Blind Santa: Audible Books from me to me

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

The greatest joy this time of year comes from finding ways to share with others. It is more fun when you can do so without recognition. That's easy for me. I have a secret identity. For more than a decade, on a special day each December, I strip down to my thermals, tie a pillow to my stomach and pull on bright baggy pants. I don a fur-trimmed jacket, a wide black belt and heavy black boots. I also tug on a wig of long white hair and then glue on a lengthy, thick and wavy beard. I even slip on totally useless spectacles. One moment, I am just an unassuming blind fellow with EarPods hanging from my head. In a twinkling, I become Saint Nick.

My annual volunteer role as Santa Claus takes me to a local elementary school where I pass out books to many hundreds of young children. Since the real Santa can see everything, including whether someone has been naughty or nice, I've learned to fake it. I never show up with a dog or cane, but rather am accompanied by helpful elves who serve as sighted guides. Santa's little helpers also whisper to me what each child is wearing and any other detail that might help me personalize their experience. On rare occasion, a little one will point out that I am not looking directly at them. I slowly take off my glasses, wipe them on my sleeve, and quietly explain that I have a little "snow blindness." There is always at least one boy that thinks he needs to tug on my beard and a few will try to grab the book out of my gloved hand and run. That never works. Santa is strong. This jolly old gent will only let go of his books when he is good and ready.

The easiest part of my Santa job is to make books feel like the best present in the world. I understand that truth. I discovered science fiction in the sixth grade after reading "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. As a teenager, I used to take my weekly earnings from my part-time jobs and trek over to the B. Dalton Booksellers. I would usually buy about ten paperbacks on each visit and generously give them to myself. I collected everything written by Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and many others. I adore my books.

Over the years, as my vision faded, I moved to Braille and recorded media. Braille is great, but I have always been a very, very slow Braille reader. By the time I might finish a chapter, I could not remember how it began. Talking Books became my lifeline. Two of the earliest books I listened to on vinyl records were William L. Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" and James Clavell's "Shogun." I had to read. I even dragged my Library of Congress record player into the attic during a weeklong spring cleaning and listened to the entire collection of Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

When Talking Books moved to four-sided cassettes, I was able to carry my books wherever I went. And, I could push a slide on the bulky government-issued player and speed up the reading. This was fun only if you liked listening to Minnie Mouse.

Audio books finally found their way into my pocket with the APH BookPort and a new service called Audible. Beginning in 2004, I would visit the Audible website, find books I wished to purchase, and then download them to my device for local playback. That is much the same process for my iPhone today.

I read a lot of Audible books on my iPhone. Although purchases from Audible must still be made from their website, I spend most of my time inside the iPhone Audible app where I listen to my books. Once purchased, my books are permanently stored in my Audible Cloud library and easily accessed from the Audible app. When I want a book on my iPhone, I download it. When I finish it, I can delete it from my device. The permanent copy is always safe, ready to be downloaded again. I also find the Audible app is very stable and very accessible. Admittedly, I wish Audible could integrate the purchasing process into the app, but I am happy with how well almost everything else works.

Audible has a phenomenal collection of books, in many languages, along with old time radio shows, theatrical productions and lecture series. To satisfy my reading addiction, I chose to become a Platinum member, which means putting out a chunk of change to purchase 24 redeemable credits. The plan also comes with other benefits. For those who have busier lives and do not read as much, there are other Audible membership options. Almost all offerings on Audible can be bought with a single credit, which averages about $10 for Platinum members. When you find a book for $20, you use a credit. If you see something for $5, you use your credit card.

One of my first purchased Audible books was "Ringworld" by Larry Niven. Great book! I have read it in print, on vinyl, on cassette and now on my iPhone. In fact, I now read everything through my iPhone. The Audible icon sits on the top row of my Home screen where it is launched every day. My most current book is the latest private detective novel by Robert Galbraith, a pseudonym of J. K. Rowling. I have listened to all of her Harry Potter books, but it is fun to read this entirely different genre from the same author. At present, I am also reading "The Violin" by David Schoenbaum. I should note that the violin book will likely bore all but the most serious violin enthusiasts, but I am enjoying it. So many books, so little time. Fortunately, since I had overdosed on political news during the last several months and have now gone "cold turkey," I have even more time to bury my ears in good books.

My personal Audible library holds many surprises and I often rummage through the stacks looking for books I have not yet read, or to find something special that is worth revisiting. I get excited when I find totally unexpected nuggets in my collection. Dean R. Koontz is best known for novels that explore the supernatural, but my brother found a very moving tale the author wrote about his beloved Golden Retriever in "A Big Little Life." Stephen King, best known for the Overlook Hotel, raging psychopaths and pandemic plagues, wrote and personally narrated an excellent introspective for budding authors called "On Writing." Still, if you are looking for something that will kick your heart rate into high gear and leave you with goose bumps, just read about the spelunking in "Blind Descent," a novel by Nevada Barr. One particular scene in that book will stay with you for a very long time.

