Indirect Imperatives

by Will Rogers


I just finished re-listening to my absolute favorite audiobook, A Wrinkle in Time, read by the author, Madeleine L'Engle.

I feel a little embarrassed for broadcasting my love of a children’s audiobook, but I challenge you to name a better one. Seriously. I have listened to lots of audiobooks, and I have yet to find anything that approaches it, especially in the realm of fiction.

This book sings to the depths of my heart, and I share it with anyone who is going on a roadtrip or having trouble getting out of bed or excited about space travel or struggling through teenage awkwardness... I recommend it to basically anyone, and this is why: L’Engle’s voice.

Just listen to the book’s brief introduction. In it, L’Engle says that when she read it to her children, they loved it. Whether you realize it or not, this moment inserts an image of L’Engle reading the book aloud to her children, and, at least for me, that image never really goes away. For the entirety of the book’s twelve chapters (5+ hours), it’s like I’m being personally tucked-in by a prominent author, as if I’m one of her own kids.

L’Engle’s voice is particularly ideal when she’s reading the characters of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, the three elderly women who guide the young heroes to save their father. When she reads these characters’ voices, she becomes them... or, rather, the characters become L’Engle - by that I mean that when you listen, it’s not totally clear whether these women are speaking to the children in the book, or whether L’Engle is directly addressing the listener.

“Only a fool is not afraid,” Mrs Whatsit says to Charles Wallace during chapter six, and in that moment it’s as if L’Engle is speaking to you, saying, Whatever it is that you’re up against, in life, you can do it. You must, at the very least, do your best.

And we all need that, sometimes, that assertively comforting grandmother voice that tells you to face your fears. L’Engle was in her seventies when she made this recording, and with that age comes this certain kind of softness mixed with a bit of “I don’t have time for your dilly-dallying.”

If your eyes are tired of looking at pages and screens, good.
If you’re young and you need a break from school, that’s perfect.
If you’re looking for something to listen to on a family drive between California and Kentucky, this is for you.

It’s time for you to spend five hours listening to the sweetest most steady voice, as it tells you an amazing story of kids who travel through time and space to rescue a bit of universe from total demise.

And if you’re hankering for a storytelling tip in this blogpost, it’s this: find opportunities to directly address your audience, and address them, even if you have to couch it within dialogue between characters. Children’s authors do this quite well, inserting advice for their readers, but not necessarily directly addressing these readers. But when they read their work themselves, it certainly feels as if they directly address the readers... and it works.

The same thing that children’s authors do well in print is also well-suited to audio. Pass on values and awarenesses from which your listeners can benefit, to help them lead better and more compassionate lives. These pieces of advice develop a relationship between listener and speaker - just like how I felt like I was one of L’Engle’s children, listening to her voice.

A Wrinkle in Time audiobook
Barnes & Noble
(be sure to get the version that says “read by the author” - it’s a little harder to find because there is a new version read by an actress. Your local public library might have the version read by L’Engle in its media section)


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