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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
Audio Books and the Distracted Mind
Listening to audio books is in some way a throwback to our ancestral past where we would sit around a camp fire and listen to our elders.
The very first time I listened to an audio book was back in 1973 when I was seventeen years old. I was driving to Santa Monica beach with my then girlfriend, Carrie. I had just bought a cheap paperback copy of Lobsang Rampa's The Hermit, which I found fascinating since it was steeped in Tibetan mysticism, though at the time I was under the mistaken impression it was non-fiction. I asked Carrie if she would read it to me as we drove. She turned out to be a good narrator and right there and then I envisaged a time when books would be easily available in audio format.
Although there were “talking books” in the 1970s, they were prohibitively expensive and one had to have a decent cassette player for them to work properly. Usually one secured a copy from the library and the selection was always hit and miss. It was also a hassle to make sure that tape was at the right mark or that the previous borrower had rewound it correctly or, worse yet, if the tape itself was damaged. Additionally, the sound recording was too often not up to par and sometimes the narrator wasn't very good.
Audio books starting getting more popular in the early 1990s and a number of stores opened up across the country offering new titles. For anyone with long driving commutes back and forth from home to work, audio books were a godsend. In my case, when I first got my professorship at Mt. San Antonio College and was still living Del Mar, I was driving nearly four hours a day and was usually stuck in traffic, so listening to classics such as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment or Maugham's The Razor's Edge was liberating. The key was to find a book that was more than ten hours long. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and War and Peace fit the bill perfectly as they were thirty-eight hours plus hours, depending on who was doing the narration. Around the same time, my brother Joseph, who worked for the Los Angeles Appeals Court, also had a terrible commute and found that listening to books on tape was a boredom savior. Though personally a pacifist, he was interested in war histories, particularly the Civil War and World War II.
In this regard, I found Richard Rhodes' magisterial history, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, to be particularly riveting.
With the advent of CD's, it made cassette tapes obsolete. However, their duration didn't last long once digital downloads were available over the Internet.
Yet, throughout these decades, the popularity of talking books was limited to only a few thousand titles. The market had not yet exploded. This changed with the advent of cell phones and portable music players, particularly the iPod, iPad, iPhone, and various Android devices. Amazon really upped the game when they bought and heavily promoted Audible.com. It became exceedingly easy to search for a book and then digitally download it within seconds. Long drives with heavy traffic actually became pleasant if the audio book was compelling, such as Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything or Walter Isaacson's remarkable biography of Albert Einstein.
Between my brother Joseph and myself, we guesstimate that we have listened to well over 3,000 distinct audio titles. What we discovered in this process was that the narrator was elemental. No matter how good the book was, if the reader was bad then one could proceed no further. Yet, and this surprised us a bit, you could have a fairly awful book but if the narrator was exquisite then one could slog through to the end.
This is similar perhaps to movies. A terrible soundtrack can ruin what otherwise would be a classic film. George Lucas of Star Wars fame realized this earlier on in the 1970s and emphasized that a proper sound system was fundamental for watching (and listening) to movies.
In this regard, some narrators were so good that we could probably listen to them reading from a telephone book. From my extended experience in this area, a few audio readers stand out amongst the rest. My all-star lineup includes: Edward Herrmann (Einstein: His Life and Universe); George Guidall (Jorge Luis Borges' Collected Fictions); Simon Vance (The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends who Shaped an Age); David Horovitch (Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina); Frederick Davidson (George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London); Richard Matthews (Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything); and unexpectedlyat least to meWil Wheaton (Ernest Cline's Ready Player One). There are many more readers that are excellent, but truth be told there are also a truckload of awful narrators and they can (far too easily) ruin any book, classic or otherwise.
The late Toni Morrison is quoted as saying, ““If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” I thought about this and similar quotes about four years back when I got frustrated looking for an audio version of a book only to discover that there was none. This got me to thinking, “Why not produce your own?”
To my joy I found out that there were literally tens of thousands of professional readers anxious for the opportunity to narrate a book. I wasn't quite sure how ACX (Audiobook Creation Exchange) worked. It was owned and operated by Audible.com which, in turn, had been purchased by Amazon. I soon learned that it was much easier to produce an audio book that I ever imagined. Essentially, once a book is published it can qualify for an audio edition. What the publisher does is put the book up for auditions and then select the right narrator for the job.
