joined or linked together. For me, that definition reveals the heart and soul of the listening experi- ence. It is also the core of this essay's thesis: Only the narrator can emotion- ally connect you to the author's story. 14 s AudioFile/ In order to listen connectedly, it follows that the narrator must be emotionally connected as well. Therefore, it is how narrators navigate this obligation that explains why some succeed and others don't. Are you feelin' it? When you're listening connectedly, the narrator has pulled you emotion- ally into the author's story. When the narrator has failed to maintain your emotional connection to the text, you're uninvolved, disconnected from the story, as if you'd been sentenced to passively observe rather than experience the narrative. Which would you rather download, yesterday's kisses or a tantalizing sizzle on your lips? Just how do narrators get them- selves feelin' it so you can listen connectedly? It's not easy, especially when the narrator finds a text unap- pealing—though the narrator's job is the same, regardless of how he or she judges the content. Just to be clear, I am holding the narrator totally accountable for connecting you. Aesthetically speaking, the best narrators are storytellers; the worst are readers. Readers deliver information. Storytellers transcend information dissemination. Whether narrating fiction or nonfiction, a storyteller connects the listener to the emotional subtext embedded in the author's words. He or she surreptitiously clutches the listener's imagination and whispers: Okay, time for us to jump in and experience this narra- tive—ready, set . . . go! In my view, listening connectedly compels the storyteller to address a variety of performance responsibili- ties, including the two most important, which I'll describe briefly. The here and now: By this I mean whether the narrator makes you feel caught up in the immediacy of the narrative. Here's the difference: Boring: The reader employs her vocal instrument to emphasize words and phrases like a dispassionate news broadcaster or TV announcer. She seems to report information rather than feel it and speaks as if the story happened in the past. I guarantee that she ain't feelin' it. Subsequently, you won't either. Bristling: The storyteller engages the subtext (the feeling embedded within the words) and encounters the narrative's unfolding events as if they're happening in this moment. She makes us believe that she has no clue as to what's going to happen next, so we can be riveted on the here and now. Which would you rather download—yesterday's kisses or a tantalizing sizzle on your lips? Point of view: In fiction every char- acter has a point of view. In nonfiction the author has a point of view. Point of view means simply how the character (or author) is feeling at a given moment in time. Point of view may be directed toward the inanimate world—in descriptive passages about a location, the breeze—anything. What's significant is that every word in the author's text is imbued with point of view. Therefore it's the narra- tor's obligation to always tell the story from the point of view of who or what they're talking about. If they do that, then you'll feel emotionally engaged. If not, you'll be disengaged. Take the following line: "Henry rose from his seat, angry enough to kill his former best friend." A reader/narrator will "news-report" that line as if it were useful, even signifi-

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