Shelf Awareness for Friday, January 20, 2023

Viking: The Bookshop: A History of the American Bookstore by Evan Friss

Pixel+ink: Missy and Mason 1: Missy Wants a Mammoth

Bramble: The Stars Are Dying: Special Edition (Nytefall Trilogy #1) by Chloe C Peñaranda

Blue Box Press: A Soul of Ash and Blood: A Blood and Ash Novel by Jennifer L Armentrout

Charlesbridge Publishing: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, Illustrated by Doug Salati

Minotaur Books: The Dark Wives: A Vera Stanhope Novel (Vera Stanhope #11) by Ann Cleeves


Open Books Launches Third Bookstore in Chicago

Open Books, a literacy nonprofit that runs full-service bookstores featuring donated, remaindered and new books, launched its third community bookshop earlier this week, at 2068 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. Open Books also operates stores in Pilsen and in the West Loop. 

"After over a year of planning and building we are so excited to finally be able to welcome you all in. We've got a truly incredible selection of used books as well as a small but mighty selection of new ones," Open Books noted on Facebook.  

"In the wake of the pandemic, we continue to track the dearth of affordable bookstores and in-person community spaces in Chicago--and also recognized that hundreds of our book donors reside in and around the Logan Square community," said executive director Eric Johnson. "This new store represents an opportunity to not only provide Logan Square access to a broad array of titles, but to encourage another diverse area of the city to support our community-driven literacy work."

Located on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that has long endured shuttered storefronts and vacant buildings, the new location is expected to help revitalize a part of Logan Square hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Open Books has started to bring back readings, poetry slams and book fairs to its West Loop and Pilsen locations. The Logan Square store will house its most versatile event space to date, allowing the organization to increase its offerings for the community. 

Founded in 2006, Open Books is designed to foster literacy and encourage reading among thousands of Chicago children and families. By selling donated books to community members, the organization can fund neighborhood reading and writing support programs, free book grants, and affordable access to books for underserved and historically marginalized residents, schools and nonprofit partners. 

"As purchasing behavior migrated online during the lockdown and shipping information on Open Books customers began to roll in, we realized how crucial the residents of the 'Blue Line Corridor' were to our organization. Logan Square's rich diversity, passionate community members, and longstanding Open Books supporters make it an excellent next step for pursuing our literacy goals," Johnson said.

"Independent bookstores are the lifeblood of a community," 1st Ward Alderman Daniel La Spata added. "They are spaces for discourse, for curiosity, for connection. Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square has been longing for a space like Open Books for a while--and we are excited to welcome them to the neighborhood."

BINC: Do Good All Year - Click to Donate!

Ink by Hudson Bookstore, Wine Bar Coming to Ford International Airport in Mich.

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport, in partnership with Hudson, has started construction on Ink by Hudson, a wine bar and bookstore that will be located after the security screening checkpoint just before Concourse B. It is set to open in the spring. 

In addition to books, travel essentials and gifts, the store will feature a self-serve wine bar in partnership with Michigan Wine Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that aims to enhance the sustainability and profitability of the state's wine industry by supporting wineries, growers and other businesses and individuals connected to the industry.

"Ink by Hudson will be a unique spot for passengers to sit back and enjoy their travel experience," said Tory Richardson, president and CEO for the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. "As our passenger numbers continue to grow, we are excited to welcome them with a book and a glass of wine, along with a distinctive assortment of gifts and travel necessities."

Hudson Group operates more than 1,000 stores in airports, commuter hubs, landmarks and tourist locations across North America. 

GLOW: Milkweed Editions: Becoming Little Shell: Returning Home to the Landless Indians of Montana by Chris La Tray

The Biblio-Tech Café, Perry, N.Y., Is Closing

The Biblio-Tech Café, Perry, N.Y., will close after more than four years in business. On the bookshop's website, owner Giuseppe Gentile wrote: "Sadly I have reached a day I had hoped would never come. I am closing the Biblio-Tech Cafe permanently. Ever since the pandemic, this business has never really recovered. I did my best to pivot but those efforts didn't prove effective."

Gentile purchased purchased the 12-year-old indie bookstore Burlingham Books in 2018 and reopened it as the Biblio-Tech Cafe in June of that year. 

"I am forever grateful to all the people who helped me along the way," he added. "This was an opportunity I never expected to get. Truly, it changed my life and I thank you so much. To my diehard customers, thank you for seeing the value in this place. I put a lot of work into making this place feel special, and the feedback I received kept that energy alive. I wish you all the best. Thank you."

