I blogged about Alan Paul's memoir Big in China exactly two months ago, when I was writing BookPage's March world travel roundup. This story is about an American guy who moves to China for his wife’s job—three kids in tow—and ends up writing an award-winning expat column and fronting a popular blues band called Woodie Alan. Paul happened upon my blog post and commented that he read the audio book himself. Intrigued, I asked him to write about the experience, and he kindly agreed!
A remarkable experience: Recording my own audio book
Guest post by Alan Paul
If you want to get to know your book, read it out loud. This is a simple lesson I learned recording the audio book of Big In China, My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing.
Shortly after my editor at HarperCollins accepted my manuscript for Big in China, I began bugging her to let me read the audio book. No one else could capture my inflections and my intentions in this first-person memoir, the very personal tale of my family’s adventures and experiences during three and half years living in Beijing. The book explores my relationship with my wife Rebecca and our three kids. It deals with my struggles dealing with my father’s cancer from half a world away. It details my unlikely climb from stay-at-home dad and freelance writer to Chinese rock star and the deep relationships I developed with my Chinese bandmates as we barnstormed across the country.
After spending a year writing the book, poring over every sentence, pondering the implication of every turn of phrase, I was amazed to discover a new rhythm and new levels of meaning in my own work.
My excitement was tempered by a slight edge of panic. I had lobbied hard for this opportunity; now I would have to deliver.
I was paired with Paul Fowlie, a veteran audio book producer, who worked with me to pick a studio close to my home where I would feel comfortable. I settled onto a stool behind curtains hung from the ceiling of my friend’s basement home studio to mimic an isolation booth, a bottle of water and a cup of hot ginger/lemon water by my side, and I began reading the 500-page script.
It was a remarkable experience. After spending a year writing the book, poring over every sentence, pondering the implication of every turn of phrase, I was amazed to discover a new rhythm and new levels of meaning in my own work. It felt as if I were reading it for the first time.
I often read lines out loud while revising my work, because structural or flow problems that remain blind to the eye are immediately obvious to the ear. But I had never read the entire book, from beginning to end, like this and it was an exhilarating experience. There were a few lines I wished I could rewrite. I tinkered with some lines that read wrong—one of the advantages of an author recording his own book. I drank more water than I ever have in my life. And I finished the entire book in two days rather than the allotted three—the same as the actor they would have hired instead of me.
I was sad to be done and looking forward to the couple of hours the following week when we would reconvene to re-record the prologue (they always do that, since everyone gets better as they go along) and clean up any flaws found in the recording. I began working with Paul on incorporating music from my band’s CD, Beijing Blues. As I began to get ready for the next step—the book’s launch and the readings and appearances that would follow—I did so with a renewed confidence in Big in China and a much deeper understanding of just what the book was and exactly what it meant to me.
[Thanks, Alan! Listen to an excerpt from Alan reading from Big in China on the author's website, where you can also watch videos of his band, Woodie Alan. Want more recommendations of great travel memoirs? Check out BookPage's March world travel roundup.]
Keith Richards' memoir, Life, is shooting up the bestseller list and making the cover of the New York Times Book Review. It's also available on audio—and listening to Richards' life story just might be the more compelling option. Why? Well, it's narrated by two living legends: Keith Richards and actor Johnny Depp, as well as London musician Joe Hurley.
Keith introduces the book and reads the last chapter. Gotta love that accent.
Depp lends his actor's chops early on in Life. This excerpt is from the opening scene, which finds Richards and the Stones down South in front of a drunk judge on drug charges.
Depp told Entertainment Weekly, "Naturally, a catastrophic understatement would be required in order to fully detail the honor bestowed in being asked to partake in presenting the Life, quite literally, of The Maestro; an individual so legendary, a soul so revolutionary and a friend so dear. It’s quite a tale, as you might imagine." BookPage reviewer Martin Brady agrees, saying that Life is "one of the best pop music books ever assembled." (Read the review here.)
What makes you choose an audiobook over its print counterpart?
Since writing about my search for the perfect audiobook on Monday, I have discovered my new favorite toy at the Nashville Public Library: Playaway. I'd heard about the device, but I finally decided to give it a try.
Playaway is an audio player pre-loaded with an audiobook. You check out the entire player (mine even had a AAA battery included), plug in your earbuds and listen away. In other words, you don't have to check out the player and check out individual books—if you want five books, you check out five pre-loaded players.
It's convenient because you can move from the car (I listened with a tape adapter) to the gym to walking around town with ease. Whenever you press "Pause," the player remembers your spot and will start back up right where you left off. Plus, the thing can't weigh more than a few ounces—less than a book!—and fits easily in my purse. (I know this sounds like an infomercial, but folks, this thing is handy.)
According to the company's website, there are more than 10,000 book titles available in this format. So now I am obsessively checking to see which books on my TBR list are available on Playaway at my library branch . . .
My very unscientific research has caused me to wonder how many people know about this technology: Mockingjay in print has 60 holds at my library system (to be expected), and Mockingjay on CD has 13 holds. But Mockingjay on Playaway is available.
Do any readers of The Book Case check out Playaway audiobooks from the library?
Readers, I have a confession—I don't like audiobooks.
Or rather, I haven't given audiobooks a chance since my days of long family trips, when my grandparents wanted to listen to thrillers in the front seat and I wanted to read Nancy Drew in the back. Try figuring out a mystery when a different plotline is pounding in your ears.
