We have an elderly relative who says that older books – the classics – were written to be read aloud. He regularly reads aloud to his spouse; in doing so, maybe he has discerned something. His observation begs the question, do you think about how your writing sounds when read out loud? Do you read it out loud to yourself after you have written it?
This is not an irrelevant question in today’s book market. While it may be old fashioned to read aloud to one another, the market for audiobooks is quite large, more than $700 million a year. As long as Americans take car trips – where half of listeners use audiobooks – they need will need something to plug in or download.
Every year about this time, we start to have discussions about what we will listen to on our way to Canada. The truth is our success with picking audiobooks is mixed, and we have no idea what makes a good one and what doesn’t. We loved Jane Smiley’s GOOD FAITH about greed and real estate in the 1980’s, but were not enamored of her book about agricultural college, MOO. Got caught up in T.C. Boyle’s DROP CITY, but could not sit through his TORTILLA CURTAIN. Howled over Bill Bryson’s A WALK IN THE WOODS, did not finish A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING. Thrilled to Wilke Collins’ WOMAN IN WHITE, were not wild about MOONSTONE.
Most audio book listeners (31%) favor mysteries and thrillers, which hardly rank on our list so we don’t claim to speak for anyone but ourselves on this. Mysteries are likely to be more predictable because they are more formulaic, but our record with other sorts of books does seem to indicate that what makes a good audiobook is some mysterious alchemy (We discount the audiobook readers because they seem uniformly excellent to us) of writing, story and our moods.
Whether you are shooting for an audiobook or not, there are good reasons to read your writing aloud to yourself. If the goal is to be conversational, reading aloud is a must. The practice can also pick up snags in the prose and help you smooth it out. Listening is different from reading. Books we have loved to read, we don’t always like to listen to and vice versa. So hearing your writing will give you a different perspective on it. It is a good way to self edit.
This summer, we are going to start out with Laura Hillenbrand’s UNBROKEN which we have great hopes for. But then again, who knows? What are your favorite audiobooks?