“If I’d known I was going to have to say this whole book out loud...”
November 16, 2019 8:23 PM   Subscribe

Your throat hurts. Your brain hurts: the secret life of the audiobook star On what it actually takes to be an audiobook narrator.
posted by ocherdraco (60 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Yep. I did the audio for my book, which was about 450 pages. It was a week and a half of really, really hard work. You drink a lot of LaCroix and you eat a lot of apple slices because the LaCroix helps the thirst but only the apple slices help the dry mouth. If you are a naturally fast talker ilke me the voice in your earpiece is yelling "PACING!" a couple of times a minute. And of course, reading it aloud, you see every typo, every poorly formed phrase, everything you should have seen and fixed in your manuscript.

I'm glad I did it, though. For one thing, the studio where Nirvana first recorded Nevermind was available and how could I pass up the chance to record there?
posted by escabeche at 8:30 PM on November 16, 2019 [71 favorites]

Now I want to sound "lightly gravelled"!
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:02 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

wot, no Simon Vance — former BBC newsreader, now narrator of over 750 audio books? We're sailing along in his colossal 29 disc unabridged Bleak House, and it's joyful. Even though this was one of his earlier readings, he performs it immensely well.

The article's right about Lincoln in the Bardo, though: it's a grand OTT spectacle of a reading.

(I've always wanted to do this. If anyone needs a book read in a slightly nasal Scottish accent, I'm yer man!)
posted by scruss at 9:07 PM on November 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

and no fluffers
posted by Auden at 11:10 PM on November 16, 2019 [4 favorites]

Never going to be a star with this. But, being determined to read Theo Jr.'s bedtime stories with different voice for each character, I can only say that it is nutso difficult to create, distinguish, and reasonably inflect multiple voices for a story. Wait, is this Ben's voice? Warren? Chip?

Luckily, Theo Jr. was happy to let this struggle be a meta-aspect of bedtime stories, since he called me on my inconsistencies all the time. "Yeah, Dad, is that Cyrus or Woodchuck??" And it carried over into (likely uncharitably) critiquing narrators on audiobooks for our family road trips. But it get it! If the goal is a well enunciated script with clearly distinguishable characters, creating voices that speak with too much immediate emotion makes that really difficult.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 11:33 PM on November 16, 2019 [6 favorites]

When I was in college back in the stone age, I worked as a reader for visually impaired students. It was only a chapter at a time from many different books depending on the students' assignments. So, I would go and pick up a few books and one of those old school cassette payer/recorders that look like a flat box so I was my own sound guy (click, rewind, click, read, click rewind fix mistake, forever). I got a lot of compliments for my readings because I was emotive. It was hard, but cool because I had the chance to read all kinds of things not in my major. But yeah, talking continuously for a few hours is work, but I had worked for a telephone relay for speech and hearing impaired folks before this job and did that for 10 hour shifts, so I had a little background for it. I would really love to try to do this job but I think I lost the window.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 11:40 PM on November 16, 2019 [12 favorites]

I'm a big fan of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels in their audiobook versions. The actor Will Patton has narrated over 20 of these now, and always does a superb job. Hard to imagine any other voice that could conjure Burke's Louisiana world so perfectly.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:53 AM on November 17, 2019

Years ago, I recorded two short stories onto CD for my wife's birthday (Terry Pratchett's "Troll Bridge" and Sue Grafton's "The Parker Shotgun") and even that minimum amount of characters was exhausting. And it's because Jim Dale had to do 143 different voices for the Harry Potter books that I forgive him for making Ginny Weasley in the later books sound like she was chain smoking Marlboros the whole time.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:09 AM on November 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

I love to listen to Bill Bryson. The combination of his accents- Iowa youth, long time in UK, and then New England. I like Simon Vance, too. But I really miss Frank Muller.
I wonder how they find the time to record. I listened to War and Peace, and it was over 50 cassetes.
And the voices for different characters. My daughter can do that, but she's in theater.
My favorite example now is in The Outsider (another great Will Patton recording), when the detective calls up his old friend and a woman answers the phone, and as soon as 'she' speaks, I knew it was Holly, from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.
posted by MtDewd at 4:15 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wonder how they find the time to record.

