By Randy A. Salas
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Have you heard a good book lately? Audio books aren't new, but they're everywhere. You can buy them at bookstores, order them through Internet retailers and borrow them from a library or a friend. Or you can download them for free online.
The cleverly named Podiobooks prompted today's topic when Minneapolis author Jennie Goloboy called to suggest the site, which she heard about on National Public Radio several years ago. Podiobooks are new audio books that are serialized by their authors through podcasts. Users subscribe to a book and receive chapters regularly by RSS feed, or they can download installments directly from the site to play back on an MP3 player, their computer or a burned CD. Science fiction and fantasy dominate the more than 100 titles at the site.
Podiobooks is completely free, although users are encouraged to make a donation for each book, of which the author (who typically creates the podcast) gets 75 percent. Goloboy says she has received little money from the 900 people who have downloaded her audio book, "Discovered Country," a futuristic tale about the adventures of a mild-mannered librarian that she wrote under the pen name Nora Fleischer. But she loves the site: "It's a wonderful way to get your name out there as an author." She recommends that newcomers check out one of the site's top-rated titles, "Nina Kimberly, the Merciless," by Christiana Ellis.
LibriVox offers "acoustical liberation of books in the public domain." Volunteers record themselves reading classic books that are no longer under U.S. copyright and then post the audio files for anyone to download for free. The site's goal is to record everything available, the audio equivalent of the venerable Project Gutenberg online book repository. So far, more than 800 classic works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama are available. The only drawbacks: 1) Chapters are often parceled out among many readers, which affects continuity. 2) Some volunteers have heavy foreign accents, which is not ideal for listeners who are used to the mellifluous narration of commercial audio books. Still, LibriVox is a wonderfully ambitious project that is definitely worth checking out.
Many of the LibriVox recordings also are housed at Project Gutenberg, which is mostly dedicated to presenting the text of public-domain books. Other human-read audio books are provided to the project by Literal Systems (www.literalsystems.org) and, for the works of Arthur Conan Doyle, by Audio Books for Free (www.audiobooksforfree.com), a pay site that makes low-sound-quality audio books available at no charge. Project Gutenberg also archives many computer-generated audio books, in which the text of books is read aloud by a synthesized voice. Although this is a valuable service for the blind, it's not ideal for casual listeners. In fact, many of the audio books generated in this manner sound laughable, with odd pronunciations, poor cadences and lack of emotion.
Did you know you can download audio books to your computer or MP3 player through many public library Web sites? Not only is the service free, but recent and current bestsellers are available. At the Hennepin County Library site, for example, the Digital Catalog page lists hundreds of audio books provided by OverDrive. More digital collections are available from NetLibrary and other services by following links on the bottom-left side of the page. The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, N.C., has a similar audio-book download page (www.plcmc.org/catalog/audiobookoptions.asp). Check your public library's Web site or ask a librarian to see if it offers a similar service. All you need is a library card to start listening.
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Randy A. Salas is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Do you have a favorite Web site or a question about how to find something on the Internet? Send a note by clicking here.
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