Diane Ackerman believes that in times of pain or uncertainty, even in cheerful times, “we need to find enriching ways to transcend.” For Ackerman--poet, essayist, and author of such inspiring and passionate works as AN ALCHEMY OF MIND: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain and THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE--transcendence has always meant losing herself in the wonders of nature.
Former New Jersey senator and professional basketball player Bill Bradley is concerned that Americans feel powerless to change things, that they feel overwhelmed by society’s problems. “It didn’t used to be that way in America,” he says. “The story of America was one of action, of hope, of initiative, of problem solving. And today, people can recover those qualities if they become a part of what I call the new American story.”
Bestselling novelist and humorist W. Bruce Cameron’s favorite of his audiobooks is 8 SIMPLE RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER: And Other Reasonable Advice From the Father of the Bride (Not That Anyone Is Paying Attention). But it’s not because the book was adapted into a popular television situation comedy. It’s because it was read by the late John Ritter.
When listeners begin a new Ted Dekker novel, they should expect the unexpected. The New York Times bestselling author is one of the most imaginative and bold writers in the thriller and fantasy genres. How does he do it? Simple--he listens to the voices in his head to make his novels come to life.
Listening to audiobooks is a multilevel experience for author David Anthony Durham. It’s not just entertainment for him. It’s part of his creative process. It’s work. It’s even a bit of an education. “I listen to audiobooks everywhere, all the time,” Durham says. He finds listening to audiobooks particularly invigorating while taking long walks in the woods near his western Massachusetts home. “I know men aren’t supposed to multitask very well,” he laughs, “but walking in the woods is about thinking about my stories. I do that partly by listening to other people’s stories at the same time. It’s definitely stoking my creativity.”
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!”
Bestselling mystery novelist Charles Finch says there are times when listening to an audiobook helps him better connect with the characters and follow the plot. "I do a lot of book reviews now, and when I want to do a more careful reading, I listen to them. I can get the texture of the book better from audiobooks." Finch is the author of seven successful mystery novels featuring detective Charles Lenox, including the most recent, AN OLD BETRAYAL. He says the narrator is the most important part of the audiobook experience. "I can be deterred by a bad reader, and I can be sucked in by a good reader. I've been very lucky with my mystery novels because I have James Langton, this wonderful Scottish actor who does the voices. As a writer, you're listening, and there are times you'll find yourself learning about your own characters by the way another artist interprets them. It's sometimes different from the way you wrote them."
While Willie Geist is best known as the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and NBC’s “Today Show,” he started as a newspaper reporter. He wrote two books of humor before writing GOOD TALK, DAD with his father, the veteran newspaper columnist and Emmy-winning broadcaster Bill Geist. “It was by far the most meaningful book I’ve ever done--a chance for my father and I to sit down and think through all our favorite stories, get them down on paper, and sit with my mom and my wife and laugh through them.”
Narration isn’t a high-risk profession, so listeners may be concerned to hear Seth Godin lament at the end of his recent audiobook, THE BIG MOO, that he’s hoarse and having trouble breathing.
Hugo Award-winning novelist N.K. Jemisin goes to great lengths to “get it right” in her speculative-fiction stories, in which she explores a wide variety of Earth-bound subjects. She achieves her universe-building with finely drawn descriptions and fast-paced action. “I’m not doing anything different from what’s common in science fiction and fantasy. To make a story feel real, you have to have a certain amount of detail.” Fans of her audiobooks will find the same attention and craft in the recording of her latest book, THE OBELISK GATE. “I really think Robin Miles brings skill and professionalism to the production.”
“Really, there’s nothing so fun as being chased down a tropical mountainside by killer bees.” Still revved by the experiences chronicled in her newest book, LIVES IN RUINS, a funny and informative foray into field archaeology, Marilyn Johnson compares the killer bee adventure to being “pursued by the boy you had a crush on at age 6.”
Marilyn Johnson’s THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE! uncovers in vivid, witty detail exactly what librarians are up to today--and it’s a lot more radical, cutting-edge, and courageous than many nonlibrarians would imagine. As she did with her previous book on obituary writers (THE DEAD BEAT), Johnson goes deep inside “a world of fascinating, knowledgeable people, a world invented without me. I’m just crawling around with my flashlight to show what they have created.” THIS BOOK IS OVERDUE!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All has earned rave reviews, and Johnson, an audiobook fan, is very pleased that it’s now available in audio. (For more about the author, go to marilynjohnson.net and thisbookisoverdue.com.)
