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June 9, 2012

A.J. Jacobs on Recording his Audiobook, DROP DEAD HEALTHY

A.J. Jacobs is the author of DROP DEAD HEALTHY: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, available now in paperback and audiobook format. He is also the author of the New York Times bestsellers THE KNOW-IT-ALL, THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY, and THE GUINEA PIG DIARIES. He is the editor at large of Esquire magazine, a contributor to NPR, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Entertainment Weekly. Visit him at

I learned a lot about my body while researching my book DROP DEAD HEALTHY. But it wasn’t until I recorded my audio book that I realized an important truth about my stomach. It’s loud --- surprisingly so. My midsection emits a whole symphony of noises --- gurgles, growls, groans, creaks, snarls --- and not just occasionally, but constantly. It will not shut up.
I learned this while sitting for three days in a soundproofed room in midtown Manhattan as I read my own words into a microphone. One minute I’d be narrating a line about, say, the strenuous aerobic workout you can get from pole dancing, and all of a sudden, my belly would feel the need to join the conversation.
At which point, the lovely producer Christina Zarafonitis --- would ask gently, “Can we do that sentence again? We got some interference from your stomach.”
Must have happened at least twenty times. And I wasn’t even hungry. It was just standard noise, like a house settling or the leaves rustling.
Christina and the audio engineer Erica Glyn told me not to worry. I’m not an outlier. Most stomachs are just as vociferous as mine is, but nobody notices in our high-decibel world. The rumblings happen to every narrator, even the celebrity ones, though they wouldn’t name names. (Business idea: Upload a collection of celebrity intestinal noises to iTunes. Make a million. Donate 10 percent to gastroenterology charity to make self seem noble).
Christina may have been just trying to make me feel better. But regardless, I did finally get through my recording. And stomach growls aside, I found it a fascinating experience.
I love being able to talk directly to the reader, even if it’s a one-sided conversation. I take my responsibility seriously. I try to put energy into every word. Perhaps I went overboard. When the book came out, a reader tweeted “It is pretty cute how much enthusiasm @ajjacobs can put into the words "Chapter 2." 
Thanks random twitter user! Personally, I think my masterpiece was when I said “Chapter 14!”  

This book, by the way, was not the first I narrated. I also voiced two of my previous books, and found each book comes with its own challenges. I’ll end by briefly listing the crucibles.
Challenge: My book contained several quotations from the Bible, including the words of God himself, such as “Thou shall not commit adultery,” and “Thou shall honor your parents.” The problem? My voice isn’t exactly God-like. There’s not a lot of booming going on. When I call for airline reservations, I’m not mistaken for James Earl Jones. Though I am often mistaken for a woman. I can only beg for some biblical forgiveness.
Challenge: My wife wrote a section of the book, and the producers had her come to the studio to read her pages. She was a natural. So good, so full of energy, I had to force myself to be happy and not insecure.
Challenge: My book is about being the healthiest person alive. But sitting at a microphone for six hours a day? Not healthy. In my defense, I drank a bunch of coffee, which can stave off Alzheimer’s and bladder cancer.
But apparently not stomach rumbling.