Ever since I had co-founded the MSAC Philosophy Group with Dr. Stephen Runnebohm, the then Dean of Humanities at Mt. San Antonio College, back in 1990, we had published well over 175 unique titles. None of them had audio versions. I decided there and then to put two books immediately up on ACX for auditions, both of which were authored by my wife Andrea Diem-Lane, who was also, like myself, a Professor of Philosophy. She had written a short introduction to Sikhism (The Sikhs: A Brief Introduction) and we were fortunate to have Clay Lomakayu do the narration. It was actually a strange coincidence that he chose our book, since just the week prior I was listening to Lobsang Rampa's Cave of the Ancients, which had just been released on Audible and it was Clay Lomakayu who did the narration. He has a unique voice and presentation. Not only has he narrated most of Rampa's books, including his best-known title, The Third Eye, but the very first book that my high school girlfriend read to me while driving in the car to go surfing back in the early 1970s, The Hermit.
Luckily, we got Lomakayu to do several other books for the MSAC Philosophy Group, including: The Bengali Mystic: 88 Insights from Sri Ramakrishna; Ecstatic Memory: A Glimpse of Rumi; The Blissful Longing of Rumi; and Mystics of Islam. The second book we put up by my wife was Quantum Weirdness: Einstein vs. Bohr. Again, we got fortunate to secure a good reader named Cliff Truesdell, who later did my own book The Enchanted Land: With the Mystics of India.
After this, however, I ran into a cold streak with certain narrators, as I was far too hasty to accept their auditions without realizing the one make or break deal in selecting audio readers. If I cannot listen to them for more than an hour, then I shouldn't expect anyone else to do so either. It took me a few sorry months to realize this valuable lesson. Eventually, I got a bit better in choosing narrators and occasionally we have hit the jackpot. I am particularly fond of Jason Zenobia, a British expatriate who has narrated most of our books during the past year and a half. Here is but a sample of those books he has read with great alacrity, some of which have also been made into short films:
One of the chief motivating reasons for why I and others at the MSAC Philosophy Group have invested so much time and energy into audio books is that it helps our college students who have benefitted from alternative formats to learn new material. Presently, we have produced 150 books that are available on Amazon, Audible, and Apple's iTunes. We have also made certain to have free PDF versions of every book we have published. Our hope is to reach the 200 mark by the end of 2020.
I often tell my students that in an age where everyone is distracted by too much information, too much social media, and too many new gadgets, it is important to find ways to focus our attention. Listening to audio books is in some way a throwback to our ancestral past where we would sit around a camp fire and listen to our elders tell stories about their own lives or the lives of those who came before them. It is ironic that futuristic technologies can allow us to go back to our historical roots and perform that most primordial of tasks: the art of listening.
The following is a complete catalog of audio books available from the MSAC Philosophy Group at Mt. San Antonio College. The free downloadable PDFs are readily accessible through the neuralsurfer.com website (via the library link):
THE MSAC PHILOSOPHY GROUP CATALOG OF AUDIO BOOKS
[Titles are listed in order of completion date, with the latest one first.]
150 and counting
This list excerpted from Wikipedia provides sources for free audiobooks:
“Founded in 1948, Learning Ally serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learnersall of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Learning Ally's collection of more than 80,000 human-narrated textbooks and literature titles can be downloaded on mainstream smartphones and tablets, and is the largest of its kind in the world.
Founded in 2002, Bookshare is an online library of computer-read audiobooks in accessible formats for people with print disabilities.
Founded in 2005, LibriVox is also an online library of downloadable audiobooks and a free non for profit organisation developed by Hugh McGuire. It has audiobooks in several languages. Most of their languages are typically Western European languages.
Calibre Audio Library is a UK charity providing a subscription-free service of unabridged audiobooks for people with sight problems, dyslexia or other disabilities, who cannot read print. They have a library of over 8,550 fiction and non-fiction titles which can be borrowed by post on MP3 CDs and memory sticks or via streaming.
Listening Books is a UK audiobook charity providing an internet streaming, download and postal service to anyone who has a disability or illness which makes it difficult to hold a book, turn its pages, or read in the usual way, this includes people with visual, physical, learning or mental health difficulties. They have audiobooks for both leisure and learning and a library of over 7,500 titles which are recorded in their own digital studios or commercially sourced.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is a UK charity which offers a Talking Books library service. The audio books are provided in DAISY format and delivered to the reader's house by post as a CD or USB memory stick. There are over 30,000 audio books available to borrow, which are free to print disabled library members. RNIB subsidises the Talking Books service by around £4 million a year.”
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