So many of my acquisitions are worth reading more than once. Some notables are "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson, "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies" by June Casagrande, and a worthy book set that cost me two credits, "Conspiracy of Fools" by Kurt Eichenwald.

However, if you need the occasional break from regular fiction or non-fiction, you can always find large Audible collections of old time radio. For instance, I have purchased a lot of "Dragnet," "Richard Diamond" and many episodes of "The Shadow." "Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men?" Audible knows. And, there are plenty of more recent dramatic audio productions to discover and enjoy. Searching through Audible is like hunting for treasure.

So, what do I plan to give me as a present this year? I'm thinking I'd like to renew my Platinum membership. That will be a nice gift. I'm easy to please.

Immersing myself in Audible books is always fun, but the greater joy still comes from my giving books to children while impersonating Santa Claus. I dearly love hearing the excitement in their voices as they try to quickly dictate their long lists of proposed gifts. My favorite was a young lady, who was perhaps seven or eight years old. My elves told me she was dressed in an immaculate red dress with a crisp white petticoat. Her hair had obviously been carefully curled and she had very festive ribbons tied in her hair. She approached Santa, absolutely confident in what she planned to share. I asked, as I often did, what gifts she might like to receive for the holidays. Not missing a beat, she replied with total self assurance, "An Easy Bake Oven, and diamonds."

*** G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University, Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.

Morgan is now happily retired again, taking more time to study string instruments and play his violin. Morgan has created 15 other blogs for AppleVis, including “No News is Good News: Breaking my iPhone news addiction”, “Lost In Space: Canes, dogs and my iPhone GPS apps” and “Sleeping With The Stars: Old Time Radio and my iPhone”.

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#1 Good blogger

You are a really good blogger.
Keep up the good work.
Happy hollidays.

#2 O man you're killing me!

Morgan, I'm like you in the sense I'm a bookworm & book/reading addict. The one difference is, that I read braille books!

One time, a book in a series that I really really love, came out on my birthday a few years ago. I looked at the list of books that were going to be released & when, & seen a book came out on my birthday. Naturally, I got giddy & thought `Yay! Birthday present for me!`

I use Bookshare & BARD. I use Bookshare the majority of the time for my braille books. I use BARD., for my audio books & braille books if they have them. But, I have recently started using Kindle from Amazon. I love it!

I didn't know another P.I. novel came out from J. K. Rowling! I'll get it!

O by the way Morgan, the series I was talking about is called Chicken Soup For The Soul. It's by Mark Victor Hansen, & Jack Canfield. They have other authors that write books for them too. I really like these books! My teacher from 7th grade told me about them, then I went on Bookshare, downloaded a few, read them &... was hooked! I'll give you the web site for the series. The web site is:

Please check out this series. Happy Holidays!

#3 RE: Blind Santa: Audible Books from me to me

Hello again Morgan:

What a delight to read your santa stories. I can just see that little vision of loveliness in red. It sounds like she's going to be a heart breaker and a woman of high maintainance and great class.

Thanks for sharing some book references. I also have many treasures from Audible in my library.

In case you haven't found this gem, Lee Stephen is writing the Epic series. The first book, Dawn of Destiny has been completed with a performance from a full cast. Only one word can describe the full cast version of the book, "incredible". It's a combination of SiFi and military action, with a side of romance thrown in. I haven't had a chance to read the next four books, but the first one kept me glued to my seat. Should you decide to read this, I hope that you are as enthralled as I was.

Thanks for a fabulous year-end read once again. Looking forward to your musings next year.

#4 A suggestion for app

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Rebel Girl,

Thank you for such a kind note.

I do enjoy writing these blogs, but for the sake of clarity and space, I usually feel compelled to trim extraneous branches that don't quite fit the narrative. I had so much fun reading through lists of my favorite books and then sharing a few of them, I clipped out one of my suggestions for future improvement. Rather than let this thought be forgotten on the Island of Misfit Text, here is one of my extracted dreams for the Audible app.

"Still, enhancements are always welcome. I'd love to be able to set different speeds for different books. Right now, there is plenty of flexibility in the reading rate, but when you change it for one book, that is what you get with all books until you change it again."

I hope you, your family, and friends all have a wonderful holiday,


#5 Awesome!

