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Amazon adds audiobook of my dad's Korean War memoir, 'Candy'

I am a big fan of audiobooks. For years, when I had a daily commute to work and traveled a lot as a newspaper reporter, I would stock up on books on tape and listen to them in the car. They made the drive more interesting and productive, while giving me another way to catch up on favorite authors. (I believe I listened to all of David McCullough's fabulous books in this fashion.)

Recently, through a new feature on Amazon, I began to offer readers an audiobook of my father's autobiography, "CANDY: True Tales of a 1st Cavalry Soldier in the Korean War and Occupied Japan," which I co-wrote and published in 2015, only three years after he died. The audiobook mirrors the eBook and print text, and comes in at about four and a half hours.

I created the audiobook using Amazon's "beta" publishing tool that translates texts from the eBook version into computer-generated speech.

You can listen to a sample at Amazon's audiobook listing for "Candy," or one at The virtual narration is not as good as listening to a favorite audiobook narrator, but it's not bad. It's certainly better than the mechanical voices in past computer-generated speech.

My key problem with Amazon's "virtual voice narration," as the company calls it, is that it lacks the nuanced delivery of a human, the ability to inject surprise or sadness into the reading, or to precisely alter the pacing for dramatic purposes. Even more jarring, Amazon's default narration messes up a lot of pronunciations, particularly names and places. It even has trouble with words like "read" and "recreation" that are pronounced differently based on usage.

Amazon's audiobook creator does have some rudimentary tools that allowed me to add short, medium, or long pauses. I could also speed or slow the pronunciation of words, although the result often sounded distorted. And it offered the option to add a phonetic pronunciation. (It took me quite a while to figure out how to get it to properly say "Gouverneur.") After tweaking the entire audiobook this way, the result is something that at times makes you forget you are listening to a virtual voice.

However, at the time I write this, Amazon offers only eight narration choices--four male, four female--all of which sound like people from 30 to 40 years old. It would have been much better, for a book told by a man in his 80s, to have a more mature voice. Someday, if Amazon does offer that option, I hope they allow the switch to it with a simple click.

In any case, for anyone who decides to buy the audiobook version of "Candy," it won't cost a lot, just $6.99. And if they already have the eBook version, it's just $1.99 as an add-on.


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