Thursday: interview of Jonathan Lowe by Jimmy Boegle,
formerly of Tucson Weekly. Both Lowe and Boegle no longer
live in Tucson.
Jonathan Lowe works as a clerk in the forwarding department
at the main Tucson post office--and his postal job indirectly
helped lead him to his current passion: reviewing audiobooks.
About 15 years ago, he had a different postal gig that
required a lot of monotonous typing; he chose to pass
the time by listening to books. A short-story and poetry
writer in his spare time, he eventually merged the writing
and the audiobooks. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, he reviews audiobooks for several trucking magazines
(Land Line, America Trucking on the Road and
The Trucker) and various Web sites. He recently
started producing Audiobooks Today Radio News, a series
of about 20 minute-long audiobook stories that air on
XM Satellite Radio, with Jeff Davis. He also writes
radio drama, articles for magazines, and has published
novels, including Postmarked for Death, endorsed by
Clive Cussler as “mystery at its best.”
Boegle:You have statistics saying audiobook
sales are skyrocketing. Why do you think that is?
Lowe: I think because people don't have time
to read print books anymore. They're so busy. Sales
of hardcover book sales are down 17.9 percent this year
according to Publishers Weekly, while audiobooks are
up 17.3 percent. With a print book, you have to drop
everything. With an audiobook, you can be gardening
or jogging or, most often, driving. It's just that people
don't have time, but they want to read, so what better
way is there than listening? Plus audiobooks today are
more sophisticated, with sound effects, multiple readers
and major celebrities. They've blossomed.
How is reviewing an audiobook different than reviewing
a print book?
The reader (narrator) brings a completely different
experience than reading a print book. In the past, narrators
were very dry, just basically reading and getting through
the material. Now, it's an act, a performance. Jim Dale
won a Grammy for reading the Harry Potter books; he
did the voices of something like 113 different characters.
It's phenomenal what you can do--it's almost like an
What makes one audiobook better than another?
Ninety percent is the reader (narrator), if he or she
is a good fit for the book. It's how they manipulate
(their voice) with inflection, and their ability to
interpret characters with accents. A lot of narrators
have told me they really study accents to get them right.
What are the best and worst audiobooks you've reviewed
The best is Seabiscuit. It had an interesting author,
Laura Hillenbrand, and I really loved the narrator,
too; it was Campbell Scott, George C. Scott's son. As
for the worst, well, I reviewed a book by John Saul,
a horror writer. It was more from the stupidity of the
book than the narration; if the text is horrendous,
some books are unredeemable.
Does it ever go the other way--where a good book makes
for a bad audiobook?
It really depends on the publisher. Certain publishers
don't do well, like Americana, which publishes biographies
and mysteries. Their narrators are so bad; they don't
project well, and they don't do accents well. The sound
quality of the recording is off. But with the majority
of the publishers, like Random House or Simon &
Schuster, you're not going to find any of that.
You mentioned earlier that some major celebrities narrate
Julia Roberts just read a book (The Nanny Diaries).
A lot of character actors read. John Grisham just read
his first own book--he just basically read it. He didn't
try to do accents or anything.
Some say that big Hollywood stars often do worse on
Broadway than unheard of actors who just do live theater,
because the stars are out of their element. Is that
the same with audiobooks?
It is the same thing. I was just talking about Julia
Roberts. Everybody knows who she is, and she's a great
screen actress; no question about it. But can she narrate?
I don't think so. Then, have you ever heard of Barbara
Rosenblat? She just won the Solo Narration Audie; every
year, the Audio Publishers Association chooses the best
in the business. I've been a judge the last three years;
there are about 100 nationwide.
OK, one last question: If we could somehow make an audiobook
version of The Weekly every issue, do you think there
would be a market for it?
You mean other than for blind people? Yeah, maybe, because
they'd be without advertisements.
Hmm. That wouldn't be good for the bottom line.
Yeah, I know. You could work advertising in there somewhere,
I guess. Actually, some magazines are coming out on
CD. (Footnote: One recent addition is Vanity Fair on
audio, now a download to smartphones.)