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Taped Turmoil

By Jackie Kriese

Photograph of stcaks of books

I once had a job that required me to record several college textbooks for students who needed an audio text for various reasons. Great! I love to read and figured that this would be something I would enjoy doing.  What could be easier than reading out loud into a digital recorder and then sending my recordings via email to the student? You might think I had problems with the technical side of this endeavor but, no, that wasn’t the issue. I had problems with the reading part.

My first text to record was a Criminal Justice book. I found it interesting, but I also found I had trouble pronouncing the word “similarly”. I know this word and I know what it means, but I didn’t know that it doesn’t flow out of my mouth fluently. It does twists and turns across my tongue and usually has seven or more syllables before I’m finished with it. Unfortunately, the book was quite fond of this word and used it repeatedly when explaining legal jargon, so it got stumbled and stretched out every time I encountered it.  Pity the poor student who had to listen to my verbal gymnastics.

The next book I recorded was on African-American History and here I struggled with an entirely different issue.  It is safe to say that the story of the African-American is not a nice one, but I was caught off guard at how graphic the text was in describing their plight. Often I would have to go back and erase an inadvertent gasp, an “oh my god”, or a “how awful” exclamation. Other times, my voice would rise higher and higher to a squeaky pitch as I read a particularly dreadful account and that, too, had to be redone.  Finding it hard to read in an even tone without personal commentary resulted in a lot of erasing and re-recording on that text.    

Finally, I recorded a book for a Speech class. Why couldn’t I have started with that one?  It was a confidence builder that I could have used at the onset of my brief recording career because it was an easy read and full of helpful tips on presenting speeches. The only problems here were the usual environmental issues of maintaining a quiet background. I discovered early on to turn the phones off in the house, but I was never able to successfully explain to my cats that they too must be turned off during recording sessions. Invariably, they exhibited a vocal interest in whom I was talking to and what was that thing I was holding in my hand. Sometimes, I just let the background mews and purring stay in to spice up the tape a bit.

Of the three books I recorded, the Criminal Justice text was both the most challenging and the most interesting. Often, it would give scenarios substituting capital letters for people. For example: If A killed B using C’s gun with C’s knowledge that A intended to harm B but C was not present when A killed B, is C also liable for the murder of B? It sounded like I was reading a convoluted algebraic equation and, personally, I wanted to convict the entire alphabet. But on the other hand, the textbook also covered disturbingly interesting material like the definition of every type of murder from premeditated to negligent homicide. Similarly (my problem word), it distinguished the differences among serial killers, mass murderers and spree killers.

This is the type of information I hope I never have need of, but it did make for an intriguing read. In fact, it gave me the idea for a story plot. Suppose a visually impaired law student was listening to his textbook recording when the tape abruptly ends in mid-sentence. The next installment sounds like the same reader but something doesn’t feel quite right. Gradually, he becomes convinced that this isn’t his original reader and, for whatever reason; someone is trying to impersonate her. He manages to convince his detective buddy to investigate based on a few sketchy clues. He no longer hears her cats in the background and she pronounces “similarly” with perfect ease. 


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