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Two Recording Experiences

Frank McCourt is an Irish storyteller. He has enjoyed reading aloud since his high-school teaching days, when he would read Dylan Thomas poems to his students. It was only natural for him to read his own memoirs, Angela's Ashes. He knew he wouldn't want anybody else to record the story of his impoverished childhood.

In fact, Mr. McCourt has made three audio versions of his work - an unabridged recording for Recorded Books, a four-cassette abridgment for Simon & Schuster, and a three-hour program for HarperCollins for distribution in Britain.

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Although Katharine Graham, former owner of The Washington Post, has often been in the limelight, her interest in narrating her memoirs, was the opposite of McCourt's. When the original scheduling of the audiobook could not be arranged, she even hoped that her publisher might select someone else to read her memoir, Personal History. Ms. Graham doesn't like to watch herself on TV or to listen to her speeches.

Both authors found the actual recording process hard work. McCourt says he went through an almost "mystical experience," once again feeling the full emotional impact in his recollections. He views his memoirs as a fiction writer might, appreciating the language and noting that listening to it would appeal to "a reader who has a sense of language as music, or of music as language."

Not having McCourt's natural bent toward storytelling and having less distance from the events described, Graham found the process more emotionally revealing. "I could write the difficult parts, but writing them was somehow more private, and one could put it in perspective," she says.

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