G.P. Putnam's Sons: Four Weekends and a Funeral by Ellie Palmer

International Update: Waterstones' Profits 'Soared Post-lockdown'; German Bookstores Regained Sales in 2022

Waterstones' profits after taxation soared 1,352% to £42.1 million (about $52.2 million) in the year ending April 2022 from £2.9 million (about $3.6 million) in 2021, "a massive recovery after the company's finances plunged during multiple lockdowns," the Bookseller reported. For the full financial year ending April 2022, annual sales rose 73%, to £399.8 million (about $495.4 million) from £230.9 million (about $286.1 million), in the year ending April 2021, and £376 million (about $465 million) in the year ending April 2020, "showing that the retailer has now exceeded pre-pandemic sales."

The company attributes the boost in sales to most shops being able to reopen since April 2021. Profit after taxation is also up on pre-pandemic levels, which stood in the year ending April 2020 at £19.7 million (about $24.4 million).

"It is very encouraging to see this recovery now that we are past the period of mandatory shop closures, many of these having been sudden and prolonged," said a company spokesperson. "Our customers returned to our bookshops with enthusiasm and our online business continued to perform exceptionally well. The business continued during this period to benefit from significant government support."



Physical bookstores in Germany regained sales in 2022 amid a general decline in book sales. The European & International Booksellers Federation Newsflash reported that, according to market data report Branchen-Monitor BUCH, published this month by the Börsenverein (the German book trade association), "central sales channels experienced a decline of 2.1% compared to 2021. This trend follows a general downturn in consumption, primarily caused by the increase of inflation and rising energy costs. On a positive note, physical bookstores, still recovering from the challenges posed by store closures in 2021 due to lockdowns, ended 2022 with a 4.8% increase in turnover compared to the previous year, nearing pre-pandemic levels."


RISE Bookselling has launched its podcast series Let's Talk Bookselling, comprised by six weekly episodes showcasing themed conversations with experts in the field. Each one of the episodes, released on Wednesdays, spotlights a different topic relevant to the bookselling industry.  

Let's Talk Bookselling kicked off with a discussion on the Swedish audiobook market with Maria Hamrefors, chairwoman of Svenska Bokhandlareföreningen (Swedish Booksellers Association), "who helps us understand the remarkable development of the Swedish audiobook sector. Sweden has been at the forefront of audiobook market, with many streaming services launched there initially. It seems fitting that we start the exploration of audiobook market there."


Wherever you go, there showrooming is: Indian bookseller the Dogears Bookshop in Margão shared a familiar dilemma for indie bookstores in a Facebook post: "We have always wondered about this--about whether we are doing ourselves a disservice by posting information about books here, especially when we have people walking into our bookshop and searching for the titles on our shelves to see if they are available for a discount on an online platform. It rankles, primarily because we are a business and have bills to pay and salaries to give. But at the end of the day, there is also reassurance in the knowledge that there are readers out there who appreciate the value that bookstores provide, whether by way of recommendations, or simply by providing a safe and comforting environment within which to discover new worlds. Like someone said on a podcast the other day, books are sold by human beings to human beings, and we can't help but agree."


Bookseller moment: Posted by Librairie de Paris, Paris, France: "Bonjour!" --Robert Gray

Professional Booksellers School Looking for Teaching Talent

The Professional Booksellers School is creating a course on Bookstore Finances and is looking for store owners, bookkeepers or managers who are intimately involved in their store's financial systems to be instructors. The course will run from March 27 through July 24, but each instructor is responsible only for one or two of the actual classes.

The school is also creating a Bookstore Year-One course that will run for 12 months, with open enrollment. Seasoned owners who can help guide new owners through the nuances of bookselling and retailing are needed to mentor and prepare new colleagues.

Please contact Eileen Dengler, president of the Professional Booksellers School, if interested. All instructors for PBS are paid independent contractors.

Obituary Note: Marion Meade

Marion Meade

Marion Meade, the biographer and feminist, died December 29 at age 88 from complications of Covid.

Meade was best known for her 1987 biography of Dorothy Parker, What Fresh Hell Is This?, which helped, along with the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and Her Vicious Circle, to create a resurgence of interest in Parker. Meade edited a new edition of The Portable Dorothy Parker and a collection of Parker's poetry as well as wrote introductions to several other Parker books.

After earning a Master's at Columbia Journalism School, Meade began her career as an investigative journalist, a helpful background for a biographer, working on staff and as a freelancer, contributing pieces to the New York Times, the Nation, the Village Voice and McCall's.