Well, look how much time people spend driving trucks or processing insurance claims or whatever else they do for money
posted by thelonius at 4:41 AM on November 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

I haven’t listened to many audiobooks, but I did just listen to Lincoln in the Bardo, which was a tour de force. Nick Offerman and David Sedaris’s performances of George Saunders’s words brought me to tears as I drove to and from work. The weak link was George Saunders himself, who performed a character with a particularly intense and significant chapter around the midway point, which could have used a better actor.

An audiobook I listened to in 2012 that put me off audiobooks for a long time was Ron Perlman reading Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain. Sounded like an excellent match, but Perlman’s threatening growl reciting GdT’s portentous purple prose got to be too much. When Perlman attempted a light falsetto for the one woman character I had to turn it off.
posted by ejs at 4:49 AM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I do most of my pleasure reading on audiobooks these days. When done well, they are amazing; when done poorly, they are excruciating. Some of that is personal preference — there are books I’ve returned unfinished because the reader didn’t gel with me. They seemed perfectly competent but not good for me. Others are just objectively bad. I’d say Emily Woo Zeller is at the top of that list, having narrated a couple of books I wanted to hear. Her delivery is simultaneously flat and overly excited, leaving me agitated and exhausted. Any Landon did a terrible job with White Fragility, chopping the text up into weird chunks that made the non-fiction prose hard to follow.

There are loads of good readers. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is fantastic in the Peter Grant series. Moira Quirk navigated the over-the-top space gothic Gideon the Ninth with grace, allowing the underlying humanity to show through. Suzy Jackson’s narration on the twisty The Drowning Girl helps keep the self-aware unreliable narration focused and followable.

Interestingly, the few screen actors I’ve listed to are just average. The author Mary Robinette Kowal is, on the other hand, pretty good. A lot of non fiction writers are pretty good readers of their own work, with Julia Serano, Brad Warner, and Nadia Bolz-Weber coming to mind.

The most disruptive thing, however, is when a series changes readers and the new reader does not listen to the previous recordings and alters pronunciations of words and names. It’s a constant grating change. Yeesh.

Sometimes, the audio can make things easier — if I’d had to read Moore’s Jerusalem, I don’t think I would have finished it. Conversely, it made the first 50 pages of Ancillary Justice really hard to parse....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:04 AM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

I will almost, but not quite, engage in a particular audiobook simply because Simon Vance is reading it. [Sadly this didn't work for Viriconium.]

I have even stronger feelings for Shelly Frasier who narrated William Gibson's Pattern Recognition and Mary Roach's Stiff, both of which I adored and both of which were made 1000% better in her reading. I would listen to her read big chunks of the US tax code.

On the other side of the discussion: I have occasionally downloaded from Librivox and very much enjoyed the works of Jerome K Jerome and at least one Dickens book on this basis. Then I took it upon myself to listen to Heart of Darkness; the first four chapters were British readers but unusually in my experience to that point they were all DIFFERENT readers, which was somewhat jarring. The fifth reader was a woman from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan judging from her accent, and it took me so far out of the experience that I had to stop. [the fact that I found the book tough sledding anyway didn't help much]
posted by hearthpig at 5:23 AM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Nick Sullivan does all the readings of William Gaddis' work and these are astonishing.
posted by chavenet at 5:45 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

This was in interesting article, thank you. I have tried and failed to enjoy audio books because I just can't handle the reader's voice or style. With two notable exceptions: Bill Bryson as already mentioned, and Neil Gaiman reading his own work is magical. He has posted The Graveyard Book on youtube, chapter by chapter.
But so far have always chosen the book first, without regard to who was reading. I will have to try some based on the narrators recommended here.
posted by evilmomlady at 6:26 AM on November 17, 2019

That is an interesting article, thank you for posting.

I'm pretty forgiving of readers on audiobooks as long as they are speaking clearly and I can follow, but there have been a couple of books that I had to stop because of repeated mispronunciations of what seemed to me to be basic words. There was one book (by I think Don Wilson) that was set near the US/Mexico border and referenced places in Mexico, where the reader kept pronouncing Mexican place names as if they were in English (e.g., pronouncing the J in Jalisco like in "John"). It kept bothering me more and more and I turned it off fairly quickly.

There was another article a little while back (in an FPP here possibly?) about how most of the reading opportunities go to male voices, leaving women with fewer opportunities.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:36 AM on November 17, 2019

I was bored one night, and decided to do a live streamed bedtime story reading of "Metamorphosis", thinking it was a pretty short read and shouldn't be too hard.

