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June 8, 2012

Meg Jay on Recording THE DEFINING DECADE

By Meg Jay

Meg Jay, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in adult development, and twentysomethings in particular. She is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Virginia, and maintains a private practice in Charlottesville, Virginia. Dr. Jay earned a doctorate in clinical psychology, and in gender studies, from the University of California, Berkeley. THE DEFINING DECADE is her first book.

On the morning I would begin recording my book, THE DEFINING DECADE, for Hachette Audio, I had breakfast with a former producer for CNN. She was a local media expert I’d befriended for advice about upcoming radio spots. As we finished our coffee, I mentioned I needed to be off to the studio to read my book aloud and she asked what I had done to prepare.
When I told her I had done nothing, that the audio producer had told me to “Just be confident!,” her face showed horror. She asked to see the manuscript I would read and hurriedly began marking up paragraphs to note emphases and pauses. She read a few sentences showing me how to make my points sound more interesting.  Seeming quite concerned when I said I needed to go, she suggested that I pause every page or two, annotating along the way as I recorded the book.  Driving over to the studio, I wondered if I had been hung out to dry.
That first day of reading was shaky. I didn’t annotate as I went, but I felt preoccupied with whether I had, or had not, adequately prepared. My voice often cracked on the first words of sentences or paragraphs because I hadn’t yet learned how to charge into a sentence. I felt like I needed to work harder and read faster than I did.
I don’t see clients on Wednesdays, so the recording was done every Wednesday for a month. Somewhere between the first and second Wednesday, it occurred to me that, without realizing it, I had already prepared in the best way possible.  I had, after all, written the book. This was no script handed to me that I had to learn. I already knew every word by heart, and I had been physically present for every conversation and scene in the book.
And, I have small children so had been listening to audiobooks in the car for years. STUART LITTLE. CHARLOTTE’S WEB. THE CAT IN THE HAT. Fantastic stories read by professional narrators and actors.
It does not get any better than listening to RAMONA THE PEST, the story of a five-year-old girl’s first days and months in kindergarten, written by Beverly Cleary and read by Stockard Channing.  This is a must-hear for any parent, any kindergarten teacher, any kindergartener, or anyone who wants to truly understand the mind of a child.  Stockard Channing could not deliver it more perfectly, and I don’t think it’s because she marked up her document. I think it’s because she “got” the characters --- just like I “got” my clients.
After that Ramona-the-Pest realization, I relaxed into reading my book and even started to enjoy my Wednesdays spent reading. I tried to say it out loud the way it had always sounded in my head or the way it had actually unfolded in therapy hours.  I recognized that my producer was right: I just needed to be confident that no one knew the material or the characters better than I.
This didn’t always go smoothly. I drank a lot of iced tea with lemon. I made sure I talked quite a bit before going into the studio so my voice would not still be waking up. I had to re-record in places where my southern drawl made the words difficult to understand.  I decided that my next book would not be about a word as long and awkward as “twentysomethings” but maybe about “sex” or “cars” or something simpler to say.
I like to think this all worked out fine, but cannot know for sure.  I’ve never heard the audio and I never will.  There’s an interesting research finding about how only narcissists like to listen to themselves on tape or see themselves on film. So, while I now am confident that no one is better equipped to narrate my book, I’m probably a long way from being a narcissist.