I’ve spent my career putting words on paper, but what I love best is delivering the words I write in my own voice in an audiobook. So far, I’ve recorded six of them.
My love of the sound of a human voice, reading out loud, began early. My father, raised by Christian missionaries, used to recite passages from the Bible on our walks together. Over dinner, my mother quoted Shakespeare, Milton, and Chaucer as easily as other people’s parents might report on Red Sox scores. When my father tucked me into bed at night, he recited Yeats, or Blake, or “The Lady of Shallot” in its entirety. Forty years after his death, I can still hear his voice. Thirty years since the loss of my mother, the same is true of hers.
With my own children, reading out loud was one of the great joys of parenthood, and we continued the practice long after the three of them could read on their own. Audiobooks were a rarity in those days, but we checked out books on tape from the library. On car trips, when I couldn’t read to my children myself, we popped Ramona or Homer Price into the cassette player—and those tapes were better than a movie, sometimes. You could imagine, for yourself, what Ramona Quimby should look like, or dream up your own image of The Donut Machine.
When my memoir, AT HOME IN THE WORLD, was published, only an abridged version was made available. I wanted to give readers the whole story.
Years passed before I managed to get myself into a recording studio. Since then, I’ve recorded every book I publish, with the exception of my novel LABOR DAY, whose narrator is a young man. We found a strong male voice for that one: my son Wilson, an actor by profession, in possession of a great voice and delivery, and just the right age.
I learned, early on, when I record a book of mine, the importance of considering every word. I do not simply speak my story when I record it. I live through the writing of it again. At the end of every day in the studio, I go home exhausted—less from the physical effort than the emotional one of living through my story again.
A few years back, I wrote a memoir called THE BEST OF US, about meeting my second husband, Jim, at the age of 57. The book was a love story—a true one—but it also told of Jim’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, a year after our wedding, our struggle to save his life, and his death two years later.
I got through the entire five days of recording without tears, but when we were finishing up, an idea came to me: to include, in the audiobook, the wedding vows Jim had written and spoken to me on the day we married.
We needed a man’s voice. Preferably one around age 60. Midwestern. What do you know? One of the recording engineers fit the description. Only when the engineer took the microphone, reading Jim’s vows, did I finally weep. We included that recording in the BEST OF US audiobook.
This coming year, I’m getting to work on the project of recording my backlist books. And—years after its publication—I got to fulfill my goal of recording, at long last, the memoir that first inspired me to pursue audiobook recording, AT HOME IN THE WORLD.
Of all my recording experiences, however, I have never enjoyed any more than I did COUNT THE WAYS. My new novel is filled with dialogue that allowed me to play many roles, find many voices within myself. Parts of the novel are funny, and others nearly break my heart, but my job when I read is to convey strong emotion in the subtlest ways, without imposing on the listener my own ideas about how she or he should respond. Push too hard with my own feelings, and I may deny the listener hers.
I get a lot of letters from people who tell me that though they love to read my books, what they like best is listening to me read them out loud. I want you to hear me speak them, in my own true voice. If I make you laugh, or cry (as I may have done myself, alone at my desk, writing the book), I know I’ve done my job.
Joyce Maynard is the author of ten novels and five books of nonfiction.