Reading With My Ears
Since the start of 2001 I've been working at writing short stories. I'm not much of a writer yet, my narrative flow is about one step up from See Spot Run. I'm pretty tone deaf when it comes to style. My stories tend to be mostly dialog, but I've discovered a reason for that. I've started listening to audiobooks, and I realize that my speed reading habits have filtered out much of the narrative. Listening to books being read forces you to hear every word the writer wrote. My normal eye reading doesn't filter out all of the detail, but I think I must filter out a lot. Speed reading is obvious bad for perceiving the style of the writer.
I began to learn this when I started reading my own fiction aloud to help proof. Passages that flowed when I proofed by eyes, would show bumps and hurdles when I proofed by reading aloud and listening. I also started reading my classmate's stories aloud, and discovered they had the same problems. In class I noticed that when people were asked to read portions of their stories, they would sometimes read it different from what they had written. That implied that speaking was more natural than writing, however, I have trouble speaking and stumble with my words.
Next I got the idea to listen to stories on tape. That was extremely revealing. Stories that I thought were dull came alive. Spoken words created three dimensional images. Characters became colorfull and visible in my mind's eye. Dialog became dramatic and full of emotion. Details stood out with vivid clarity. I found this very exciting. I'm all the time wishing my favorite books were made into movies, even though I'm always disappointed with the results. I now discovered that books read with great readers and actors were much better than books adapted into movies.
Now I want to find audiobooks of all my favorite stories to reread in this exciting new way. Going to my local bookstore I found a good selection of books on tape, but the unabridged versions were fifty dollars or more, and contained 12 or 18 cassette tapes. I didn't like that at all. My daily email copy of The New York Times often had ads for Audible.com a company that sells audiobooks by computer files that can be played on your computer, or MP3 player. I signed up for their PremiumListner account where I get two free books a month for $15.95. The books I select can be from any in their catalog regardless of price. This is a real bargain. My first selections were The Menace From Earth by Robert A. Heinlein, normally $11.95 and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which runs $29.95. $42 of unabridged books for $16. If I buy more than my two during the month, they are full price. But this is still a great bargain.
If you are afraid that you won't like listening to books through your computer, you can download them to an MP3 device. Audible sells a custom device called the Otis. My friend Mike has already gotten his and loves it. I'm going to order one too. It has an adapter that allows you to play it through a car cassette deck. My home computer is connected to my stero system, so I can play books through my good speakers.
I really like that I don't have boxes of cassettes to mess with. Some companies sell MP3 audiobooks on CD-ROMs. That's better than cassettes because one book fits on a single disk. But I really enjoy having no physical objects to store at all. Audible maintains your library allowing you to redownload any book you've ever bought in case your computer crashes. That's another extra for them.
I plan to get into using a MP3 player next so I can listen to books on my walks, or let my wife listen to them because she doesn't like hanging around the computer. Mike says the Otis is about the size of a pager, and is perfect for reading while exercising.
Mike also reports finding AudioBooks.org and AudioBooksForFree.com. Between these two sites you can find lots of free audiobooks. I got "To Build A Fire" by Jack London and was quite impressed with the production of this free audiobook. This is a classic short story that I've seen many references to in books on writing. The story is one long narrative about a man and dog walking in Alaska on one very cold day of -70 degrees. Because listening to this story was so vivid, I now want to track down all the classic short stories I can find to study them. I think this will lead to better writing skills for me.
To finish this process, I need to find a way to record myself reading my stories to the computer. I need to read my stories aloud and then listen back to to proof them audibly. If anyone knows of good software to do this, please email me. Ultimately, this should help both my writing skills and my speaking skills. Hey, if I ever get published, I'll need the ability to read my stories aloud to promote myself.
If you happen to join Audible.com, tell them jwharris28 sent you. I'll get a free book coupon.
Audiobook Information on the Web