Audiobook Week: Audiobooks for the Uninitiated

Audiobook Week

Years ago, I went to visit an actress friend of mine. All over her apartment, there were little sticky notes with the lines she was trying to memorize for a play. The Post-It notes were stuck on door jambs, mirrors, the refrigerator… I asked her what was up and she replied that it was a technique for learning her part. As she encountered the notes during the day, she would recite the lines and associate the lines with the object. When she needed to recall her lines, she would recall the object. She told me that it was an old technique, perhaps even ancient, dating back to the time when couriers had to memorize whole speeches verbatim.I was never able to verify this until fairly recently when I came across a New York Times Review (written by Melanie Thernstrom) of The Memory Palace (by Mira Bartok):

… a memory palace. The idea, she explains, derives from the sixth-century B.C. Greek poet Simonides, who was attending a party at a palace and stepped outside just before the building collapsed. Because he could recall where all the other guests had been standing, Simonides alone could identify the mangled bodies. Inspired by this tale, a 16th-century Jesuit priest recommended a mental technique by which scholars could build an imaginary palace to keep their memories safe, creating a visual image for everything they wanted to recall and creating a particular place for the image inside the mental palace.

This idea that people can create spatial relationships in their mind to arrange or store information is intriguing because it reflects how people may actually process information, i.e their ability to read, to listen, to watch TV, watch movies, watch plays, look at computer screens and e-readers… The many different ways to convey information each have a unique way into the brain and actually have an impact on how the brain receives successive bits of information. So, the more you watch TV, the harder it is to take up reading. And hard-core readers have very little patience for watching TV. And more to the point, readers often don’t have listening skillz.

For people who have not yet developed listening skillz, for those who are new to audiobooks, I would start with basic linear narratives, something straight-forward and entertaining… Children’s stories! Yep! You will find excellent performances by seasoned narrators in the Children’s and YA genres (e.g. J.K. Rowling’s The Harry Potter series as narrated by Jim Dale or, in the UK Stephen Frye or; L.A. Meyers’ Bloody Jack Series as narrated by Katherine Kellgren.)

You’ll develop an ear for what you like (and what you don’t) in terms of genres and narrators and one day, sooner or later, the penny drops and you experience the audiobook that busts the text wide open! For me, that was To Kill  a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee; narrated by Sissy Spacek.) I had read the book in high school and I will admit, that I didn’t care for it that much. Then, a few years ago, I listened to the audiobook and… Wow! I totally “got it!” I could see the brilliance of the writing, its structure, its word-smithing, its import!

You know you’re hooked when you sit in your driveway or in the parking lot, probably running late; but hanging on every word that comes from the player! You might be all wracked up with tension, or crying, or laughing… The thing is, you’re involved and loving it!


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