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Tuning In On Wide Variety Of Words


Looking for something other than music to play on your Walkman or car stereo? Then you might like to join all the people who have recently discovered books-on-tape and other spoken-word audiocassettes.

While driving, jogging, walking the dog, or doing household chores that make TV-watching impractical, spoken-word tapes can really help pass the time.

What's on them? Top actors reading condensations of classic literature. Authors reading from their own novels or poetry. Old radio shows from the '30s and '40s. All sorts of self-improvement tips and systems, on everything from managing your time to lowering your blood pressure to meeting a new mate. There are business tapes, children's tapes, and more.

The growing demand for such cassettes has encouraged chain bookstores such as B. Dalton, Crown and Waldenbooks to stock many. Also, the tapes can be obtained by mail order, as can catalogues from the production companies. Prices of the releases vary, generally coming as one tape (between $5 and $10) or two tapes ($10-$15).

Following is a list of some of the more important production companies:

Listen for Pleasure. If you don't mind hearing classics and contemporary best-sellers in condensed form (the abridgements are generally done with great care) then these versions--usually running two hours on two tapes--are among the classiest releases on audiocassette. The readers include Paul Scofield, Katharine Hepburn and John le Carre reading his own work while the books range from "David Copperfield" to a few non-fiction titles such as George Plimpton's "Paper Lion." This British-Canadian company has a decade's experience and an impressive catalogue to show for it. Information: (800) 843-8404.

Dove. Many of the tapes in this recently established local company's fast-growing line compare well with Listen for Pleasure's material-with-reader matchings, and besides the classy condensations (Julie Harris reading Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa") there are some interesting lower-brow entries, such as a version of Jackie Susann's "Valley of the Dolls." Also, nonfiction tapes such as "An Evening With George Burns" and yuppie aid "Starting at the Top." Information: (213) 550-1806.

Newman Communications. This New Mexico company, which distributes Listen for Pleasure and Dove, also handles other producers and has begun producing its own tapes, too, with a wide range of topics. Information: (800) 545-6260.

Metacom. Specializing in old radio shows, this Minnesota company can have you time-traveling back to the days of Abbott and Costello, Lum and Abner, Fibber McGee and Molly, and "The Shadow." Also: old-radio dramatizations of great books, plus learn-a-language and "subliminal persuasion" (how-to-stop-smoking, etc.) tapes. Information: (800) 328-0108.

Waldentapes. Waldenbooks' cassette branch specializes in tapes aimed to "improve the quality of your life." Among the titles: "Stress Management," "How to Improve Your Memory" and Roger von Oech's audio version of his creativity-inspiring "A Whack on the Side of the Head" ($7 each). Also: children's, language and fitness tapes. Information: (800) 543-1300, operator 412.

Caedmon. This spoken-word pioneer began releasing long-playing records of poetry, plays and book excerpts in 1952. It has since branched into tape, carrying everything from Norman Mailer and Isaac Asimov to the complete works of Shakespeare. Information: (800) 223-0420.

Warner. Though Warner Books launched its audio division as recently as January, 1985, its tapes are perhaps the most widely available in local bookstores--featuring fiction (there's a good science-fiction line) and a variety of nonfiction. A Warner spokesman says the company prefers that customers try the stores first, since its toll-free number, (800) 528-6050, is "understaffed," but that's where to call for a catalogue, or to order something you can't find.

Random House. The venerable publisher has moved into the cassette age with two-tape releases of Studs Terkel reading from his "The Good War," John Updike reading his stories, Eileen Heckart reading "Rosemary's Baby," plus others. Information: (800) 638-6460.

Cassette Books. Among this Van Nuys company's approximately 400 tapes are versions of "The Portable Dorothy Parker," Anais Nin's "Delta of Venus" and Basil Rathbone reading the Sherlock Holmes stories. A free catalogue is available by calling (818) 799-4139.

Books on Tape. Most bookstore tapes are condensations, but you can get unabridged cassettes and plenty of them. In fact, this 10-year-old Newport Beach mail-order company offers--incredibly--more than 2,000 multi-tape selections in every imaginable category. They're costly purchases--the 12-tape package for William Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," for example, runs $96! But 30-day rentals are available on any release for much less--$16.50 for the Styron book. The 260-page, indexed catalogue costs $5. A free brochure is also available. Information: (714) 548-5525 or (800) 626-3333.

Bookcassette. Another company that puts the whole book on tape, though it offers only a few selections compared to Books on Tape. The Michigan-based Brilliance Corp. manages to get unabridged readings on just three, four or five tapes--including Ken Follett's "Lie Down With Lions" and Nora Ephron's "Heartburn"--by recording on both of the tape's stereo tracks. There is a slight catch for Walkman owners; they'll need an adapter (available from the company for $9) that will allow you to hear one channel at a time (on a regular or car stereo, the adapter is unnecessary). Something else sets Bookcassettes apart from the crowd: Most of them are "multi-voice" readings, where each character is read by a different actor. Bookcassettes usually run nine to 10 hours, and prices range from $12 to $22--comparable to hard-cover book prices. Information: (800) 222-3225.

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