Took me about 3 hours, and at the end I was giving Gregor Samsa's insect voice whole new levels of authenticity.

Much respect to those who do it for a living.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 7:18 AM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

I grew up on Seattle-area NPR stations, waiting for the evening audio drama half-hour slot (ZBS productions one day a week, with other fare rotated around, sometimes including old George and Gracie episodes or something). The regular daily show before that was Dick Estell's Radio Reader.

I learned a few things from having it on in the background:
  1. Bowdlerising a story for family radio hour didn't need to be obvious. You could slip in "so-and-so" or "private part" in inoccuous-sounding ways that seemed like the original author intended it.
  2. A baritone can do "women's" roles easily without going into falsetto: just soften the voice, sigh a bit more into it, and keep within your natural register (if a bit at the top end of it). There's no need to squeak!
I've often considered taking up narration work. There's apparently decent money in US accented voices here in London, although I really worry that I've gone a bit mid-Atlantic thanks to my English-born daughter. I did a couple short stints to help out a friend who's a documentary filmmaker, and got to watch a pro voiceover artist at work. I've been tempted just to volunteer for a fiction podcast and see where it takes me.

I made a point to do distinct voices for characters while reading novels for bedtime for my daughter. I did Swallows and Amazons, Treasure Island, His Dark Materials and a bunch of other novels. I always tried to remember how Dick Estell did it, and not try to affect an accent or register that is too far from my instincts, but just colour the edges of it all.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 7:27 AM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

The actor Will Patton has narrated over 20 of these now, and always does a superb job.

Patton is the greatest. I have about 400 audible books and his are among my favorites to listen to over and over again. His readings of Denis Johnson's works are especially great. Jesus' Son and Train Dreams are available together for a single credit and are well worth it. He also does a great job with Deliverance and Light in August.
posted by dobbs at 7:31 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Audiobooks are basically Eldritch abominations that occasionally end up sublime but never on purpose. As someone who eye-reads a lot - about 70-80 books every year, split evenly between fiction and nonfiction - I've been very surprised to find myself absolutely unable to get into eye-reading some books which I've loved in audiobook format. Prime example: anything by Margaret Atwood. The MaddAddam audiobook trilogy narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Bob Walter, and Robbie Daymond is among my favorite books ever, but jesus christ it's impossible to get through twelve pages of the paperback I eagerly bought after loving the audiobook so much.

And it's not like I can easily point to what makes a reader transform a book into something worth listening to. Consider Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, read by Kristoffer Tabori. The book won a Pulitzer. The audiobook won every award ever, including the Audie. When I listened to the audiobook, I came away with the strangest impression that here was a star narrator/reader who was amazing and talented, but christ what an asshole! It was like I could hear his supercilious contempt for the listener dripping through the earphones. Here was the voice of the Quintessential Platonic Ideal of the Mansplainer.

I have listened to Kristoffer Tabori many other times and found him utterly engaging as a reader. So I assumed it must be the book! The stupid book probably had this tone. I avoided reading it forever... but when I finally tried, I loved it. It was just fine.

Something about the alchemy of that book and that reader - both of which/whom were wonderful on their own - transformed the audiobook of Middlesex into nails-on-the-blackboard for me.

It sounds ridiculous but that's how it is. Audiobooks are creatures of a strange and forbidding magic. I circle around each of them warily before approaching, nowadays. You never know.
posted by MiraK at 7:54 AM on November 17, 2019 [5 favorites]

David Suchet (British actor) reading Ruth Rendell's 'The Lake of Darkness' gave me chills. I had to switch the lights on in my hotel room while I was listening.

Tony Robinson reading Discworld was my intro to audiobooks and still a great comfort listen. Listening to Oryx and Crake in a library basement while moving books and adding securing tags, then occasionally popping out into the sunshine for a break is still such a strong experience that I felt enhanced reading the book later. Can't figure out who read it though - this was back when it came out in the UK and it was on CD.

Such a skill to be able to do this properly - good article!
posted by sedimentary_deer at 7:55 AM on November 17, 2019

I started listening to audiobooks of the Inspector Gamache series a while ago. It’s set in Quebec and the reader, Ralph Cosham, did an amazing job with the characters and the French. And then he died! They chose a British actor who doesn’t do a French accent to resume the series and it took a couple of books for me to adjust. It’s just not the same.
posted by bq at 8:19 AM on November 17, 2019

I have a lot of respect for James Marsters, who has done the audiobook version of every Dresden Files novel (15 and counting, plus short stories). And apparently I'm not the only one, because when the 13th book Ghost Story was published in 2011, Marsters apparently wasn't available so they got the equally cool John Glover.

