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Monday, April 11, 2011

It's Alive!

"When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, it seems to be alive and talking to me."                
-Jonathan Swift

The first memory I have of a book being read to me is The Boxcar Children when I was about five.  I'm sure there were others when I was younger than that, but during my mother's nightly ritual of snuggling into bed with my younger sister Stacey and me the summer I was five and reading aloud to us the adventures of orphans Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny, their story came alive for me in a way no other had before.  I can still see clearly in my mind's eye the four siblings sleeping in haystacks and traveling by night, the abandoned boxcar they would make a home, Jessie scouring scavenged dishes in the stream of a creek.

As I grew up and became a proficient reader myself, I must have naturally concluded that my days of being read to were over, because I didn't give it much thought until my last couple of years in high school.  I had a close friend with a brilliant mind for mathmatics (she did her best to help me pass Algebra II as a junior, but I was hopeless) and a reading learning disability.  One of the techniques Miss Math Wiz used to overcome her disablility involved her saint of a mother reading aloud FOUR YEARS worth of Honors English reading assignments into a cassette recorder that her baby girl could replay while she followed along in the actual book.  Wiz let me listen to a few of them once and I just couldn't believe what her precious Momma had so painstakingly done for her.  Books on tape.  Wow!  Visions of never cracking open another reading assignment danced in my head, but when I went to my own Momma with a stack of books and a recorder she reminded me that English was my best subject and offered to read aloud only from my Algebra book.

It wasn't until my early 20's that I rediscovered that wonderful invention of books on tape (now referred to as Audio Books as they are also produced in disk and digital format) during long commutes to and from the many and far-flung county courthouses I trekked to every weekday as part of my job as a real estate title abstractor.  It hadn't taken long for me to tire of the monotonous music and talk shows on the radio during the three to six hours a day I spent in my car, so after a suggestion from a friend and fellow abstractor, I checked out my local library's selection of audio books.  I've been hooked ever since.

Listening to an audio book is like listening to a friend tell a story.  Many friends in some cases.  My favorite audio books are performed by a cast of characters, but some narrators are so good that you don't even realize it's only one person reading all the characters' parts.  Take Jim Dale, narrator of the Harry Potter series, for example.  Mr. Dale is a Tony Award winning actor and winner of multiple Audie Awards (the audio book industry's equivalent to the Grammy Awards).  When listening to his narration of HP, one quickly forgets that the same individual is reading both Harry and Hermione's parts.  Many narrators are similarly gifted.

Adults and children alike can appreciate audio books as a way to pass time on the go.  It's a medium that's easily accessible at low cost.  Free in many cases.  They also provide educational opportunites.

Whatever your listening needs, there's a library, company or website that specializes in your preferences.  Most public libraries have an audio section.  Many have digital catalogs where selections can be downloaded to your PC, ipod or mp3 player.  I am currently listening to Seth Grahme-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, an adaptation of the Jane Austen classic that I've checked-out from my local library on my PC.  There are websites such as Audible.com and Recordedbooks.com that offer some free downloads as well as downloads for rent or purchase.

So, the next time you're itching to start that novel you're dying to read but can't stop what your're doing, consider an audio book.  Leave the kiddo's portable DVD player at home the next time you take a road trip and let Jim Dale transport you all to Hogwarts.  Go back to that summer when you were five and someone read aloud to you, even if it's just for the 30 minutes it takes to drive to the office.  You won't regret it.