STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
If you're a fan of audio books there is a good chance you've heard this voice.
GEORGE GUIDALL: (Reading) I was leaning forward, staring at the tape recorder. When I looked up at Dr. Patel, I saw that she was watching me.
INSKEEP: And as NPR's Lynn Neary reports, one of Guidall's biggest fans is one of his favorite authors.
LYNN NEARY: Growing up, George Guidall wasn't much of a reader.
GUIDALL: I hear my mother keep telling me, even now: George you never pick up a book - you just don't read.
NEARY: Over time, he says, a relationship develops, not only between the listener and narrator, but also between the narrator and the author.
GUIDALL: I've often described myself as a literary hermit crab. I scuttle around the currents of literature and find a home in someone's imagined truth. When that imagined truth is my imagined truth, as a person, there is an amazing connection between the author and me. His voice becomes my voice.
WALLY LAMB: I don't hear George's voice in the room when I'm writing...
GUIDALL: I hope not.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
NEARY: A narrator, says Lamb, can make a big difference in the way a reader reacts to an audio book.
LAMB: Ultimately, I think it's a translation. Everyone once in awhile, I get a package at home and it's the foreign translations of my books, you know, in book form. And, you know, you just sort of have a leap of faith, saying we hope it's a faithful translation. But when I listen to George interpret or translate my work, it's just accurate. It's how I think of the characters as speaking.
NEARY: In this scene from "I Know This Much Is True," Guidall reads the parts of two characters: Dominick Birdsey, whose brother is confined to a mental hospital; and the brother's therapist, an Indian woman named Dr. Patel. Dominick Birdsey has just heard a tape of his brother's therapy session.
GUIDALL: (as Dr. Patel) Why wouldn't you grieve, Mr. Birdsey. Your twin brother is, as you said, an abandoned house. If no one is home then someone is missing. So you grieve.
NEARY: Guidall remembers working on a very familiar character in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
GUIDALL: Quasimodo had deformed mouth and one tooth, and his jaw was dislocated, and we were searching for a voice for him. And we were doing all kinds of things. We were trying things and nothing was working. So I asked a couple of people who were deciding, to turn away and not look at me in the booth.
INSKEEP: Oh, all that I ever loved. And they turned around and said that sounded great. What was that?
NEARY: Wally Lamb says he doesn't really care whether his fans read his books in printed form or listen to them. He sees audio books as part of a long tradition.
LAMB: When you think about history, Mr. Gutenberg came along and suddenly we had the book. But long before that we had the oral traditions. We had storytellers sitting down and weaving a plot and presenting characters.
NEARY: And, says Guidall, that listening experience hasn't really changed much for eons.
GUIDALL: When the people sat in the cave and the caveman came back and told the story of the hunt of the behemoth, while the saber tooth tigers are outside walking around; now the cave is the SUV, listening to the books while the 18- wheelers go by. So the parallel is still there. There is still the safety and the tribal nature of the people listening to something being told to them.
NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
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