I didn’t realize I had so many foreign words in my book.
When David Shih, the reader for the audio version of my book, 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan, contacted me to confirm pronunciations in my book, I thought it would be for a few dozen Japanese names and words.
David sent me a list of over 330 words, phrases and names to confirm. Suddenly, I realized that the world of reading was different from the world of listening.
When you read 10.54 seconds, do you say “ten point five four seconds,” or “ten and fifty four one hundredth seconds”? When you read the year 2020, do you say “twenty twenty, or ” “two thousand and twenty”?
The writer of a book leaves the pronunciation to you. The reader of an audio book does not have that luxury. When asked how to actually say names and words like Kurfürstendamm Strasse, Anton Geesink, Boris Shakhlin, or Ranatunge Koralage Jayasekara Karunananda, I must admit – I had to guess. I assumed I was worldly enough to get pronunciations right or close enough, particularly the Japanese ones.
Thankfully, David looked into the pronunciations as well, thanked me for providing my feedback, but also indicating very clearly that my pronunciation was incorrect on “a few”. It was more than a few, and David showed me his research on why a particular name or word was pronounced in a certain way. He even corrected my pronunciation on a Japanese word.
After receiving that feedback, my confidence level in David went through the roof! David is a professional in his craft, as an actor, a narrator of documentaries and as a reader of audio books. He has appeared in a wide variety of American television and film productions, as you can see below.
But when my audio publisher, Tantor Audio, asked me to consider David, I saw that he had read for a book I really like: Strangers from a Different Shore, by Ronald Takaki, which tells the stunning history and stories of Asians emigrating to America. David’s reading of Takaki’s book brought the experience of my grandfather alive for me, and so I very quickly said yes to Tantor’s recommendation of David.
David, like me, is Asian American, but unlike me, he grew up in an area where there were not so many Asians. I was raised in New York City, the ultimate melting pot. We both grew up identifying more as Americans, than Asian Americans, but for different reasons.
In a place like New York, you are surrounded by so many different ethnicities that you quickly realize you have more friends outside your own particular ethnic “brand” than inside. The way you affiliate with your friends are through your neighborhood, your school or your sports teams. It wasn’t until I left the US for Japan in 1986 that I began to identify with my Japanese side. I was 23 years old and I finally learned how to pronounce my own family name, the first of many revelations about my family culture.
As David explained to me via email, he grew up in “a small Midwestern town with little diversity and very few Asians. I found myself trying to blend in and felt very disconnected from that part of my identity.”
I used to think of myself as an American just like everyone else I grew up with. I considered myself an actor, not an Asian American actor. But at that time, the type of roles that were available to Asian actors were extremely limited and tended to be very stereotypical: restaurant delivery boy, deli owner, doctor, tourist, etc.
There were virtually no Asians on TV or in movies, and the ones that you saw were frequently humiliating caricatures, like Long Duk Dong from “Sixteen Candles” not to mention all the Asian roles that were played by White actors. There wasn’t much to look up to. Suddenly, I was confronted with being an Asian American actor and what that meant. At first, it felt very limiting and was difficult to embrace. But things started changing over time, and slowly more and more roles became available to Asian actors that would not have been when I started.
David is not a sports fan, but I’m glad he enjoyed reading my book. He cited the stories about the underdogs and overcoming adversity – the Sri Lankan runner who came in dead last in the 10,000 meter race, or the American swimmer Dick Roth who avoided the surgeon’s knife to win the individual medley, or the story Hungarian canoeist, Andras Toro, who had to make the life-changing decision to defect to America or not.
I think this plurality of stories is what I really loved about this book. For me, the Olympics aren’t simply about competitions between nations to see who’s the best. It’s a moment where a remarkably diverse group of people with vastly different backgrounds, experiences and circumstances come together to find the best in themselves. Sometimes it’s found on the field of competition and sometimes it’s found off the field. Even Japan itself, rose to the occasion and found just what it was capable of both as a nation and as a people.
I am proud to have David read my book. His resonant actor’s voice gave me chills when I first heard him read my words.
I hope you agree.
David Shih is a New York based actor. His theater credits include The Great Wave (Berkeley Rep); Henry VI: Shakespeare’s Trilogy in Two Parts, Awake and Sing!, [veil widow conspiracy] (NAATCO); KPOP (Ars Nova); Somebody’s Daughter (Second Stage); Tiger Style! (La Jolla Playhouse); Bike America (Ma-Yi Theatre Co.); Crane Story (The Playwrights Realm). His television credits include “Hunters,” “Billions,” “City on a Hill,” “Iron Fist,” “The Path,” “Blindspot,” “Elementary,” “Madam Secretary,” “The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” And his film credits include All the Little Things We Kill, Mr. Sushi, Eighth Grade, Fan Girl, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Saving Face. He narrated the History Channel documentary China’s First Emperor and the Discovery Networks series Royal Inquest, voiced the character of Eddie Toh in the hit video game Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar Games), and is a critically acclaimed audiobook narrator. He also works with Only Make Believe performing for children in hospitals and care facilities.