Who doesn’t love a good story, especially if it’s read to you? When my daughter was wee I read to her a lot, and when I didn’t feel like reading a book I’d make up stories. She remembers them to this day. Now she reads books to her son.
When I had a long commute I used to listen to books-on-tape. Of course, that was back when the cassette was considered to be state of the art in portable audio.
There was a particularly memorable audiobook I listened to back then, The Golden Compass, the first in a set of three novels aimed at young readers and written by Phillip Pullman. (The other two being The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. All excellent reading regardless of age.)
The reason that I recall it so vividly and fondly is because it wasn’t your typical audiobook production, this one included actors speaking the parts, an excellent soundtrack, and sound effects that rivaled any big screen production. While a good reader can make any story engaging, even when he or she is quoting characters outside his or her gender or age, they can’t compare to a well done audio production. Like the pre-TV radio play, The effects in The Golden Compass audiobook enhance the experience, pulling you into a world filled with huge talking bears, witches, and flying cowboys and delivering an experience that you’ll well remember.
(Note: Those of you who have read The Golden Compass may be thrilled to learn that there’s a free Alethiometer iPhone app. It’s a fun toy that will add even more to the story.)
And it was so much fun I’m going to do it again.
Geoff is a friend of mine and an iOS fan, and we often point out interesting apps to each other. Recently Geoff pointed me to a set of apps that he thought I would like and insisted I grab them. I did and, as usual, he was right.
Booktrack is a company that publishes very unique versions of books. The books, thus far, have been novels you can easily find, some for free, almost anywhere. The cool thing about Booktrack ebooks is this: No one reads the story to you, you read at your own pace and Booktrack keeps tabs on your reading speed and introduces appropriate music and sound effects as you read! The affect of the audio embellishments can be startling.
I started in on Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band and was initially unimpressed when the story called for a fire burning under a mantle and I heard a blaze crackling in the background. When the story progressed to describe a storm, however, and I heard wind, rain, and the occasional clash of thunder, right on cue, I became intrigued. As I read further I found that the sounds added a dimension to the story similar to what I experienced while listening to The Golden Compass, except I was doing the reading.
Soon I found myself hearing the words in my mind spoken in the imagined voice of the characters. I began to turn to pages slower and taking my time to enjoy the details I might otherwise have overlooked. I became so engrossed that I forgot the time. This has happened to me before in books without soundtracks, but never with the intensity of the Booktrack book.
There are eleven Booktrack app/books so far, four of them are free: Riki Tiki Tavi, Hansel and Gretel, The Selfish Giant, and the Sherlock Holmes adventure I mentioned earlier. The others range in price from US$0.99 to US$12.99. They include features you’d expect from an ebook; bookmarks, text sizing, audio volume adjustments, even the seemingly prerequisite FaceBook link. What it doesn’t allow, however, is dictionary access. There’s no copying text either. So if you run into a word you’re unfamiliar with you’ll have to manually enter it into a dictionary app. Thankfully, the app remembers your place in the story if you leave it suddenly, even if you don’t use a bookmark.
A unique feature is the reading speed tester found in Tools (the wrench icon that appears when you tap the screen once). Tools let you adjust the reading speed, overriding the automatic speed gauge, which is how the app determines when to introduce a certain sound effect.
I’ve gone through the freebies and they are all worth downloading, especially if you have kids. Pipe the sound through a set of wired or Bluetooth speakers (no AirPlay) and suddenly you are center stage in an excellent production. I can’t talk about the paid books because I haven’t paid for any, but if they are anything like the free ones then they are worth every penny.
Grab the freebies and see what I mean. Your kids are going to love it, and so will you.
Ok, that’s a wrap for this week. More free audiobooks below with direct links.