audio book 88.
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Once upon a time, the library people came up with an ad campaign designed to encourage people, especially kids, to read more. "Reading is fun-damental," ran the tagline of a too-often played radio and TV commercial, emphasizing the "fun" of reading. It was just you and your creative imagination on a super adventure, brought to you courtesy of library books.
But like so many other things "they" told us back then, "they" lied.
What?! How dare I write that? Denigrating reading, of all things, in a newspaper, of all places!? Off with his head! Hold on, there. What I mean to say is that most of the reading we have to do as adults is no fun. We all have our favorite genres, authors and titles, and if the only material we had to read was the fun stuff we liked, then of course reading would be fundamental. But all this other "required reading" we have to do is just a downer, and most of us would just as soon dispense with the task if we could get away with it.
Let's see: we've got books, for one. Gotta read those bestsellers, or at least the book reviews - otherwise people are going to think you an unsophisticated boor. Ditto for the classics, which often come up in civil social discourse, and which most of us have never bothered reading. Reports aplenty flood our lives, all with vital information we can't afford to be without.
But there is another way to take in lots of this written information.
Instead of getting bleary-eyed from reading, why not put your ears to good use! There are dozens of sites around now where you can download audio books - from bestsellers to the classics - including sites where you can download free audio books! And there's even software you can download to have your PC text files, PDFs, and e-mail read to you.
Now, listening to audio doesn't necessarily work for everybody - only for those who can successfully multitask. And multitasking to an extent is possible while reading, as well. But if you can handle listening to a discussion on your computer or MP3 player, while driving or otherwise commuting, say, or even shopping and scanning Web sites you need to check out - you'll probably find yourself getting a lot more done with audio books. Especially if the books you need to read are more for background knowledge or general knowledge, as opposed to critical technical knowledge. If you're behind on books published before, say, 1940, you're in luck, because Project Gutenberg, which has dedicated itself to rounding up all the non-copyrighted works it can find and turning them into e-books, has converted many of the classics into audio form for your listening pleasure. The audio site (http://www.gutenberg.org/audio/) has thousands of works on all subjects, most of them read by human beings. Most are available to download for free as MP3s which you can listen to on your computer, burn to a CD, or upload to an iPod or flash MP3 player (there are license restrictions on a very small number of the files, though). A library of thousands of free audio books in English would be amazing enough, but Project Gutenberg has works in several dozen other languages - including Hebrew and Yiddish. Literal Systems (http://literalsystems.org/) also has a good number of audio books available for free.
If you're looking for something a little more modern in audio books - like bestsellers - it's going to cost you. Digital audio books, like books on tape, tend to cost more than "regular" books, although some bargains are available. Major sites like Amazon have some MP3 format books available, but the the biggest selection by far is at Audible (http://www.audible.com). Audible will enroll you in a buying program to help try to keep costs down, but it still isn't cheap.
You'll get more mileage out of text to speech (TTS) programs that can read your text files, e-mail, and even PDF files to you. I checked out Speakonia (http://www.cfs-technologies.com), a free program that does an admirable job reading text files and data on your clipboard (i.e. e-mail or Word documents you copy and paste). However, it doesn't do PDFs - for that, you can download TextAloud (http://nextup.com/) which reads just about any file on your computer with the greatest of ease. You get a 30-day free trial ($29.95 afterwards) - but you might find yourself saving enough time to make the expenditure worthwhile. Both Speakonia and TextAloud use the built-in Microsoft voices, which sound OK, but at the TextAloud site you can buy some beautifully accented TTS voices for a few bucks. With these audio MP3 books and TTS file readers, you can save your eyesight for something really important - like TV!
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