In the late 1960s and '70s she became involved in the feminist movement, which led to her first book, in 1973, called Bitching, and her first biography, in 1976, Free Woman: The Life and Times of Victoria Woodhull. She then wrote Eleanor of Aquitaine, followed by two novels also set in medieval times, Sybille and Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard.

In 2004, Meade published Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin, a group portrait of four literary 1920s women--Parker, Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna Ferber and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Meade also focused in some of her work on film, with biographies of Buster Keaton (1994) and Woody Allen (2000). Her last major work was Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKinney, a joint biography of Nathanael West, the writer of The Day of the Locusts and Miss Lonelyhearts, and his wife, the model for the classic 1938 novel about two young women in Greenwich Village, My Sister Eileen.

Meade called biography "a thankless task," noting in 2006 that "biography has changed in the last 20 years. It was a kind of white glove type of writing; now it's 'anything goes.' "


'The Best Niche Bookstores in New York'

Curbed NY featured its picks for the "Best Niche Bookstores in New York," including High Valley Books ("Since 1999, rare-book collector Bill Hall has been running a secondhand bookshop out of his two-story Brooklyn apartment."); Pillow-Cat Books ("The tiny shop in the East Village is stuffed exclusively with books that are about animals, feature an animal character, or have an animal on the cover art."); Yu and Me Books ("The space curates a selection of immigrant stories you wouldn't necessarily find at other bookshops."); Dashwood Books ("David Strettell was working as Mario Testino's assistant in 2005 when he decided to open Dashwood, a store devoted entirely to photo books. Eighteen years later, the place remains much as it was."); and Bluestockings Cooperative ("The blue zigzagged shelves are so stocked with works by queer, trans, and BIPOC authors that Haines can consistently find titles even her very well-versed club members have never heard of..."). 

Macmillan to Sell and Distribute Pan Macmillan UK in U.S.

Macmillan Publishers will handle sales and distribution in the U.S. of Pan Macmillan UK adult and children's trade imprints. The launch titles for the new arrangement will be published in July 2023. The U.K. imprints are currently distributed in the U.S. by Trafalgar Square Publishing, part of IPG. Macmillan is a distributor for a dozen publishers, including Bloomsbury USA, the College Board, Drawn and Quarterly, Graywolf Press, Guinness World Records, and Page Street Publishing.

Jonathan Atkins, international director for Pan Macmillan, said, "Pan Macmillan already has a successful distribution partnership with Macmillan for the Kingfisher and Collector's Library imprints and looks forward to expanding this with further titles, where rights are available. We love working with our fantastic colleagues at sister company Macmillan and this new and closer collaboration with the U.S. team will give our authors and illustrators much better access to the largest trade market in the world."

Liz Tzetzo, v-p, publisher services and distribution for Macmillan, added, "We are thrilled to take on additional distribution for Pan Macmillan UK's award-winning books. We look forward to expanding their sales in the U.S. and working with the entire exceptional U.K. team."

Pan Macmillan continues to work with Publishers Group Canada, part of the Raincoast group, for sales and distribution in Canada.

Personnel Changes at Scholastic

Rachel Schwartz has been named director of cross channel marketing at Scholastic. Previously she was director of program and product marketing at Scholastic Book Fairs.

Media and Movies

Movies: Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project

Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson has joined the documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project as executive producer and voice of Giovanni's poems throughout the film, Deadline reported. Directed by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, the film premieres Friday at the Sundance Film Festival in U.S. Documentary Competition.

"I'm thrilled to join Michèle and Joe in bringing Nikki's remarkable work to life on screen," Henson said. "Interpreting and giving voice to her powerful words was a revelatory and emotional process, and moved me completely. This film reflects Nikki's vibrance and legacy in all its complexity, and I am honored to be a part of it."

The filmmakers added: "Taraji's grace, generosity, and creative skills are legendary. We were swept away by her embrace and complex interpretation of Nikki's poetry. Having her join us is truly the Universe at work!"

The film is produced by Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, and Tommy Oliver, and executive produced by Codie Elaine Oliver and Taraji P. Henson. It features an original score by Samora Pinderhudges and Christopher Pattishall; cinematography by Greg Harriott; and is edited by Terra Jean Long and Lawrence Jackman.

TV: The Chronicles of Amber

Stephen Colbert will help develop and produce a series adaptation of Roger Zelazny's The Chronicles of Amber via his Spartina banner, alongside Robert Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment, Deadline reported. This comes seven years after Kirkman (The Walking Dead) announced he was developing a series based on the books with Vincent Newman Entertainment.

