Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Playing Catchup

Well, I should have been blogging more frequently. I enjoy reading the daily blogs of others and would love to be able to look back and see what random thoughts I was thinking a year ago.The problem is I was a little busy with engagement, and wedding preparations, and a wedding, and then fixing up and staging a house, selling Glenn's house and moving him into mine, I mean OURS.

Much has gone on in the last months, but now I can get back to blogging about my dogs, or silly things that are catching my attention in life.

Today, I am thinking about recorded books. I am really enjoying borrowing books from the library. And since I am still integrating two households into one, I don't have a lot of time to SIT DOWN and read. So, I get my fix by listening to books in the car. I belonged to a Netflix type service for audiobooks back when I was commuting from Georgetown. When I moved closer to work, I didn't think I was spending enough time in the car to warrant the rental cost. But when I purchased a new car last September, I discovered that it tracked EXACTLY how much time I was spending in the car. Namely, about 11 to 13 hours per TANK of gas. I realized this about the same time I realized the Austin Library changed their policy and allowed all Texas residents to borrow books! So began my renewed affair with Books on CD.

After listening to several books on CD, I can tell you there are some things that can affect the user's experience:

First, the reader must have a soothing voice. If they do, you can ignore the voice and focus on the story. If for example, they make a loud clicking with their mouth when they speak. Or, if they read and read and read and then make a huge gulping swallow, it can irritate you to no end. At least it can if you hate repetitive noises like I do.

Second, the CDs need to be clearly labeled, both externally and in the audio. Imagine listening along to a particularly tense portion of the story and then, inexplicably, the topic, tone and situation change entirely. It might take you a beat or two to realize that without warning, the CD has ended and your CD player conveniently began at the beginning of the CD. The best audio books have a nice speaker who says "{Name of Book}, Disc 3" at the beginning and end of the CD. So you know to switch CDs. And, if perhaps you have the discs out of order and don't look at the external label well, you will hear "Postmortem, Disc 3" , then change the disc and hear "Postmortem, Disc 5" and know immediately what the problem is. As opposed to putting in the next disc and then listening for 2 minutes in confusion before discovering the error.

Third, the CDs need to have short tracks. The engineers need to have broken the dialog into nice 2 or 4 minute tracks. My car has a somewhat nice feature in that the volume, source and track number can be changed with handy buttons on the steering wheel. I really wish they had placed the PAUSE button on the steering wheel, but alas. I don't really see a burning NEED for this feature. It doesn't seem like very far to reach to change the volume. But, perhaps if you know the controls well enough to perform the task you want without taking eyes off the road, it might be useful. For me, occasionally when turning the wheel I inadvertently push the button to change the track number. And if the tracks are 10 minutes long, I spend a lot longer time fast forwarding through the track to find my place. Shorter tracks are preferable.

But most of all, a reader should be able to have distinct voices for the different characters if there is only going to be one reader. I have listened to books with a different reader for each character. For some books, it is needed, but for most, a good reader who can create and then reliably use a different voice for each character makes it MUCH easier to follow the action. Some audiobooks are the equivalent of reading a Cormac McCarthy book (an author fond of using little to no punctuation--and here I digress, but SERIOUSLY, punctuation is a convention created to make it easy for everyone to tell what is going on. It is amazing how much confusion the lack of quotes, commas and apostrophes can cause. I am reading a book which discusses this ad nauseum. But here is an example: "Eats, shoots and leaves" vs. "Eats shoots and leaves". One refers to a rather cold-hearted gangster who can shoot and run after finishing his meal, while another refers to the dietary habits of a panda bear. One little comma makes a world of difference. Getting off the soapbox now, thank you.) and trying desperately to figure out who is speaking which lines.

In closing, if you spend time alone in your car and get frustrated by commercials and boring DJs, an audiobook might be just the cure. Check out your local library sometime. Mine allows me to check my account online. They let me borrow a book from any library in the city and have it delivered to my library. And I have a Holds queue where I can put books I want to borrow. When they arrive at my library, they send me an e-mail to tell me. And the whole $4 in fines I have racked up by inadvertently keeping books over their due date pales in comparison to the weekly cost of renting them. It pales considerably to the amount I was spending at Half Prices Books and Amazon. Plus, utilizing your local library ensures that it will be there in the future if you need it.

And taking a leaf from a friend's blog: Today I am thankful for the library. All those free books just waiting to be read or listened to!