Friday, March 25, 2011 is where the genius of Amazon meets the genius of Apple. You sign up for Audible with your Amazon password and get two free books right off the bat with the first month free. Then you pay $14.95 a month, entitling you to purchase another book -- an audio book-of-the-month club! If that's not enough listening, you can purchase further books at a 30% discount.

I got my new iPhone last week and yesterday I became a member of Audible. I was moving in this direction anyway, but then my iPod died on me last fall. I had already decided to get an iPhone once it was available from Verizon, so I just waited.

I listened to a lot of audiobooks when I was commuting out to work at AOL -- all of the Harry Potter books, for instance. Jim Dale was a pleasure to listen to, as was Barbara Kingsolver reading her Appalachian Spring. Probably the highlight was Derek Jacobi reading Robert Fagles' new translation of The Iliad -- absolutely thrilling.

Audiobooks have become a whole new art form, with narrators vying for prizes and other recognition. Audiobooks have turned what otherwise might be empty hours into learning moments. Not that I think every empty minute should be given over to music or books on the iPhone. I'm not sure I'll listen to books while working out -- if I'm doing that properly, I think I need more focus. Will I be able to listen while riding a bike? We'll see. But some of my dog-walking and driving time can surely be devoted to book-listening.

I had a friend in grade school whose father was legally blind. He used to get these heavy cases of recorded books from a special lending library. These were vinyl discs -- it was a time even before Books on Tape. In those days, of course, readers simply read the text out loud. There was no attempt to dramatize, develop different voices, or even give it much inflection. The evolution of this semi-charitable business into today's audiobooks is quite a story.

I'm not sure it could get any easier than Audible. You purchase it and it goes into "My Library" for download. You download it into iTunes, then sync your iPhone and start listening. In addition to the earbuds, I have the cable to plug the iPhone into my car sound system, and for that matter, into our living room stereo.

My first download last fall was Robert Reich's Aftershocks, which I got two-thirds through before the iPod died. With my new membership, I've purchased Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life and Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists. Presuming all goes well, I will report on these books in due course.

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