Best Spoken Word by Laura Bennett
Project Runway finalist Laura Bennett provides her hilarious take on modern motherhood in Didn't I Feed You Yesterday? A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos. Here, she reflects on the experience of recording her first audiobook.
I love listening to audiobooks. My entire van full of kids gets swept up in Jim Dale’s magnificent narration of Harry Potter, as he deftly changes his voice for each of the fifteen or twenty characters, making the story come to life. Ditto any audiobook by David Sedaris. After my kids spend a few moments arguing whether it is a man or a woman speaking, they settle in and enjoy his hilarious material and perfect comedic timing. Conversely, I love reading essays by David Rakoff, but I can’t bear the lisp and uneven pace of his recordings, and find his material more enjoyable on the page.
With the knowledge that not all audiobooks are created equal, I had mixed emotions about reading the audio version of my own book. Who could possibly relay the material better than I? But my inexperience ran the risk of rendering the material unbearable to listen to. My apprehension was heightened because I turned in the book to my publisher a year ago and had not really looked at it since then, outside of thumbing through to answer some queries from the proofreading department. (‘Coniferno’ is not a word. Are you trying to be funny? Yes, the Christmas tree was on fire.) Like any creative project that you revisit, you are never sure if you will be amazed by your own genius or say, “What the hell was I thinking?” My Princess Diana–inspired, home-sewn 1981 prom dress falling smack into the latter category. Looking at my book again after all this time was going to be scary.
The actual recording was an exhausting experience. My director was named Dennis Kao, and he was infinitely patient with me. He had me rerecord any line that was subpar. “Do that again from ‘penis,’” he was actually heard to say. By the third day he was still constantly reminding me to slow down, and he still noticed every slight slur and mispronunciation far past the time when I would have said, “Screw it, just finish the thing.” When my southern would rear its ugly drawl, usually a sign that I’m tired or drinking, Dennis would kindly offer me a break. I came home after every session mentally depleted and crashed, leaving my kids to fend for themselves for the rest of the evening.
Narrating is not at all like everyday speaking; the speed is much slower and each letter in every word is carefully pronounced. In real life you run words and sounds together, or you sound like Martha Stewart. I also discovered that my writing has some stylistic issues that work on paper, but make reading it aloud difficult. I tend not to use contractions when I write. Screaming, “You are going to get it!” at the kids sounds unnatural. I also favor lengthy sentences packed with alliteration. I do it to be funny, but I certainly do not speak that way in life. These sentences become veritable tongue twisters when read aloud. I also learned that under no circumstances, no matter how many times I try, will I ever be able to pronounce the word Massachusetts. Before I ever write and record another book, I have to move to Connecticut.
In the end, after three mind-numbing days, Dennis said he was happy with the results. Being the overly optimistic type, I am hoping for a Grammy nomination for Best Spoken Word Album. (I did make it all the way to Bryant Park on my first try as a fashion designer.) About my revisit, I am amazed by my genius. There were a few lines here and there that I would change, but it is nowhere near as embarrassing as the photos of me in that prom dress.