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January 19, 2009

WRITER VS. iPOD - VOL. I

In the past six months or so I’ve been listening to audio books. This is a first for me, something I never thought I’d enjoy; it always struck me as a vaguely untrustworthy experience, primarily due to the layer of third-party performance between the story and my brain that doesn’t exist while reading a book.

But I do like the idea that you can consume a novel when you otherwise couldn’t (while driving somewhere, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, cleaning up the spaghetti sauce that splattered all over the kitchen when you dropped the spatula and tried to catch it and then dropped the whole pan), and as I’ve gradually learned how to listen to books I’ve found myself mildly addicted.

Which brings me to the following, which I can’t help thinking wouldn’t have happened even eight or 10 months ago, in the old “only reading books with my eyes” days:

Last week I was listening to an audio book. My iPod was full, and I was too lazy to do the required housekeeping, so I could only fit two or three CDs worth of novel onto the iPod at a time. For some reason—and I didn’t notice this until I’d listened to all the available material—these particular CDs weren’t sorted in the proper order on the playlist. And so I’d been listening to the tracks—perhaps 50-100 novel pages—in a sort of random jackstraw sequence…

and the story still made perfect sense!! The pace was lively. Events had unfolded in a compelling fashion. And I’d had absolutely no idea that I was essentially reading ten pages, skipping ahead and reading ten pages, going back and reading five… .

I find it almost equally delightful and disturbing. This summer I’ll be teaching a workshop and I ask myself: what are the lessons about structure and story development a writer can take from this experience?

Okay, that’s a lie. Mostly I’m thinking that Safer is the first of my novels scheduled to have an audio version, and as much as I’m in favor of that, now I’m also a little bit terrified by the thought that I could put my iPod on “shuffle” and the book will sound as good as (or, horribly, better than) the book I actually wrote.

So, note to self: let’s not do that.

- Sean Doolittle

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