This weekend, however, I have decided to turn over a new leaf. A friend and I are driving 550 miles on Friday, and 550 miles on Monday. (We're going from Nashville to Charleston.) That'll be at least 18 hours in the car, which I figure is enough time to listen to at least one audiobook.
Here's what I've picked up from the library. I figure I'll have to be nice and let my traveling companion choose what we listen to . . .
Read The Help and loved it, but I hear the audio is excellent. Octavia Spencer is the voice of Aibileen, although she'll play Minny in the movie.
What are your audiobook recommendations for a road trip?
This year, there was a little something extra going on at the American Library Association's annual conference. Random House Audio's Listening Library decided to have an open call to let fans read a page of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for a new audio recording—which would be completed before the weekend was over.
By Sunday evening, they'd recruited 301 amateur voice actors, including authors like Newbery Medalist Rebecca Stead, Libba Bray, Grace Lin, Jon Scieszka and Ken Burns. The youngest reader? Six-year-old Lillian Imhoff.
And another clip from Christopher Paul Curtis.
The clips will be edited together and released as a digital download. Will you listen?
The Audie Awards were given out last night in New York City, and the biggest prize—Audiobook of the Year—went to Nelson Mandela's Favorite African Folktales. (Read more about this book and listen to an excerpt.)
Mandela and the 23 artists who participated in this recording must be pretty pleased to have beaten out the Bible and Patrick Swayze. We're guessing that the talented readers combined with the fact that 100% of the proceeds from the audiobook go to a nonprofit working in South Africa and the U.S. to combat HIV/AIDS and The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, convinced judges that this one deserved the prize.
On May 25, the winner of the Audio of the Year will be announced at the Audies Gala. Three finalists were chosen for their "excellence in production as well as by their ability to create new interest in the audiobook format through creative and innovative publicity and marketing." The three nominees are all worthy, but Patrick Swayze's memoir, The Time of My Life perhaps has the most poignant behind-the-scenes story. Producer Elisa Shokoff worked with Swayze on the recording during the last days of his life. Here's what she had to say about the experience.
Only a few days before Patrick's 57th birthday in late August, during what was the last month of his life, we began recording the audio version of his memoir. Although the recording became Patrick's final work, and we carried it out under the most unusual & difficult circumstances, it unfolded in the most usual way for Patrick. His well-known passion, intelligence and quest for perfection never dimmed. He was determined to finish the reading with his high standards intact. That determination informed everything we did. It was an exhilarating time.
We set up our equipment in his beloved music studio at the ranch he shared with Lisa Niemi on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in the San Fernando Valley. In the 10 x 12 studio were Patrick, sometimes Lisa, recording engineers Steven Strassman & Matt Cartsonis, two large (often sleeping & snoring) dogs--Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy Kuma & Standard Poodle Lucas, and me.
Together, we would begin at dusk and work late into the night. Before, in-between and after recording, it was clear that Patrick was gravely ill and in terrible pain. But when he was actually reading, the weight of his illness seemed to lift and it was easy to forget that he was even sick. A wonderful, kind, cowboy-storyteller emerged; full of life and humor and a heightened compassion. The resulting audiobook is a testament to the great and graceful performer that he was.
Read more about audiobooks in our monthly column.
Briefly, Beatrice and Virgil is about Henry, a novelist whose life parallels Martel’s. Henry comes to know a taxidermist—also named Henry—who is writing a play. The play stars Beatrice and Virgil, a donkey and a howler monkey, and Henry (the novelist) comes to see their story as an allegory for the Holocaust.
Warning: There are spoilers in the podcast, so listen at your own risk!
Should we interpret Beatrice and Virgil as an allegory—and if so, what does it mean? How should we react to the "Games for Gustav" in the final section?
Will Life of Pi fans be disappointed with this novel? Why has critical response from major review outlets and book blogs been so varied? Will Beatrice and Virgil become a favorite for book clubs?
Why has the famous pear scene so captured the hearts of readers? Does Martel manage to represent the Holocaust in an innovative way? What does Beatrice and Virgil teach us about content vs. sales potential, in the eyes of a publisher?
Is Beatrice and Virgil a "successful" novel?
How did you react to Beatrice and Virgil? Tell us in the comments.
Coming to theaters near you this weekend: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, based on Jeff Kinney's best-selling middle-grade series. The movie hits theaters Friday, and the companion book, Movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid, is in libraries and bookstores today.
Judging from the trailer, the movie looks like a winning adaptation—likely to be a hit with the the 6- to 10-year-old set (and parents wondering how to pass the long hours of spring break).
Related in BookPage: Check out our Meet the Author featuring Jeff Kinney.
Many of you will spend hours in the car as you journey to visit family and friends during the holidays. Why not make the most of your transit time and listen to an audio book? Our top 10 picks for 2009 span from tear-jerker novel to complex financial scrutiny, all chosen by BookPage audio columnist Sukey Howard.
Rain Gods by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster Audio)
The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (Random House Audio)
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Penguin Audio)
The Shawl and Rosa by Cynthia Ozick (HighBridge Audio)
The Women by T.C. Boyle (Blackstone Audio)
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (Random House)
David Sedaris: Live for Your Listening Pleasure by David Sedaris (Hachette Audio) -- Review coming soon in the January issue of BookPage
Fool’s Gold by Gillian Tett (Tantor)
Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley (Hachette Audio)
Panic by Michael Lewis (Simon & Schuster Audio)
Do you have any audio books to add to this list? Tell us in the comments.