Audiobooks. More specifically, audiobook narrators and the ability of said narrators to make or break an audiobook experience. I was going to try to do this without naming names, but I’ve never before shied away from being upfront about what I don’t like, so why would I now? I think it stemmed from some feeling that it wasn’t the narrators’ fault(s) if an audiobook didn’t work for me, but it is–kind of, anyway. I have experienced narrators who try too hard to do different voices for the characters and end up being distracting for me–such as the narrator of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad–and it can all but ruin a book that I would otherwise enjoy. And not every book is easily adaptable to the audio format. For example, Lincoln in the Bardo not only has a fairly sizable cast of characters, but epigraphs and footnotes, all of which seemed to have their own narrator and, for this listener, it was more confusing than helpful.
But those are the exceptions, not the rule and a different listener will more than likely have a different reaction than I did.
I have found that there are things that really work for me as a listener. I like authors who narrate their own books; not just memoirs, but fiction, too. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a prime example of an author being perhaps the best narrator for their own work. More recently, though, I quite enjoyed Mur Lafferty’s performance of her mystery-in-space Six Wakes, and I was charmed and enthralled by Joshilyn Jackson’s soft Southern cadences as she narrated her book The Almost Sisters. On the memoir side, there’s Julie Andrews’s lovely voice telling stories of her childhood and young adulthood in Home. And Al Franken being his smart, funny, and honest self in the , oh-so-humbly titled Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.
I also find that I generally like multiple narrators, especially when a book is told from multiple POVs. (Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know what I said about Lincoln in the Bardo, but that was because of footnotes and maybe too many narrators. Or maybe it was just me and bad timing and remember what I said about exceptions to the rule and stuff?) In fact, my two most recent listens were just such multiple POV/multiple narrator books: Jodi Lynn Anderson’s Midnight at the Electric and Rob Reid’s After On, both of which alternate chapters or sections between POVs and the multiple narrators helped me with transitions since I didn’t have chapter or section headings to “warn” me of the switches.
And, sometimes, someone in casting finds the exactly right narrator for a book. Like Ron McClarty narrating Gaiman’s American Gods, which was just the right voice for the story. Or Wil Wheaton narrating Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One which is, let’s face it, a nerd-perfect pairing. And Tim Curry narrating…anything, really. But, more specifically, he has just the right voice and tone to bring Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events to dark, delicious life.
But, the one audiobook that just knocked my socks off, both in terms of the text itself and the amazing performance of its narrator was Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. Not only is this a story that everyone needs to read, but Bahni Turpin did an outstanding job. Oddly, she is the same narrator who did The Underground Railroad and whose character voices got so distracting for me. Here, though, she finds the right voice for each character and the listening experience was powerful and immersive. If you haven’t read or listened to this book yet, I highly recommend it.
I’m probably going to be doing this commuting thing for a while, so I’m grateful that libro.fm has an extensive selection because having someone tell me a story helps the drive go faster and probably keeps me from swearing more than I already do.
Billie Bloebaum may listen to digital audiobooks on her commute, but she still owns several on CD, as well, but finally got rid of the cassettes. She works at Third Street Books in McMinnville, OR.