Fans were just. Not. Having it.

So in 2015 Marsters went back in to re-record that book and has continued to be the voice of the series thus far.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don't record my own audiobooks, but like lots of writers I do public readings. It works out to roughly 1200 words per 10 minutes, reading live so no do-overs if I stumble or mispronounce. Half an hour is fine. 50 minutes of reading aloud is a little trying. I do not enjoy a 50 minute reading followed immediately by a 50 minute kaffeeklatch—at the end of it I don't want to talk for the rest of the day. One of my novels would be roughly 20 of those 50 minute readings, plus do-over time for infelicitations and do-overs: I can't even.

(Easter egg time: if you're in the UK and buy the Hachette Digital/RNIB audiobook versions of "The Atrocity Archives" or "The Jennifer Morgue" ... that's me, reading the afterword to each book. Which was more than enough, thank you.)
posted by cstross at 8:35 AM on November 17, 2019 [15 favorites]

I've really fallen hard for audiobooks as I find myself spending more time traveling or walking -- I walk a lot for exercise, and would much rather listen to a book than music. It occurred to me some time ago that it would take a real talent not only to bring a narrative to life, but just to read through the words without skipping a beat, misspeaking, or just getting exhausted. I've listened to a few novelizations of old films that were uploaded to YouTube, and the wonderful love-of-the-game folks who record those will occasionally trip over words or, and I feel this, just sigh before leaning into an especially dense thicket of text. I get it. That would probably be me, too.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2019

GenjiandProust and I have completely reversed views of two narrators, but I think project and context have a lot to do with it.

Emily Woo Zeller is one of my favourites for All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's Fault and They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded by James Alan Gardner. Her voice is just right for the bewildered and sardonic young women in this series. But I can see how her voice may not work in other books. (I just tried an excerpt of her reading of the Marie Kondo book and -- hard pass. HARD pass.)

Meanwhile, Mary Robinette Kowal, who I admire as a writer, has her audio niche, too. She has a beautiful speaking voice and sounds great on Writing Excuses and some other projects. But when she narrated anyone but an American woman in Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, it was unbearable. I had to switch to the print version at intervals, then catch up with the audiobook when I was on the move, because she couldn't make gender swaps or different accents work at all.
posted by maudlin at 8:51 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Rivers of London (Midnight Riot in the States) series by Ben Aaronovitch is fantastic, but the audiobooks read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is my go to recommendation for how a good reader can open up dimensions in a story you wouldn’t have known were there. Navigating class, race, and a wide variety of regional accents Kobna makes every character their own person, it’s an amazing feat and I will get every audiobook the day it comes out because he does such a phenomenal job.
posted by lepus at 8:56 AM on November 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

Others are just objectively bad.
I’d say Emily Woo Zeller is at the top of that list, (...)
Her delivery is simultaneously flat and overly excited, leaving me agitated and exhausted.

That's interesting cause the audiobook version of Marie Kondo's TLCM, narrated by Emily Woo Zeller, is one of my favorites. I think I like her delivery because it's fairly smooth.

Where I grew up (Poland in the 1980s) it was usual to watch foreign movies with a lector (so that the original dialogue was mostly audible) and I think it has shaped my taste to a degree. Emily has a pleasant voice IMO.
posted by M. at 8:57 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

My wife and I have been listening to the Inspector Montalbano books as read by Grover Gardner. Recently she started listening to "The Rise and Fall the of Third Reich", and it has has been quite jarring to hear the same voice we associate with the Sicilian detective now quoting Hitler.
posted by 445supermag at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2019

Even though it doesn't have the full text of tables, I believe John Hodgman's audio versions of his books The Areas of My Expertise, More Information Than You Require, and That is All are the definitive versions. The books do not contain troubadour Jonathan Coulton's theme song to "Dick Van Patten's Hobo Chili for Dogs," I rest my case.

There are a couple of readers of Terry Pratchett's novels, but I think on the whole I prefer Nigel Planer's readings. His interpretation of Vimes during Thud is particularly good.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:09 AM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Interestingly, the few screen actors I’ve listed to are just average.