The Chronicles of Amber features two series of five books each--the Corwin Cycle and the Merlin Cycle--with a number of short stories and prequels also in the series. The producing team will begin the search for a writer to adapt the series.

"George R.R. Martin and I have similar dreams," Colbert said. "I've carried the story of Corwin in my head for over 40 years, and I'm thrilled to partner with Skybound and Vincent Newman to bring these worlds to life. All roads lead to Amber, and I'm happy to be walking them." 

David Alpert, CEO, Skybound Entertainment, added: "Adapting one of my favorite book series of all time is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Producing it alongside someone like Stephen Colbert, who is a true-blue super fan, is a thrill for me, and will be for anyone who's ever listened to Stephen talk about fantasy. We can't wait to share this amazing story both with the legion of current fans like ourselves and a new generation of fans that will undoubtedly fall for Amber."

"Having Stephen Colbert and his Spartina team join our cause is both a privilege and a thrill. Stephen, Spartina and the good folks at Skybound are as true of fans of Amber as they are prolific storytellers. I couldn't ask for a better dream team of partners as we bring the Amber universe to audiences around the globe," said Newman.

Books & Authors

Awards: Edgar Nominees

The Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for the 2023 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction and television published or produced in 2022. The awards ceremony, celebrating the 214th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, will be held on April 27 in New York City. To see the full list of nominees, click here.

Reading with... Martin Riker

photo: Jessica Baran

Martin Riker's second novel is The Guest Lecture (Black Cat/Grove Press, January 24, 2023), which follows a feminist economist through one fantastical sleepless night. Riker is co-founder and publisher of the feminist press Dorothy, a publishing project, and the author of Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return. As a critic, he has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Paris Review Daily, TLS and the London Review of Books.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

The story of an insomniac economist using her imagination to battle the encroaching darkness. My agent adds, "Like if Beckett wrote a book for moms."

On your nightstand now:

An ARC of a novel I'm reviewing. I'm halfway through right now, so the front half of the ARC is a bloated monster of Post-it notes and dog-eared pages, while the latter half still just looks like a book. Also a Pirandello novel, Elizabeth Sewell's The Orphic Voice, Jeff Deutsch's In Praise of Good Bookstores and a scholarly book by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost about the history of the Atari 2600.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I wasn't much of a reader as a kid. I became a reader in my 20s, which is maybe why I didn't publish my first novel until my 40s. I do have a memory of spending a lot of time with Choose Your Own Adventure books. But the children's authors most important to me are ones I came to as an adult, notably Lewis Carroll, whose spirit runs through my new novel. Carroll shares some DNA with Choose Your Own Adventure, I think. Books that offer a playful and active experience of reading have always been my favorites.

Your top five authors:

All of the authors I publish through Dorothy. My wife and I run a publishing house that brings out two books per year of surprising and wonderful fiction or near-fiction by women. As publisher of these books, I avoid stating favorites, but taken together the authors on Dorothy's list have had an incalculable impact on my life and my reading.

Denis Diderot. Diderot was my kind of polymathic, playful, all-over-the-place (but still shrewd, elegant) writer. His books are so different from each other, not just in premise but in spirit. He made a very large and seminal encyclopedia [Encyclopédie]; according to James Wood, he basically invented (in Rameau's Nephew) the self-warring character ("characterological relativity"), inaugurating the psychological novel as practiced by Dostoyevski on down; and he also wrote one of the funniest books of all time, Jacques the Fatalist. There is a brilliant but sadly out-of-print translation of his This Is Not a Story and Other Stories that someone needs to reissue.

Nikolai Gogol. Dead Souls--what a book! But I also sometimes teach three of his stories together: "The Nose," "The Overcoat" and "Diary of a Madman." These are all comedies about clerks and satires about class and aspiration, but each one navigates the space between absurdity and reality in a totally different way.  

Fran Ross. The reason Fran Ross is not at the top of this list is because, tragically, she published only one book and because I write more about her below.

François Rabelais. I guess I like old, funny books? Or I like hilarious, uncontainable books that never lose their force and genius regardless of age. Gargantua and Pantagruel is a wellspring of so much literary joy. "Revere the cheese-shaped brain that feeds you this noble flummery."

Book you've faked reading:

Faked or just skimmed a lot? I can't think of anything I've actually faked, but I can think of a whole lot of books I've skimmed. As a younger reader, I was a completist: I picked certain authors (Beckett, Flaubert) and read every word. Now I suppose I am something less than that.  

