I lay silent for months, unable to move. Then, one day, words come out of the darkness and exploded in my ears.
Not everyone likes talking books. “You’re not getting the whole thing”, my friend Dave once claimed, “just an actor’s interpretation of it. I want to read it for myself.”
Well, each to his own, although oral storytelling is presumably as old as human language itself.
I studied English at University but it was only when I became too sick to read I finally discovered the real power of words. They can save your life.
A recording in a New York studio by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in February 1952 kickstarted the modern audiobook industry. He recited his poetry for a new company called Caedmon Records, founded by two 22-year-old women, Marianne Roney and Barbara Cohen. Cohen later said, “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.” ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Five other poems’ went on to sell 400,000 copies. Though not the first commercial voice recording, Caedmon was the first label to specialise in talking books, planting the seed of today’s $2-billion spoken-word industry. They often featured authors reading their own work.
Spoken words helped reconnect me to a world that felt like it was gone forever.
At roughly twenty five minutes per side, vinyl audiobooks had to be skilfully, but ruthlessly, abridged. In 1978 a salesman called Henry Trentman, who listened to sales tapes while driving long distances, was struck with the idea of making unabridged audio cassette recordings with professional actors. The term “audiobook” arrived when libraries began renting out books on cassette tape. In the mid 1990s Audible released a mass-market digital audiobook player. In 2005 Librivox began recording public domain audiobooks using volunteer narrators.
I have suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis since 1994 and have had to spend long stretches of time lying down. I have been lucky. Some people are too ill even to listen.
Smartphones, tablets and entertainment systems in cars continue to popularise the spoken word.
I’m able to read the written word now, but I still listen.
I’m grateful for the convenience of modern audiobook technology..
People have their favourite readers. It’s fair to say opinions differ, a lot. I like to hear authors read their work. My personal picks for professional narrators are Jonathan Cecil reading P.G. Wodehouse, Patrick Tull reading the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey/Maturin novels, William Hootkins reading Moby Dick and Robbie Coltrane reading Kidnapped.
One of the annoying things about audiobooks is that a recording by a particular reader can go out of print quickly. Also different territories use different readers, so you have to shop around a bit.
A few years ago audiobooks helped me again, during an initially bad prognosis for cancer. I will be forever grateful for being distracted by Bob Brier’s lectures on Ancient Egypt for the “Great Courses.”
Listening kept me connected to storytelling and literature. I think the novels I’ve written so far are fruits of that – and my unexpected survival.
Here are some links.
Free public domain audiobooks, “read by volunteers around the world.” It now boasts a catalogue that includes thousands of works.
A selection of Caedmon recordings. Free to listen. Includes Kurt Vonnegut reading from “Slaughterhouse Five,” Anthony Burgess reading from “A Clockwork Orange” and Coretta Scott King reading from “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.”
The “Audio Books and Poetry” section allows you to listen for free to LibriVox along with digital and archive recordings put up by site users.
Many local libraries support the Overdrive service which allows you to check out audiobooks (and ebooks) from your phone or tablet. All you need is your library card and the Overdrive or Libby app.
Spotify has an audiobook collection that includes classic recordings by Basil Rathbone, Anthony Quayle and James Mason. It’s free to listen but you need a “Premium” monthly membership of e.g. £9.99 in the UK if you want to listen to the files in the right order!
Lit2Go hosts free audiobooks, plays and poems designed to be school-friendly.
Loyal Books shares free audiobooks from books in the public domain.You can submit reviews of books and read those of others.
Audible is a megalithic audiobook company owned by Amazon that needs no introduction/advertising from me! It’s £7.99 a month in the UK, which includes a “credit” to buy a book (playable through Audible only).
https://www.audible.co.uk/ (or local equivalent)
Buy proprietary books and audiobooks for Mac and IOS using the “Books” app.
In the UK:
Disabled folk can join Listening Books for as little as £20 a year. The company describe themselves as “a postal and internet based audiobook service to over 50,000 members who find it difficult to read the printed word in the usual way.”