I've noticed this a lot, in the context of animated movies and shows. There's a difference in acting visually vs. acting strictly with one's voice; while some screen actors can do both it's not an automatic guarantee that all of them can. I've listened to some very talented screen actors fall flat when doing voice-over work. I really admire talented voice actors/readers.

I'm interested in getting into voice acting/audiobook narration/etc. as a second career (as I slowly approach obsolescence in my first one). I've got a good mic, and I've done a bit of work on Librivox that was well-received. I think I could do well enough at it to make a modest living, but I haven't figured out yet how to get that ball rolling. Advice welcomed via MeMail...
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:07 AM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Perhaps a dumb question: Do narrators cringe at the sound of their own recorded voices the way most people do?

When hearing myself in a recording, I often think I sound terrible, because of the way we hear our own voices differently than others do. I believe this is pretty common among people in general, as we are accustomed to hearing our voices via the same physical heads that our voices are coming out of. So we have a sense of our own voices that's warped by the reverberations inside our skulls, and the fact that our ears are so close to out mouths. (I'm perhaps not describing this 100% correctly, but bear with me)

How do voice actors perceive their own voices? Do they just become accustomed to hearing their own voices in editing and it starts to sound natural to them? Or does it always sound weird and off to them, and they simply cope with it because it's a job with its own challenges like any other job?
posted by SoberHighland at 11:25 AM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

MetaFilter: an especially dense thicket of text
posted by oulipian at 11:28 AM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you want to get started in reading audiobooks, you can always talk to your local non-profit recorders of talking books for the blind/vision impaired/print disabled. We often have aspiring and established actors volunteering in our studios.
posted by giltay at 11:37 AM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

I tend to find fault with every Sherlock Holmes-related thing out there, but the Simon Vance Complete Holmes is fantastic, so good it makes the subway tolerable.

Recording for long periods of time is difficult for me because I start doing a weird mid-atlantic accent that I don't hear until I listen later--it's like my subconscious mind tells my tongue to go ahead and unleash the 1930s Bette Davis.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:44 AM on November 17, 2019

If you are a naturally fast talker ilke me the voice in your earpiece is yelling "PACING!" a couple of times a minute.

Can you narrate audiobooks for me? I love listening to fast talkers. Since there’s a 1.5X and 2X setting I bet I’m not alone.
posted by Monochrome at 12:19 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wrote an epistolary short story (business emails and text messages between team members and executives working on a technology product that was killing people) for the anthology Welcome to Dystopia. To my view, the business messages came off as dry and vague and the story disappointed me in print. It was even worse when I tried to read it at a public reading! But for the audiobook, Bob Siegal made the story fascinating, with each voice distinctive. I could not find any of his other narrations on Audible, but he's listed on Voices.com. If you are looking for an energetic, compelling narrator for science fiction, fantasy, or thriller, he's your guy.
posted by Ellie Pascoe at 12:58 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I tend to find fault with every Sherlock Holmes-related thing out there

They're full-cast dramatisations rather than audio books, but I always think the BBC radio adaptions with Clive Merrison as Holmes are very good.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do nonfiction almost exclusively for audiobook listening. For some reason, I have real trouble listening to fiction, unless I've already read it. It's something about how the points that is rush into seem to be drawn out. There are a few exceptions, most notably Lois McMaster Bujold and Seannan Mcguire (Kowalski narrates most if not all of her Toby Day series and is fantastic, I knew her first as a performer before I read her work.), but on the whole I find myself skipping ahead and backtracking to the narrator, something I actually don't do when just reading. It gets disruptive.

Nonfiction though, that's easier. In fact is generally easier for me to listen to nonfiction than to read it.

Because this amused me, even though it made it unlistenable, my worst listen was the Libre Vox of Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War. The first narrator pronounced his name as Thu-sy-die-tees. The pronunciation grated on my ears too much to continue. I love the idea of Libre Vox, I just wish they'd provided a pronunciation guide.
posted by Hactar at 1:48 PM on November 17, 2019

If we're bringing up pronunciation gems, the narrator to Children of Men pronounced "ideal" not as "eye-DEAL" the way nearly everyone pronounces it, but "ID-ee-ull". As in, "related to the id".