Book you're an evangelist for:

Fran Ross's Oreo is my favorite book. The freedom and excitement that I experience every time I read it is the purest expression I have ever found of why books matter to me.

Book you've bought for the cover:

There was one, about 25 years ago. I was working as a musician on a cruise ship, and I went to a bookshop in San Juan and picked up a book because the cover was weird--faux wood grain, like a box. A book-shaped box. I don't think the book was very good.  

Book you hid from your parents:

Ha! My parents wished I was secretly reading books.

Book that changed your life:

Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec. I had been reading formally inventive fiction for some time before I discovered Perec, but his particular combination of playfulness with serious intelligence, or restraint with unbridled invention, or generosity with an unflinching eye--all the unique ways he put art and life in conversation with one another--was a revelation to me. In his novel Life: A User's Manual, he takes the reader room by room through a Parisian apartment building, carefully describing each apartment before placing inside it the stories of the people who lived there. It's a simple move but monumental in its effect. Readers of my new novel might notice that I borrowed this idea--describing a space before placing a story inside it--though what I did with it is very different.   

Favorite line from a book:

From Bill Johnston's translation of Witold Gombrowicz's Bacacay: "It is with great emotion that I run toward you, my childhood!"

Five books you'll never part with:

Aside from the books I've already mentioned? Samuel Beckett's Stories and Texts for Nothing. Jaimy Gordon's Bogeywoman. Danielle Dutton's Prairie, Dresses, Art, Other (this is my wife's next book, forthcoming in 2024). Ishmael Reed's Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down. Elizabeth Sewell's The Field of Nonsense.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

There is a type of book that is so singular and perfect, so entirely self-contained and unexpected, that reading it for the first time is particularly special, since it appears fully formed out of nowhere and remakes the world. Of course, this effect can't be repeated, since once you've read it, the world has already been remade. Books in this category for me include Tove Jansson's The Summer Book, Édouard Levé's Suicide, Nathalie Léger's The White Dress, Cristina Rivera Garza's The Taiga Syndrome, Pamela Lu's Pamela: A Novel, Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida and Georges Perec's W, or the Memory of Childhood.

Book Review

Review: I Have Some Questions for You

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (Viking, $28 hardcover, 448p., 9780593490143, February 21, 2023)

At one point in Rebecca Makkai's I Have Some Questions for You, in which a clutch of New England prep school graduates reunite 20-plus years later under dark circumstances, one of them texts a question about their gathering: "Is it more like THE BIG CHILL, or the second half of IT?" Makkai's dauntless and enthralling fourth novel, as far as likenesses go, is worthy of comparison with Jean Hanff Korelitz's The Plot--another shrewd, campus-set literary thriller--and the first season of the standard-bearing did-he-or-didn't-he? podcast Serial.

When Bodie Kane began attending New Hampshire's Granby School in 1991, she was determined to leave her checkered family history back in small-town Indiana. At Granby, Bodie was a theater kid, which turned out to be a solid grounding for her later work as a Los Angeles podcaster preoccupied with the underappreciated women of early Hollywood. Bodie finds herself back at Granby in 2018 for a two-week teaching gig: she's helming a class on film and another on podcasting. Like her Granby peers, Bodie can't forget the 1995 murder of Thalia Keith, a fellow theater kid who was found dead in the campus swimming pool during their senior year. Thalia's body showed signs of injury that suggested more than an accidental drowning, and DNA evidence ultimately sent Granby's Black athletic trainer to jail, where he's serving a 60-year sentence. Bodie is gratified when one of her podcasting students decides to take on Thalia's murder as the subject of her assignment--"I think the wrong guy is in prison," Britt informs Bodie. But then Britt didn't exactly come to this idea on her own: Bodie had put it on a list of suggested topics she e-mailed her students.

I Have Some Questions for You presents a dual investigation: into Thalia's death and into Bodie's reliability as an observer. At one point in her narration, which she addresses to a former Granby teacher, Bodie confesses, "I felt myself about to lie, felt myself stepping over a line. But it was in service of a greater truth." Is it, though? readers may well ask. Makkai's novel takes on some of the defining issues of its time--systemic racism, racial profiling, slut shaming, cancel culture, trial by Twitter--without battering readers with them. Instead, Makkai (The Borrower; The Hundred-Year House; The Great Believers) carefully winds her themes around her story's scaffolding, which strengthens her masterly plot even more. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Shelf Talker: In this smartly plotted literary thriller, graduates of a New England prep school revisit the on-campus murder of a classmate 20-plus years later.

Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Reading Audiobooks--'Voice Is Both Story & Backstory'

As an audiobook reader, I've been hearing voices tell me stories for a long time. These voices belong to real people, sometimes even the authors themselves, though this isn't always the best choice. But when the voice of an actor (Juliet Stevenson narrating George Eliot's Middlemarch) or author (Louise Erdrich reading The Sentence) does sync perfectly with a book, the listening experience can be exquisite. 

Now there's a disturbance in the audiobook force field. Earlier this month, Apple "quietly launched a catalogue of books narrated by artificial intelligence in a move that may mark the beginning of the end for human narrators. The strategy marks an attempt to upend the lucrative and fast-growing audiobook market," the Guardian reported. 

Before the Apple AI launch, Canadian literary agent Carly Watters told the Guardian she did not really see the value from a literary or consumer perspective: "Companies see the audiobooks market and that there's money to be made. They want to make content. But that's all it is. It's not what customers want to listen to. There's so much value in the narration and the storytelling."

This is probably not the right moment to mention the long list of bad (or at least ill-cast) narrators who have in the past assaulted my tender ears before I bailed on certain titles (unnamed here to protect their "innocence"). I will say, however, that in many of those cases, an AI-generated voice might actually have been preferable. 

And, of course, certain books shouldn't ever become audiobooks, AI or no AI. "Some books rely on the page in ways that make sense only when you read them yourself. Cookbooks, for instance--or War and Peace. Most print books are made into audiobooks. But should they be?" Katherine A. Powers asked yesterday in the Washington Post.

When the match of the right book and narrator(s) happens, though, it is magic, and that brings us back to the importance of voice.  

"Voice is both story and backstory. Voice is the entry point for narrative," actress, screenwriter and director Lake Bell says in her recent, award-winning audiobook, Inside Voice: My Obsession with How We Sound. She also observes: "Our voice is our most outward facing trait. It's the muscle we unconsciously flex every hour of the day. It can cloak our truths, put off airs, provide a calling card or a ticket to a coveted community. But ultimately, the voice is imbued with cues and characteristics that we cannot hide."

Bell, who is obsessed with voice, also wrote, directed and starred in the excellent 2013 film In a World..., which "contemplates both the power of the male voice and the empowering of its female counterpart," as critic Odie Henderson has written, noting that Bell "uses the world of voiceover to slyly explore how society has shaped our ears to accept stereotypical gender roles. She accomplishes this not by preaching, but by observing the personal relationships she has created for her actors. This is not just the story of a daughter challenging her father on the voiceover turf that made him a legend, it's also about how the use of conversation and voice craft our identities. The speaker has the floor, and whether you listen has a lot to do with what you are conditioned to hear." 

Hearing voices everywhere: Consider the variations on authors' written voices that can be heard in the narrator credits for's Top 10 Bestselling Audiobooks of 2022, from #1 I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy (narrated by the author) to #10, How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu, which has a voice cast of 14. 

I remember reading, with my own inside voice, How High We Go in the Dark, which includes this sentence: "I grabbed her diary and began flipping through it, trying to hear her voice again." Now I want to go back and try to hear how all those other voices bring Nagamatsu's world to life. 

Currently I'm listening to Beata Pozniak read--possess, really--the audiobook version of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. It's a stunningly fine match of author's and narrator's voices. 

Will I ever be ready for AI-narrated audiobooks? Will there come a time when I can't even tell the difference?

"I feel like we're almost at an inflection point because of artificial intelligence," celebrated voice actor Robin Miles told New Yorker writer Daniel A. Gross, who wrote: "In the end, the future of narration may depend on listeners; when publishers and producers inevitably try to sell us synthetic voices, it'll be up to us to hear the difference. In the days that I spent with Miles, I heard things that artificial intelligence may never be able to imitate. Once, in the Hachette studio, she recognized a line in The World We Make [by N.K. Jemisin] as a bad joke, so she allowed her voice to trail off as her character realized how unfunny she was. (In the control room, Green and Figueroa giggled, not at the joke but at the pitch-perfect delivery.)." 

Apple Books' digital narration "brings together advanced speech synthesis technology with important work by teams of linguists, quality control specialists, and audio engineers to produce high-quality audiobooks from an e-book file," the company claims.

I guess we'll just have to wait and see--or hear--about that, won't we? 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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