Sherman Alexie is used to reading his work aloud, but he didn’t expect to be the narrator of his 2007 National Book Award-winning novel for young adults, THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN.
Alan Arkin lives a life full of creative adventures. The Academy Award-winning film actor (”Little Miss Sunshine,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Wait Until Dark,” “Catch-22”) is also a Tony Award-winning Broadway performer (Carl Reiner’s Enter Laughing) and an improvisational comedy veteran, as well as a writer, director, and teacher. All of these ventures and more are the foundation of his new book, AN IMPROVISED LIFE.
Celebrated children’s author Frank Cottrell Boyce says the idea for his latest book, THE ASTOUNDING BROCCOLI BOY, was staring him right in the face. Literally. “I looked in the mirror one day, and I was bright yellow. I thought, ‘How have I never written about this?’” The author, who suffers from a rare blood disorder, turns a daffodil yellow when stressed. “It’s quite an alarming sci-fi color--not on the normal human spectrum.”
T. Coraghessan Boyle is a serious novelist with a keen sense of the absurd. His short stories appear regularly in The New Yorker , The Atlantic , and Harper’s . Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times praises his “manic gift for language, his love of exaggeration and Grand Guignol effects, his ability to work all sorts of magical variations on literature and history.” Boyle has won prestigious writing awards for his remarkable prose and vision, and of his trademark dark humor he says, “There’s a kind of satiric underlay to it. It’s just the way that I see things.”
“Do you re-read your own books, Mr. Brett?” It’s a question which, as an author, I’m asked surprisingly often, and it’s one to which, these days, I tend to give the answer, “No and yes.”
No, I’m not one of those writers whose idea of a pleasant evening is luxuriating in his own prose, marveling at the euphony of its juxtapositions, the aptness of each sparkling image. I don’t have that kind of attitude about my work. I enjoy the writing process, but I also enjoy drawing a firm line under the end of a book and getting the wretched thing off my desk. For months of composition I live and dream with the book’s characters. But the minute I finish, I depart abruptly from their world and return to my own.
The son of a mathematics professor and a sacred music professional, Dan Brown has always been fascinated by codes and by the sometimes divergent concepts of religion and science. Several years ago, he decided to explore his interests in a series of thrillers featuring Robert Langdon, a fictional Harvard professor of iconography.
“As a writer, you’re always pitching--trying to convince others to get on board with your ideas,” says author Veronica Chambers. So when friend and editor Elisabeth Dyssegaard suggested Chambers create an anthology of essays on Michelle Obama, she was delighted. “It was really wonderful to have someone say, ‘I know you’re interested in this, and I know you’d do a great job with it.’” Although it was late in 2015 and Chambers knew the “crazy” math of publishing a book in about a year, she still felt a sense of excitement.
“In the end,” says Bernard Cornwell, “we all write what we like to read.”
THE MARCH opens with the advance of Sherman’s army on a Georgia plantation. It is “a creature of a hundred thousand feet,” a “rhythmic tromp,” a “symphonious clamor,” but to the band of slaves waiting outside the plantation house it is the sound of freedom. Like all E.L. Doctorow’s novels, THE MARCH is rich in language, characters, and story lines, and is a feast for the eyes, ears, and imagination. On the eve of the publication of his tenth novel and the unabridged audiobook, narrated by Joe Morton, Doctorow talks about the ways his new work evokes the voices of the Civil War and nineteenth-century literature.
In LIVING WITH A WILD GOD, her memoir about a troubled childhood studded with strange, mystical experiences, Barbara Ehrenreich writes that she often propped books on sinks so she could continue reading while she brushed her teeth or did the dishes. She seems the kind of consumer of literature who might naturally have progressed to audiobooks. But that’s not the case.
“I don’t listen, but I have to start doing it because the radio is too frustrating,” she says. She hasn’t even listened to--or reread--her other works. Five of her 20 provocative and socially conscious books have been recorded, including her 2001 bestseller, NICKEL AND DIMED: On (Not) Getting By in America. “I guess when I’ve written a book, I’m not that interested in reading or listening to it again.”
Still, she agreed to record her current volume, subtitled A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything. “The pressure was on me because this new book is in the first person and is a kind of memoir. I thought: How bad can it be? Little did I know!”
Joseph Ellis writes by hand, which is only one way he remains, as an author and a historian, a traditionalist in an age of specialization and constant technological change. Speaking from his study in Amherst, Massachusetts, the Pulitzer-winning historian (FOUNDING BROTHERS: The Revolutionary Generation) talks about his new book, REVOLUTIONARY SUMMER, which re-creates with striking immediacy and dramatic impact the political and military events of the summer of 1776.
“What makes me an effective storyteller? That’s a good question,” says Stuart Kaminsky. “I don’t know. I’ve loved stories since I was 12 years old. I loved movies. I loved radio. I loved reading. I always read, and telling stories was what I wanted to do. My mind was always overflowing with stories.”
“I love going into the studio to do my audiobooks,” says author Barbara Kingsolver. Her Southern-tinged voice is warm and confiding, and just as appealing on the phone as it is when she’s narrating her books. (She’s read all but one of them herself.) “It’s a little surprising to me how much I love it because I am a really shy person, I’m not a ham, but I really enjoy this one acting gig every couple of years.”
Having made a name for himself as a political pundit and biographer, Joe Klein jettisoned that name in 1998 and wrote a novel about Bill Clinton bylined Anonymous. Nobody but Klein, and his wife and agent, knew that he was writing the book. Not even the book’s editor knew who Anonymous was.