It blew my mind and I missed most of the rest of that chapter just wondering about it.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:24 PM on November 17, 2019

The 54-hour-long unabridged audiobook for Pynchon's Against The Day was utterly glorious and after 4 attempts at reading the novel listening to it was the only way I could finally get through it.

It also sort of broke me about listening to audiobooks. But man, I really loved it. Read by Dick Hill who did a zillion character voices which seemed consistent to me across the entire runtime. A glance at his page on Amazon shows me he mostly does airport thrillers, so this must have been quite the project and departure for him.
posted by hippybear at 3:06 PM on November 17, 2019

My favorite audiobook readers these days are Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. They are married and both do the audiobook thing. I encountered them for the first time listening to Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive series and was SO THRILLED to see that they also did the full Wheel of Time, which I am re-visiting now as well. It's really nice having a man and woman doing epic fantasy with swapping PoV chapters.
posted by lazaruslong at 3:41 PM on November 17, 2019

All you Audible subscribers, if you haven’t used up your Audible Original credits yet, check out one of this month’s offerings, Midnight Son by James Dommek Jr. It’s a true crime story that takes place in the villages and wilds of Alaska. He narrates it himself in the first person (with a lot of supporting audio recordings) and it sounds for all the world like he’s just telling you this story in a mutual friend’s backyard over a case of cheap beer. Which is exactly the tone required for the story. It’s wonderful.
posted by ejs at 3:57 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed Lenny Henry's reading of Anansi Boys.
posted by elizilla at 4:25 PM on November 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

hey for audible people too I know this might be common knowledge but it 100% was NOT for me:

you have up to a YEAR to return audiobooks purchased on audible, INCLUDING ones with credits.

from what i have read, don't overuse it or you might get flagged but generally, ou're fine which is pretty major. i've gotten mileage out of my credits due to this. it's a little annoying (can't do it through the app, e.g.) but it's totally worth it if you are flush with love for literature and short on $ like me
posted by lazaruslong at 5:45 PM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Lenny Henry is AMAZING when he reads Anansi Boys. One of my all-time favorites. But then again, I'm one of the few folks who really doesn't care for Neil Gaiman's voice. His narration is fine, but something about his voice itself just irritates me a little.

Also a big Will Patton fan. I sat up till 3 am to listen to him reading Deliverance.

And recently I was able to listen to Diane Setterfield's Once Upon a River read by Juliet Stevenson. She absolutely made that book MAGICAL with her narration.

And I listened to an audiobook earlier this year that the narrator absolutely RUINED for me. I think it may have been an ok book if I'd eye-read it, but I ended up just hate-listening to the end, just to know what happened. I won't name the narrator, because I'm sure it's mostly just me being irritated by the use of quivering voices to indicate emotion. I really hate that shit.
posted by Archer25 at 5:56 PM on November 17, 2019

> Read by Dick Hill who did a zillion character voices which seemed consistent to me across
> the entire runtime. A glance at his page on Amazon shows me he mostly does
> airport thrillers<

Dick Hill reads a lot of better than average Police Procedurals (Bosch, Wallander, etc) which maybe rise above "airport thriller" a little. They are books I unjoy outside of the context of an airport anyway.

Unfortunately, I listened to a few of Goodkind's The Sword of Truth books narrated by Hill, and the book were so bad that it has basically ruined me for his narrations (which are otherwise quite good). And in the meantime, Goodkind's books were actually recorded again with different narrators since, so hopefully others won't share my fate.
posted by 3j0hn at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2019

I listen to more podcasts than I do audiobooks per se.
But my whole family adores Jim Dale's Harry Potter.
posted by doctornemo at 6:03 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

How is Librivox as an onramp for voice recording?
posted by doctornemo at 6:04 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

They're full-cast dramatisations rather than audio books, but I always think the BBC radio adaptions with Clive Merrison as Holmes are very good.

Clive Merrison is my #2 Holmes (after Jeremy Brett), but the scripts add in a few too many Holmes/Watson picnics for me.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2019

The 54-hour-long unabridged audiobook for Pynchon's Against The Day was utterly glorious

Giant modernist tomes like Thomas Pynchon's are the ideal case for audiobooks. The talented voice of George Guidall (who looks eerily like Sean Connery) is the only thing that got me through Mason & Dixon, and I ended up enjoying it immensely, but I know I would have stalled out if I'd tried to read 800 pages of 18th-century spelling.

