Five questions for Mary Burkey

Mary Burkey is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). A longtime champion of All Things Audio, she is a librarian, columnist for Booklist (“Voices in My Head”), blogger, and Horn Book guest reviewer. Who better to answer Martha and Cindy's group-effort Five Questions for Out of the Box audiobook week?

1. How many audiobooks do you listen to a week? Is listening a dedicated activity, or can you be doing other things at the same time?

Because I am usually on at least two audiobook evaluation committees at a time, I listen to two or more hours per day. Once it gets down to crunch time on my current appointments (YALSA's Amazing Audiobooks and the Audies), it might go up to four — the huge number of audios submitted, plus the fact that you can't speed listen, require tons of time under the headphones. I believe everyone has a personal "listening style," such as following along in print or leaning back with eyes closed. Personally, I have to be doing an automatic task while I listen — the daily commute, cooking (but not reading recipes), gardening, dog walking. I credit audiobook committees to my commitment to gym workouts!

2. Do you usually read both the audio and printed versions of a book? If so, in which order?

I try not to experience a title in both formats. If I read first, I have my own interpretation in my head, and can't evaluate fairly. If I listen first, that somehow interferes with my personal reading style. But I have many students who really love reading first, then listening — or vice-versa.

3. What are your pet peeves in a narrator?

I hate it when a narrator imposes their vocal cadence on top of the author's carefully-crafted flow of language. I call this the "Romper Room" effect, for those old enough to remember the fake sing-song pattern of Miss Nancy. Condescending to the listener, and completely removed from the meaning of the text and punctuation, it's like the narrator has gone on autopilot, spitting out words in a metered rise-and-fall that is positively somnambulant.

4. How has the audiobook industry changed, and which changes are for the better/worse?

There's a current change, driven by belt-tightening by some publishers and a rush to crank out audio publication simultaneously with print: requiring narrators to self-record, without the benefit of producers to check pronunciations or prep the reader nor directors to guide the performance (and eliminate the Romper Room effect). Some extraordinarily talented narrators can perform, self-assess, and then edit & master their recordings. But my ears are hearing the negative effect. On the positive side, audiobook publishing is booming, especially YA, and publishers are broadening the spectrum available, with nonfiction and memoirs as well as edgier titles.

5. What do you say to people who claim listening to a book isn’t reading?

Listening most certainly is not reading — it is its own equally valid way to experience literature. My reading style is to devour a book — gulp it down, embracing the gestalt, but often hazy on the details. Conversely, when listening I must let go and stay in the now of the narrator's fluid voice, slowing down enough to appreciate the author's delicious language, savoring (and vividly remembering!) details. In a world where literature is being transformed into new, multimedia formats, the very definition of reading is shifting. To my mind, the more ways to share great storytelling, the better!

This post is part of Audiobook Week on Out of the Box. For more, click on the audiobooks tag.
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Katie Bircher

It's so interesting to think about personal reading and listening styles... I have a very hard time listening to audiobooks if I haven't first read the print version. And I tend to listen to the same few audiobook favorites over and over (I'm also a big re-reader).

Posted : Aug 01, 2013 06:55


Thank you for this encouragement. I often wrestle with striking the perfect audio balance with my son, (7) who is an audio addict. He can't pull himself away from a good story paired with a skilled reader. I want to applaud this, and do most of the time, but there is this tiny, stubborn voice in my head saying, "this is cheating!"

Posted : Aug 01, 2013 04:45


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