As you all know, I record book after book after book after book in my little recording studio, and I work to make every project something that I’d want to listen to. That’s the best way I know to keep my standards and expectations of my own craft high.
But I don’t always have high expectations of the books I narrate. When I first began recording audiobooks, I assumed every manuscript that got published and made its way to my sound booth would be artful, insightful, finely-wrought. But let me tell you — that’s far from the truth. Much of what gets published, in print and in audio, is offered to audiences not because the work elevates the soul and spirit of the reader, but because it will sell. And sex sells, violence sells, stereotype sells, anything derivative sells like crazy.
I’ve been very blessed to record magnificent works of literary art, charming series with recurring characters I adore, and fantastical, sassy, adventure stories, but, like all narrators, I spend my fair share of time recording books that I would never choose to spend time with outside of work.
So when I get a book to narrate that is something very, very special, I am delighted. But I don’t always recognize it immediately. And that was my experience with a book that has become one of my most deeply appreciated projects to date.
When Harper Audio invited me to narrate a new novel by a sports radio commentator, I was ambivalent. I don’t care about sports at all, except for some sentimentality about the Minnesota Twins (who won the only world series I’ve ever watched, in 1987, with my papa), and a 30-second maximum attention span for YouTube videos of amazing goals by kooky soccer players. I don’t know any names in sports — players, commentators, or otherwise — so when Harper indicated that the book was by Mike Greenberg, my excitement came from finding I had just enough time free in my schedule to squeeze in the recording, not that I was going to work on a book by the man I soon learned was loved and hate-loved by tens of thousands of ESPN devotees.
I started to read All You Could Ask For, which was a funny, well-written story about three women, Brooke, Samantha, and Katherine, who, despite living seemingly perfect lives, were facing challenges I could relate to — broken marriage, aging bodies, bad dates. The book was actually really entertaining, and it was fun and it was all good. It would be a perfectly fine book to spend a week reading and recording.
After I did a little research on Mike, and discovered that he was Greeny, co-host of an enormously popular drive-time radio talk show, I thought it was a little weird that that was the guy writing from first person point of view of three smart, independent, self-assured women, but…you know, I thought, no big deal. The book would probably continue down the path of examining the privileged lives of three affluent women, and, I imagined, they’d all end up in love and happy and a little bit wiser. There would probably be something about sports in there, too, somewhere.
Then Part I of the book came to a close, and Part II picked up, and as I read on, my jaw really did drop as the book took a shocking turn. I know that’s an overused phrase. But I actually was shocked. Not only did I not expect the circumstances of the characters to change so drastically, but I did not expect this sports dude, Mike Greenberg, to write something with so much heart and intensity of feeling. I was deeply moved by the story, by the compassion of the characters, and especially by the bravery that it must have taken for Mike to write something so far out of what I imagined to be his day-to-day life of athletics and competition and stats and scores.
I read through to the end of the book and realized how the story, and the writer, had humbled me. I realized I’d made assumptions about who Mike must be as soon as I learned he was a sports guy, never imagining that he would be as heartfelt, honest, tender, and kind as I now know him to be. My gratitude for the project grew much deeper and my connection to the work much more personal, and my appreciation and affection for Mike was firmly established once I had the pleasure of speaking with him about why the project is some of his most important work so far.
I invite you to listen to the interview, below, in which Mike reveals how the characters in All You Could Ask For were brought to life, how he overcame his doubt and insecurity about such an unlikely project, and what he hopes his novel will inspire and accomplish. It was an honor to be the voice of All You Could Ask For, to speak with Mike, who is an inspiration and a gentleman, and I hope that the novel does make a difference. Today is the publication day, and I congratulate and celebrate Mike, and hope the book finds an enormous audience that is just as grateful as I to spend time with the story, and the story behind the story.