Back in the '90s, I used to have an hour-long commute twice a day on a rural interstate highway, which was perfect for Books On Tape. The public library didn't have a lot of choices, so I ended up listening to all sorts of serendipitous surprises that I'd never read otherwise!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 6:47 PM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

But my whole family adores Jim Dale's Harry Potter.

stephen fry forever i will fight your whole family then serve them pumpkin pasties
posted by lazaruslong at 6:52 PM on November 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter was, for me, like having a favorite uncle sitting next to me every night gently reading favorite stories to me. It was utterly delightful.

Granted, I've been a Fry fan for decades, and have followed him through thick and thin (he's never been thin), and so this was A Bit Of A Thing For Me.

Until only recently did even learn that Fry didn't do the audiobooks for all the English-speaking parts of the globe! I'm American and ended up with Fry and didn't know there was a localized alternate. BECAUSE WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER WANT ANYONE OTHER THAN STEPHEN FRY TO READ THEM HARRY POTTER BOOKS?

Okay, *whew*. Got a bit emotional there.
posted by hippybear at 7:06 PM on November 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

My audiobook obsession goes back to 1980. I had an opportunity to order some Caedmon recordings for my young daughter at wholesale. I marked some of them in the catalog. The employee of the store ordered all of them, at least $150 worth. I was making $500/month at a bookstore at the time and was a single parent. That $150 was a real stretch. However, the Chronicles of Narnia were extraordinary (Claire Bloom, Michael York, etc) and you cannot beat Michael Bond reading the Paddington series. Sendak's Really Rosie musical was a joy. I don't remember what else we had. Both my daughter and I have been addicted ever since.

At one time we had a recording of Call of the Wild, probably abridged. We have looked and looked and have been unable to find that exact recording.
posted by Altomentis at 10:28 PM on November 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the problem I have with audio books, and I’ve listened to maybe two of them, is that I want them to be more like the way it feels when I read. So I don’t like it when the narrator uses a different voice for every character. It just feels weird and off putting. I want the narrator to narrate rather than perform. Apparently that puts me in the minority here. I want to like audiobooks. I listen to Tina Fey narrate her autobiography (Miss bossy pants?) and it was great. But the narrator of a thriller I listened to, some Lee Child novel, was doing the performance thing. All the women characters sounded weird and it was just too distracting. It disrupted my ability to enjoy the novel.

Do any audiobooks for novels have narrators Who simply narrate rather than perform? I’m not against emphasis or inflection, I’m really just talking about that thing where they use a different voice for different characters. That takes me right out of the flow of the story, which is a massive affront that cannot be forgiven. In my case.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:00 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

How is Librivox as an onramp for voice recording?

I dabble in reading for Librivox and absolutely love it. I've only ever done group reading projects, so I haven't recorded a full book on my own. (A couple of chapters is the right level of commitment for something I do casually in my spare bits of time - a few hours of recording, then a few evenings of editing.)

It's low pressure, relaxed quality standards, generous deadlines, satisfying as volunteer work. It's a whole world of difference from recording an entire book in a professional studio, I'm sure. But if you're curious about narration and would like to get your feet wet, it's an option.
posted by Glier's Goetta at 2:51 AM on November 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

The October Man (the most recent novella in the River of London series) is read by Sam Peter Jackson and not Kobna. It makes sense because the stories are first-person and Peter is not the narrator, but it made me nervous at first. Jackson does a great job and his native German accent is perfect for the character of Tobias.

I only had one experience where I much preferred the ebook to the audiobook and in that case it was because the reader was overdoing the sarcasm in an attempt to be - wary? or quirky? - I am not really sure. It grated on me, but luckily I tried reading it again and now I count the series in my top ten: Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
posted by soelo at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2019

RE Oryx and Crake - wasn't it Campbell Scott? His version is excellent.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:52 PM on November 18, 2019

I'm occasionally asked if I would ever want to narrate my own books. The answer: For fiction, no. I know what my limitations are in terms of performing my work -- I'm good enough for a public event that lasts about an hour, less so for a book that runs eight to twelve hours in narration. I prefer getting actual pros for that.

(I would narrate my essay collections, if I ever put them into audiobook. But no one's made an offer on those in that format, so.)
posted by jscalzi at 6:10 PM on November 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

Great timing! I just finished a voice-over short course and I'm prepping to start reading beginner stuff for Librivox. I can't wait!
posted by ninazer0 at 9:37 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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