Now hear this

“You don’t have road rage when you’re listening to a good book.”

–Robert Bennett Miller

Men and women are equally avid listeners of books on tape. But unlike women — who enjoy books written and/or narrated by both sexes — men remain tradition-bound.

Just as they do with movies and printed books, most guys overwhelmingly prefer audio books about men, narrated by men.

Our guest experts this month are two audio-book readers who didn’t have the option of wriggling out of my questions: my husband, Lonnie Darr, and my brother, R.B. Miller. Strangely enough, though one is a Vietnam vet and Rush Limbaugh fan, and the other an entrepreneur and Clinton cheerleader, both men have similar preferences in audio books.

So — do “real” men enjoy books on tape?

“Absolutely!” R.B. insists. “Real men are working, and they don’t have enough time during their day jobs to read visually. They get to read with audio books.”

Like most audio-book listeners (except me), both Lonnie and R.B. play audiotapes primarily while driving.

“Audio books are great on the road,” says Lonnie, who drives thousands of miles each month. “They really help pass the time.”

What author would Lonnie choose on his next long trip with his wife?

“Tom Clancy,” he replies. “A long trip would be the only way I could get my wife to read one of his books.” (Not true. I read Hunt for Red October years ago in print and loved it.)

But then again, isn’t it dangerous to listen to books and drive at the same time?

“It’s safer!” Lonnie claims. “A good story keeps me alert on a long drive.” R.B. agrees: “You don’t have road rage when you’re listening to a good book.”

Of course, real men probably like to cut to the chase with abridged books.

“I do not read the condensed version of anything,” Lonnie protests, adding, in exemplary real-man fashion: “I don’t want somebody else’s opinion on what they think the best parts are.”

“I want the full story,” R.B. concurs. “Reading audio books is one of the few private things that I do. And I want that time to be as rich as possible.”

Is it true that real men don’t like books written by women? “No, not true,” Lonnie says. However, “most of the books I like are not written by women,” he admits.

“In general, I prefer books where males are the protagonists,” puts in R.B.

What audio books do real men like? It’s unanimous: “Anything by Tom Clancy!”

“Great books. Great characters. Great narrators. You can’t screw up Tom Clancy,” says Lonnie, who’s read all of Clancy’s works several times. But aren’t Clancy books too complicated to follow on tape? How do you keep all the characters straight?

“Clancy narrators are always excellent, and they do different voices for all characters. It’s actually easier to read Clancy on tape than on the page.” Other favorite authors: Tony Hillerman, John Le Carre, Ken Follett, James Lee Burke, James Michener, Elmore Leonard and John Grisham.

For the same reasons a printed book might make a good American movie, men like it as an audio book: strong characters, clear story line and a plot with lots of twists. Lonnie has enjoyed these selections from the Asheville-Buncombe County library: Snow Falling on Cedars (“excellent”); Absolute Power (“terrific”); Mr. Majestyk (“amazingly good”); Day of the Jackal (“Great, except author Ken Follett doesn’t know anything about ballistics”); A River Runs Through It (“Great, but I would not have chosen it if I didn’t know it was already good from seeing the movie”); Shane (“a classic”).

For both men, “appropriateness of the narrator” is key to enjoying an audio book.

“The narrator is crucial,” stresses Lonnie. “If the narrator doesn’t fit the book, I stop listening.”

R.B. agrees: “My listening time is too valuable to be irritated by a voice that doesn’t work.” For him, three narrators are hands-down favorites: George Guidall (“anything he narrates is good”), Frank Muller and Dick Estell.

“Muller has a very laconic, ironical delivery that is perfect for the subtlety of spy tales,” R.B. feels.

“John Le Carre’s Little Drummer Girl is [about] a young English actress whom the Israelis train to be a double agent against Palestinians in Lebanon. Somehow Muller’s maleness in describing her inner thoughts is less jarring than a woman’s narration would be of the inner thoughts of a male hero,” he ventures bravely.

Lonnie, meanwhile, gives his highest praise to Dick Estell’s narration of Marine! The Life of Lt. General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, by Burke Davis: “Estell did a fantastic job. Brought tears to my eyes.”

What about female narrators? “If the author of the book is a man,” Lonnie explains, “usually the narrator is a man. So 99 percent of the books I listen to have male narrators.”

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