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Stephen King

Stephen King

“The human voice always adds a dimension to good writing. It’s possible to have a much more intense emotional experience listening to a reading of literature than by reading it to yourself.”

Talking with Stephen King

“The human voice always adds a dimension to good writing,” says Stephen King. In an interview with AudioFile, King talked about his experience narrating his new novel, BAG OF BONES, and why he’s so enthusiastic about audiobooks. “It’s possible to have a much more intense emotional experience listening to a reading of any work of literature than by reading it to yourself.” The reader and listener establish an important relationship. The narrator takes the listener through the unfolding of the story as the author intended. “Reading to yourself is like skating. You slide along the surface,” says King. “Sometimes you skip words; you have a tendency to almost dance along. But when something is read aloud to you, you’re forced to go at the speed of the person who’s reading. You can never peek ahead to see what’s going to happen. You get every word, and you get all those nuances.” Some critics believe that listening to audiobooks is not really reading. To King, listening to a book is the culmination of the reading experience. “When it’s done right, when it’s done by somebody who knows, really knows, how to read, there is no experience like it.”

King likes to have his listeners take in all the details. More than three dozen of his books are recorded, and BAG OF BONES is the seventh King himself has narrated. He feels authors “know what the temperature gradient of the emotion is supposed to be” in their own works. In his new novel, King unfolds his story in infinite detail, sharing his intense knowledge of the characters not only through the novel itself, but in the telling of it. To be effective narrators, he believes authors must make an additional commitment—to spend a little more time with their books. “I love BAG OF BONES as a story,” says King, “I thought it was some of my best work. You never have as intimate a connection with a book as you do when you read it aloud. And it’s the one sure way to see what you did right and what you did wrong because it all comes out. When you read a book aloud, you see through it. You see right to the bones.”

The current trend for authors to read their own books is a valuable addition to our culture. The Caedmon archive of authors of the ’40s and ’50s reading their own work adds to our understanding of writers like T.S. Eliot or Robert Frost, and the spin they put on their works. An author can understand what’s between the lines. He understands that tension perfectly. And the present boom in memoirs, whose audio versions are frequently read by their authors, will become oral history in their own right.

While King is supportive of most aspects of audiobooks, he’s very outspoken on the subject of abridgments. “Staying unabridged is very important to me. Being on audio [in abridged form] doesn’t make up for the fact that you’re getting less than what the writer had to say.” In a June interview in Publishers Weekly, King rallied other authors: “Lets get together and refuse to abridge our books.” It’s a wake-up call for his confreres. “I would urge anyone not to just simply sign the contract and turn to other things, but to think seriously about whether or not the money that is being offered is enough to sell three-quarters of what they’ve written down the river.”

The greater visibility of unabridged audio and changes in technology will bring changes to the market, King notes, “A lot of writers, frankly, underestimate the power and importance of the audio work.”—Robin Whitten

OCT/NOV 1998
© AudioFile 1998, Portland, Maine

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Photo by Shane Leonard

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