Hi Morgan and thanks for yet another brilliant post. I, too, am an avid reader but have been very busy as of late and not had much time for pleasure reading. I mostly use BARD and have one of the free NLS players. But I have read a couple things using my trusty MacBook Air. I absolutely cannot get enough of BARD, and I'm so looking forward to the Mac version of BARD Express if that'll ever be possible. If not that's okay with me, because I have found the BARD site a breeze. Or who knows, perhaps one of these years I'll get an iOS device. Those NLS players are truly awesome though. Here's wishing you and your family the best of the holiday season! , thanks for the Chicken Soup link. I've read some of those and really like them. I'll definitely check out their website when I have more time.

#6 Braille and Chicken Soup

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Dawn,

Thank you for your note. It is good to hear from you again.

I wish I had the talent to read Braille as fast as you. I love the tactile nature of it, but limit most of my reading by hand to the New York Times weekly Braille news magazine. The stories are short enough that I can actually finish something I've started.

Like you, I also enjoy BARD a lot. I have always appreciated the Talking Book program and still access many books and magazines through this wonderful Library of Congress service.

Finally, thanks for the reference to the "Chicken Soup" series. I have often heard of them, but have not yet read any of the offerings. Sounds like a worthwhile thing to check out. You present a powerful endorsement.

Dawn, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. And, thanks again for writing,


#7 Reading on iPhone

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I love using my iPhone for reading. I like how easy it is to get most books at the same time as everyone else, in a format I enjoy reading, and I can have as many books as I want without them taking up any space. I still get frustrated sometimes when I can't find a book I want on an accessible service, but we've come a long way.

I use a combination of iBooks, Kindle and Audible. Here in the UK the RNIB provides an audiobook library through the overdrive service, and I'm a member, but I never use it because I find that the overdrive app isn't as easy to use as the others. I also have the Librivox app, for audio books of texts that are out of copyright, but I haven't explored their collection much. I'd like to, though. There are, of course, lots of sites where DRM-free versions of out of copyright texts can be obtained.

My collection is a mess because there's no real logic to which store I buy each book from. Sometimes a book I want is only available on one of those services. Sometimes AI buy it on whichever is cheaper. Sometimes I buy from whichever I happen to be browsing at the moment. I want to organise my collection, but there's no way of putting all those books in one app. As a general rule, I use audiobooks for fiction and Ebooks for nonfiction, but there are quite a few exceptions to that. I've recently bought Ebook copies of a few of my favourite works of fiction so I can examine the text in detail and easily find and reread favourite passages. If I'm likely to want to refer back to different parts of the book and skip to particular chapters or look up quotes from it, I'll want it as an Ebook. In an audiobook, though, having a human narrator can add to the experience, (there's nothing quite like being read to), and often makes dialogues easier to follow. And, as you mentioned, Audible also has radio dramas and lecture series.

I'm also a slow braille reader (I don't know whether I'm slower than average; quite possibly, because I'm out of practice, but slower than I'm willing to deal with in any case) so I always found braille reading a bit of a chore. But with Ebooks and audiobooks I can focus on the content, not on the process of reading.

#8 Platinum and diamonds

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Roxann,

It is always a delight to hear from you. Thanks for writing!

Your reaction to the little girl all decked out for Santa was the same reaction that my elves had when she first presented her wish list. Thanks for the smiles.

OK, you have helped me out in another way. I was impressed by your recommendation of "Dawn of Destiny." So, I went to the Audible website and bought it. And, gee whiz, I was suddenly out of credits! However, as I had been thinking of gifting myself another Platinum Audible membership, I went ahead and did it. Blind Santa came through again.

Roxann, your notes are always much appreciated. They are a part of what motivates me to write for AppleVis.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday.

Warm wishes from the North Pole,


#9 NLS Players

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear Ekaj,

I have also enjoyed the portable players that are provided by NLS for use with BARD books. Fortunately, each generation of playback machine gets smaller and lighter. The big red record players were great, but did not have built-in batteries. You were always limited to having an electrical socket or extension cord at the ready. The bright yellow cassette players had the battery, but could still be used for weight lifting. The new players for digital books are really quite nice.

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the feedback.

See you next year,


#10 Dylan Thomas on Audible

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Dear LC3249,

I really enjoyed your note. I, too, have books from a large number of sources in a multitude of formats. Organizing all of my information resources is not yet possible. But, like you, I am grateful to have such incredible access to almost everything I want.

On a different note, you do sound like a more accomplished Braille reader than I am. I have the complete skill set, and can read anything, but I am slow even on elevators. Thank goodness for Audible and all the other great services.

I hope you have a very pleasant holiday. Some day, I want to be on your side of the Atlantic at this time of year. One of my favorite poems of all time is "A Child's Christmas in Wales." Magnificent! It was written by Dylan Thomas and I own an Audible copy where Dylan Thomas actually narrates his own work. I absolutely love it!

Thanks again for writing. It was good to hear from you.