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over and over: what recording an audiobook is teaching me about what’s true

I’ve done a lot of public speaking, but I’ve never recorded an audiobook before.  Two weeks ago, I went to a recording studio in San Francisco where my publisher reserved time for me to record The Invisible Girls in my own voice (the original audiobook was done by a professional voice actor who reads well but doesn’t sound like me.)

This week, I’m back in the studio recording the audiobook for my next book, WELL — about what practicing medicine in rural West Africa taught me about healing our beautiful, broken world.

It’s a new experience, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

I show up at the studio, make a cup of Throat Coat tea, and then walk into a small, dark room and take my seat in front of a large circular microphone.  I put on a large pair of headphones.  A music stand in front of me holds an iPad with the manuscript of my book.

I can see the producer through a small glass pane.  The director, who lives in Los Angeles, Skypes in and talks to me through my headset.

The producer says, “We’re rolling,” and that’s my cue to start reading.

Reading an audio book is something like filming a movie.  If you get a word wrong, or the director has a suggestion, you do it again.  And again and again.  It’s a painstaking process — so much so that a book that should take half a day to read out loud takes five days to record in the studio.

I don’t get paid extra to do it, so I’m voluntarily taking eight days without income.  It takes a lot of patience, and a lot of determination to sit there hour after hour, line after line, reading the same words over and over again until I get them right.

But in a way, reading these audiobooks has been a gift.  Because, as I read words over and over again, they sink into my soul in a way they never had before.

WELL

The Invisible Girls, which is about a family of Somali refugees who became my friends while I was recovering from a battle with breast cancer in my 20’s that nearly took my life, is a lot about redemption.  It’s a realistic picture of love.  One of the people I write about in the book is Mary — and how I realized that love isn’t just the glowing Madonna, holding the infant Christ child.  It’s also the broken-hearted mother holding the body of her crucified son.

The closing lines of the book are,

Love will cost you dearly.

And it will break your heart. 

But in the end,

it saves the world.

I read those lines at least ten times to get the audio recording right.

Love will cost you dearly.

And it will break your heart.

But in the end,

it saves the world. 

And the more I read them, the more they began to sink in.

This week, I’m back in the studio recording the audio book for WELL.  In a way, WELL is the stories under the statistics.  Maybe you know that 6 million kids under age 5 in the developing world die every year, mostly from preventable causes.  Maybe you know that the U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and that other nations in the developing world are suffering in ways we can’t imagine.

But it’s a whole other level of understanding to be in the room with a 5-month-old who’s seizing to death from tetanus because her mom pierced her ears — and kids in Togo don’t get pediatric immunizations to protect them from it.  It’s a life-changing experience to watch a 22-year-old woman who’s a wife and mother of two as she gasps for her life — and finally succumbs to tuberculosis.

And yet, the book is also about how Jesus shows up in broken places.  And how Divine Love keeps us going when each of us steps in to do the hard work of healing these fractured people and places.

Yesterday, as I was sitting in the dark room, reading from the manuscript on the music stand in front of me, I read these lines over and over — words I said to each of my patients at the hospital in West Africa who were dying.  Words I began to say to myself:

You were born into Love.

You will die into Love.  

And you are held in love every second of the life you live in between. 

And they finally started to sink in.

That’s the gift of doing a professional recording.  That’s the gift of walking with Jesus for a long time.  That’s the gift of showing up in church Sunday after Sunday.  Because we get to hear these words over and over and over again, until they finally start to sink in.

In the world of marketing, there’s something called The Rule of Seven — that consumers need to see your logo or hear your commercial at least seven times before they take the bait.  Education research out of Harvard says that we need to see a new word fifteen to twenty times before we remember it.

In the Bible, God often repeats the same things over and over, across centuries and millennia, because God knows our brains were created to need repetition before we can absorb what’s being said, like a rivulet that carves its way into a hillside by running across the same land over and over and over again.

The most commonly-repeated commandment in the Bible is “Don’t be afraid.”  It’s repeated 365 times.

And yet, we’re in the middle of a presidency based on fear, a president who was voted for by the majority of evangelicals, who told us to be afraid of refugees and immigrants and minorities and trade agreements and Mexico. Many evangelicals lost their way, forgot that, “There is no fear in love.”  And, that we’re called to love our enemies.

What the audiobook has taught me is that it’s important to hear words over and over again.  It’s important to speak truth to ourselves, and to each other, until it finally sinks in.

So, brothers and sisters, let’s hear it again.  Let’s say it again.

Let’s remind ourselves today — and every day — that each person on this planet is a beloved child of God who was born into Love, will die into Love, and will be held in Love every second of the life we live in between.

Let’s remind ourselves that

Love will cost us dearly.  

And it will break our hearts.  

But in the end, it will save the world. 

Thanks for sharing!

3 thoughts on “over and over: what recording an audiobook is teaching me about what’s true

  1. Wonderful comments! I will say that I listened to the original audiobook of “The Invisible Girls” and thought the narrator did a wonderful job–she fully engaged me in the narrative. I’ve had mixed experiences with author-narrated memoirs. I am currently listening to Ann Patchett do a great job on a book of her essays, but while I love to read Annie Lamott, I absolutely cannot listen to her read her own writing. I am sure your version will be great, but I am curious as to why you felt it necessary to do another recording of “The Invisible Girls,” other than the fact that “she doesn’t sound like [you].”

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