I felt like Pavarotti and I probably did everything he did, short of wearing a silk scarf around my neck. I had agreed to read the audio version of my book for Audible.com, a subsidiary of Amazon, but I began to lose my voice a few days before I was scheduled to arrive at the studio. So I got a prescription for five Z-Pak tablets, which cleared up my laryngitis. Then I spoke as little as possible for five days. Meanwhile, I loaded up on Biotene Dry Mouth chewing gum, slippery elm lozenges, Ricola cough drops, an herbal, alcohol-free moisturizer called Singer's Throat Spray, and a transparent plastic bear filled with honey that, during the most trying moments of the sessions, I sucked directly out of the hole in the little yellow cap on the bear's head. The day before, I didn't talk at all. The following morning, armed with every vocal cord emollient I could find, I carried two bottles of water, my memoir's 245-page manuscript, and a plastic bag filled with my battalion of throat protectors into the recording studio. Andrew, the sound engineer, a tall, thin, red headed guy who smoked every moment he wasn't chained to the church-organ-sized control panel, led me into the small room I would live and talk in, relentlessly, for four days.
To prep, I had read my book three times, softly, mumbling every sentence as I tried out different inflections, pauses, and changes of pitch and pace. The first mistake a reader makes is reading too fast. I had to speak, I learned, 50% more slowly than I usually spoke. Also, I couldn't speak in a monotone. And I had to enunciate all 75,000 words perfectly.
The room's walls were covered with acoustic panels, the floor was carpeted, the armchair's upholstery tattered. Once I was seated, Andrew swung a black microphone shielded by thin black mesh toward me and placed it three inches from my mouth. My manuscript pages were propped up on a music stand 12 inches from my nose, and illuminated by a lamp fitted with a small, bright halogen bulb. Then Andrew left and closed the door behind him so no air moved inside my room. Through the padded headphones he'd clapped over my ears I heard him say, "Rolling whenever you're ready." I took a deep breath and began to read. Five seconds later he said, "Slow it down. You're reading a litttttttttle fast." I spoke more slowly. Ten seconds later: "You're getting a littttttttle froggy in there. Take a sip of water to clear your throat." Next, my T-shirt sleeved rubbed against the chair's upholstery. "I'm hearing a litttttttle fabric rustling." I pushed up my T-shirt's sleeve until only bare flesh touched the padded armchair. Then I took a breath, started, and my stomach gurgled. "Let's take it from the top," Andrew said. I did. A moment later he said, "I'm hearing some lip smacking. Wipe your lips." We started again. I read page one, then turned to page two. "Pause when you turn a page." There had to be complete silence. So, I had to keep my throat moist, my lips dry, my stomach silent, my eyes trained on pages I had to turn without making a sound, and do it all without moving for several hours straight. Finally, I began to read without being interrupted.