Bestselling author Christina Baker Kline says her new novel, A PIECE OF THE WORLD, about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the real-life subject of his iconic painting Christina’s World, was by far the most challenging book she’s ever written.
Suspense novelist Michael Koryta says there are times when audiobook narrators are able to interpret his work in ways that add layers he didn’t realize were in the story.
With a bestseller explaining how table salt helped shape civilization and an award winner that shows the role of the oyster in the development of New York City, journalist Mark Kurlansky has a talent for helping readers--and listeners--to see the world and the foods we eat in new ways. His far-reaching books have included THE LAST FISH TALE, about the culture of an English fishing village; 1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD, in which he examines the 12 months following the Summer of Love; and THE BASQUE HISTORY OF THE WORLD, about a unique and ancient culture that struggles to keep its place in the world. His one novel, BOOGALOO ON 2ND AVENUE, is a humorous snapshot of food, guilt, and ethnic diversity in the East Village.
Grace Lin is such an avid audiobook fan that, she says, “I don’t read physical books anymore.” Her latest favorite is Sophie Hannah’s THE ORPHAN CHOIR. Lin juggles parenting, writing, illustrating, and presenting. With audiobooks, she can listen and get something else accomplished. What’s more, she says, “On an airplane, I used to get kind of sick, but I can listen to a story, and I’m fine.”
“I’m sitting here with a parrot on my knee having a nice cuddle,” says author Helen Macdonald on the long-distance line from England. “If I upset him, I’m going to have chunks taken out of my arm.”
Growing up in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” provided Adrian McKinty a natural training ground for a career as a crime noir novelist. McKinty is acknowledged not only as one of the leading voices of Irish crime fiction but also as one of the top voices in hard-boiled crime fiction in the world today. After reading McKinty’s 2003 novel DEAD I WELL MAY BE, Pulitzer Prize winner Frank McCourt called McKinty “a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyon.” Another author, Peter Blauner, compared McKinty’s writing to Frank McCourt’s “if he had gone into the leg-breaking business.”
Author and historical researcher Gavin Menzies has never been an audiobook listener. But since he heard his latest book, LOST EMPIRE OF ATLANTIS, he’s become a convert. “Gildart Jackson’s recording is excellent,” he says, “so good that Marcella and I bought a new CD player for our joint Christmas present to be able to fully appreciate the recording.”
Novelist/playwright John Mortimer’s writings share a preoccupation with lawyers (he himself is a barrister), a satiric
edge softened by the gentleness of his wit and a whimsical melancholy underlying his humor. Moreover, he writes for the ear. He composed his first play, The Dock Brief, for radio; only later did it gain success with Michael Hordern on the West End and Broadway. Even his novels and memoirs seem designed to be read aloud. Perhaps that’s why he’s one of England’s most “audiobooked” living authors. Somewhere around 30 Rumpole of the Bailey titles alone are currently available. Mortimer’s favorite narrators of his own works are Leo McKern and Martin Jarvis. He, too, has stepped to the mike from time to time recording his memoirs. (Alas, Mortimer’s readings are available only in the U.K.) AudioFile was, therefore, pleased to ask Yuri Rasovsky, who produced the first American radio production of The Dock Brief, to phone him on our behalf.
Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind, the biography of the Nobel Prize-winning mathematical genius John Nash, has been radicalized on the subject of mental illness. It’s a turn of events that surprises her. “I came to the book because of the mathematics,” explains the former New York Times economics correspondent, now the Knight Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. “I knew nothing about schizophrenia, and I’ve learned so much. Do you know that three million people suffer from schizophrenia in the U.S.?” She shakes her head. “It’s the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.”
Ann Patchett loves audiobooks. The critically acclaimed novelist credits one of her best friends, A. Manette Ansay (VINEGAR HILL), with getting her interested in them. “When I’m reading,” Patchett says, “my attention span is irregular. Depending on how much pressure I’m under or how tired I am, I’m going to skim. I’m going to read some parts faster than others, but with audiobooks I’m perfectly consistent, and my mind doesn’t wander.”
When Louise Penny left a successful career in journalism with the CBC to pursue her dream of writing, she had writer’s block “for about five years.” She ended up on her couch eating gummi bears and watching a lot of “Oprah.” “And then,” she recalls, “a few things happened.”
"Reading out loud is the purest and most ancient form of storytelling," says Douglas Preston, half of the Preston-Child team that has so far created nine novels. Their books cross the boundaries from thriller to horror to science fiction to mystery, creating a challenge for booksellers to pigeonhole them into a single genre. Co-author Lincoln Child explains, "In difficult times people seem to frequently turn away from real horrors to invented ones--horrors they can switch off when they feel like it. Our books aren't horror; they're techno-thrillers with a frisson of the supernatural."
Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff admits she has “a thing” for lost worlds. “I’m nostalgic by nature--but then again, who writing history isn’t?” she asks. And among lost worlds, Schiff says, Cleopatra’s was the “most magnificent, sumptuous beyond even the ancient commentators’ abilities to describe.”
Winchester’s book, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, concerns one of the great intellectual milestones of recent times, the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. For those of you who have never heard of the OED, it’s a twelve-volume* lexicon composed on historic principles, carefully tracing the origin and evolution of English words and phrases and giving copious examples. It appeared in 1928 after 70 years of work, almost instantly becoming the ultimate reference on the English language. It still enjoys that status today.
It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall—or on the leaf of a tree—a few years ago when novelist-essayist-social analyst Tom Wolfe strolled through the dorms and along the verdant terrain of a handful of university campuses to research I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS, his latest dissection of American society.
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