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Author Min Jin Lee Reveals the Unique Quality That Make Audiobooks So Powerful

09/11/2023

As one of the preeminent storytellers of our era, author Min Jin Lee has captivated fans with her international best-sellers, Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires, which provide a glimpse into the Korean and Korean American experience.

A one-time lawyer, Min turned her attention to writing early in her career, and success followed. Named a National Book Award finalist in 2017, the writer now splits her time between teaching at the college level and working on her third novel.

On Spotify, listeners are flocking to the audiobook versions of Min Jin's stories, which add an extra dimension to the already rich worlds contained within her tales. Hits the Spot and For the Record recently sat down with Min to learn more about her journey as a writer, why she reads a chapter of the Bible every day, and why people should listen to books.

What's your earliest memory of stories' being read aloud to you, audiobooks or otherwise? Going to the library as a kid and sitting with people in reading circles. I thought that was so cool because I came to America when I was seven. The library had a volunteer who would read, and I would sit down on the carpet and listen. It was so nurturing.

Do you recall the books? Definitely the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. Ramona Quimby always got in trouble. I love her.

When did you first know you'd be a writer? I didn't know until after I was a lawyer. I think I was 25. I didn't think there was a career in it. It just seemed so irresponsible to want to be a writer, and it actually kind of is. I tell my students that they're going to have to figure out another way to get health insurance because it's really tough.

Take us through your creative process. I like walking. Also, if I'm close to finishing something, I try to leave a part of it undone when I go to sleep. That way, when I start again the next day, it's not so scary. It's a trick I picked up from Ernest Hemingway.

And then I do this weird thing that I learned from Willa Cather, which is to read a chapter of the Bible. I heard about that and was like, If it works for her, I'll try it. Because I was reading the newspapers every day and that wasn't working.

So now I read a chapter of the Bible. It's often a very difficult text, which means you have to focus. And you may agree or disagree with the things that you read, or you find parts of it beautiful and parts of it troubling. So I now understand why Willa Cather did it. I can't not do it anymore.

Is there one element that's uniquely you? Well, I'm a woman who had a child, so this is kind of me teasing, but I've met men who say things like, I go to the office and I just write. And I'm thinking, That's nice. You have an office. Meanwhile, if my dishwasher broke, it was me who was fixing it or something. So I write whenever and wherever I can, which has made me very flexible.

Why is audio storytelling so powerful? I think audio storytelling is really powerful because all of us are really lonely. And to have that external voice that's calm, and because narrative is always an ordered sense of story, you know that you're going to be okay. So I think that's the reason why people should listen to things.

And I say that completely seriously, because as a college professor, I sometimes meet young people and I want to tell them, Things are going to get better. I don't know what voices you have in your head, but they're not healthy right now. So if you could just have an external voice that's kind of calm and ordered, you might actually realize that in an hour, whatever you're feeling will pass.

Are there any of your stories that are especially well-suited to an audio format? I think when a lot of my essays are taught, they're read. They're very short, so they've never been produced in an audio format. But I've been able to read them out loud, and I know they're read in a lot of classrooms, so I think that would be important.

Have you dabbled in narrating your own work? I haven't done it professionally. Well, that's not true. I do it all the time in meetings and they're really, really short readings. And then when I do readings of very emotional sections of my books, I cry. Which I need to stop doing. But it's really hard because I actually feel it.

So people are always surprised when they find me funny because my books are so serious. But then at readings I'm very emotional. At one point my publisher thought I was having a nervous breakdown.

What books are you listening to or reading right now? Well, I'm reading Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, read by Meryl Streep, and it is extraordinary. I can't recommend it enough. It's just a win-win experience.

Want to learn more about Min Jin and the story behind her stories? Check out her guest appearance on our new podcast, Hits The Spot.
LINK: https://newsroom.spotify.com/2023-11-09/author-min-jin-lee-reveals-the...
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