August 2, 2009

The Origin of Audio Books

Ten thousand years before the first word of history was written, the first audio book was created by Og, brother of Nogg and Plogg, son of Vog and Noog, grandson of Zogg and Heather. Og was a born storyteller frustrated that paper had not yet been invented. He wrote his first book on slabs of wood, burning the words and pictures into the surface with sharp pieces of stone superheated in fire fed by Wooly Mammoth fat. He is credited by some with inventing the words “hot,” “ouch,” “S***,” “***k,” “D**n,” and “************,” as well as the exclamation point.

Because he was both writing and manufacturing his novel, Og was a writer-publisher, the first known hyphenate. Also being one of the first to suffer from multiple-personality syndrome, the writer in him hired another aspect of himself to serve as his agent, which deeply annoyed the part of him that was a publisher. In vigorous negotiations conducted with rocks, clubs, sharpened Mammoth bones, and primitive squirt guns full of blinding viper venom, Og the Agent won for Og the Writer an advance of 120 dried apples, three dead squirrels, a pretty yellow pebble, and one rotting but still flavorful haunch of moose.

With high hopes and with dreams of wealth, Og the Publisher acquired a formidable stack of wood, hundreds of sharp pieces of stone, and gallons of Mammoth fat to feed the publishing fire. In just five months, he made eleven copies of this epic story, which led to frequently scorched fingers and the invention of the dubious word “s***f**,” and the now seldom used “q***t***uw***d.” He launched the book with the first publication party. The event was such a hot ticket among cave-dweller society’s movers and shakers that even the Missing Link showed up.

Sadly, all the dreams of Og the Writer, Og the Agent, and Og the Publisher came to naught when they discovered, too late, that no one had yet learned to read, resulting in a potential audience of just Og himself. The only one of Og’s multiple personalities able to smile at this fiasco was Og the King of Book Remainders. Those eleven books-on-boards were resold as kindling.

Bowed but not broken in spirit, the indomitable Og dreamed of publishing his novel in a format that his contemporaries could enjoy: a talking book! After much thought, much theorizing, and planning, Og constructed the world’s first megaphone. He aimed the megaphone at a rock and read his novel at a shout, for it was his theory that in this manner he would imprint his voice–and his novel–in stone for eternity.

Upon recovering from the world’s longest and most painful case of laryngitis to that time, Og realized that cave-dweller culture lacked the sophisticated technology necessary to recover his voice from the rock. His talking book contained his story, he knew, but it would not speak. By its silence, it mocked him. This, at last, broke the spirit of Og. Kicking the rock, he also broke all his toes, and on more than one occasion.

In cave-dweller society, the rock became known as Og’s Folly. Og himself became known as Stupid Og or simply Stupid, or Mr. Big Shot Author, though the less well-bred citizenry called him Mr. Dumb Ass Troglodyte.

Humiliated, scorned, Og died a destitute laughingstock, which is by far the worst kind of laughingstock that one can be. His last request was that his body be consigned to a tar pit immediately on his death, for he believed that immersion in tar would preserve him until, thousands of years hence, technology had evolved that could restore a tar-preserved cadaver to a full, healthy life. The cave-dweller society had become more coarse over the years, and instead of honoring Og’s request, they buried him in front of his rock, so that his neighbors, when they passed it every day, could laugh and point and say, “There lies Mr. Dumb Ass Troglodyte in the shadow of his stupid nontalking book-rock thing.”

Millennia later, scientists and engineers at last produced the technology capable of recovering Og’s shrill voice from the rock. The novel, which Og had titled My Loincloth is a Wildcat’s Pelt, was published under the less sensational title Prehistoric Passion. The New York Times Book Review bemoaned the novelist’s sexism, his militarism, and his “insensitivity to the rights of saber-toothed tigers and other predators who have suffered at the hand of man.” Entertainment Weekly quipped that the time-travel element of the plot was “as poorly put together as a five-dollar watch” (though no one else noticed a time-travel element), and mocked Og’s simple name by demanding, “Who does he think he is, anyway–Cher?”

The audio edition of the novel was read by Soupy Sales, who used a voice like that of Scooby Doo for all scenes from animal points of view, and a resonant imitation of Fred Flintstone for the viewpoint of the warrior character who narrates most of the tale. For archival purposes, a 21-hour reading of the entire text was recorded, but the only version marketed to the public was a two-hour abridgement; in a banner on the package, the publisher proudly proclaimed this condensed version to be “A Fast, Easy-Listening, Incomprehensible Treat!”

Good Og, rest in peace if you can.

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