Identity is a recurrent theme in Heidi Julavits’s novels. In life, she herself balances several distinct identities. Best known as the author of short stories and novels, Julavits teaches, raises her 3-year-old daughter, and is a co-founding editor of a monthly review magazine, THE BELIEVER. “I feel like I get to wear a different hat every day, depending on my mood,” she says. “Each thing I do informs the other things, and I never get tired of anything.”
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.
Intense, curious, and intelligent. A conversation with English science fiction author Richard K. Morgan can happily land on the finer points of any number of subjects, from human genetics to global politics to Mississippi Delta blues.
Two-time National Book Award-winning novelist Tim O’Brien published his remembrances of his Vietnam War experiences as a young man in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED and GOING AFTER CACCIATO. However, he came to fatherhood late in life, and at the age of 57, he and his wife had a son. A second son followed soon after. O’Brien knew his time with his boys might be shorter than most fathers’, so he decided to leave behind remembrances, advice, and reporting on some of the antics they might forget as they grow older.
Author Nnedi Okorafor is known for her award-winning Africanfuturist works, stories rooted in African culture and perspective that explore beyond the realm of what is currently possible. Okorafor’s writing examines the intersection of technology, the natural world, and magic, building a world in which a Himba mathematical genius rides an enormous living spaceship to an intergalactic university, for example. “I always feel like if I’m ever going to leave the planet, I would want to go in something that’s alive,” Okorafor says. “There’s a very thin line between the magical and the technological, and there are places where they intersect.” Her writing dances along that intersection.
Otto Penzler, mystery “expert,” founder of the Mysterious Press, The Mysterious Bookshop, and editor of many mystery anthologies, has initiated a captivating, new series of original—SOUNDS LIKE MURDER. Penzler commissioned six novellas—”original mysteries”—with the idea that they would be recorded. (The collection will be published in print this fall, but only in the U.K.) “The great attraction of mystery fiction,” says Penzler “is that there’s a real story there.” It’s what makes mysteries popular on audio, as well. Each of the Sounds Like Murder stories is two hours long. “Short story collections do well on audio because of their modest length—hear the complete story.”
“I wouldn’t be a writer if I weren’t addicted to stories. I think stories are a basic human activity. They’re hardwired into our brains. And being able to hear a story is a special thing.”
What do you get when you combine an inquisitive journalist with her inner 12- year-old? You get funny, informative books about dead bodies, sex, ghosts, and space travel. Add catchy titles--STIFF, BONK, SPOOK, and PACKING FOR MARS--and some great writing and research, and the result is Mary Roach’s series of bestsellers. Her newest volume, GULP, is about the journey taken by that piece of steak or cake after you swallow it--from start to finish.
Andrew Roberts’s biography NAPOLEON: A LIFE, one of last year’s most readable and satisfying biographies, has now produced one of its most memorable audiobooks. Professor Roberts spoke with AudioFile in early December, shortly after his book’s publication, on a day he was conducting--did he say 17?--other phone interviews. He couldn’t have been more gracious, patient, or forthcoming.
Last year Sir Ken Robinson completed his new book, THE ELEMENT: HOW FINDING YOUR PASSION CHANGES EVERYTHING; recorded the audiobook; and spoke and presented at 80 events worldwide. Robinson found the narration of his audiobook a fascinating experience, but an intense one, with some interesting challenges. “On stage you have other forms of contact and communication with people--your body language, your facial expressions, and the mood of the room. All those things matter. If you’ve just got your voice, you’ve got to give it energy, but not so much energy that it’s exhausting to listen to.”
As Lynn Sherr, the longtime ABC News correspondent, was writing SALLY RIDE: AMERICA’S FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE, she stopped periodically to read every word aloud to herself. She does that with everything she writes.
Listening to one of her books on audio used to make Amy Stewart cringe. She could only bear to hear a “snippet” before turning them off. The fault wasn’t the audiobooks--“they were great.” Instead, the author of six critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including FLOWER CONFIDENTIAL and THE DRUNKEN BOTANIST, says it was her writing. “I’d want to change every other line.”
And then Christina Moore became the narrator of Stewart’s first novel, GIRL WAITS WITH GUN, which is based on the real life of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first female deputy sheriffs.
A few years ago, British suspense novelist Minette Walters packed up the audio versions of all her books and sent them to the woman who had been headmistress of her childhood boarding school. “I got this sweet letter in reply.” Transforming her naturally exuberant tone into the precise diction of a 99-year-old retired schoolteacher, Walters recites the words from memory: “Dear Minette, I have listened with great interest to your books on audio. I couldn’t believe it; they are very imaginative. But I was a little concerned about the language. You used to be such a nice girl.”
Garry Wills may be the only man ever to choose THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE as a workout tape. But he did and has fond memories of running to the prose of Edward Gibbon while on vacation in Mexico.
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