Book narrators who make or break your audible experience
I do a lot of commuting to work and as a result I have come to love a format that I once disliked. While I still prefer to read books myself, over the years I have come to appreciate audiobooks. The narrator can make or break a book and I think that many people who say they dislike the format do so because they have experienced bad narrators. A good narrator can make the experience really wonderful. I don’t think I could have made it through Ulysses without the help of the audio (I listened and read the book, alternating back and forth). So, I thought I’d dedicate this post to sharing some of my favorites and some who I think should be avoided.
Before moving onto my lists of favorites and least favorites, I wanted to mention a few of my audio pet peeves.
- Age mismatch. This bothers me more in one direction than the other but they both bother me. I hate when older narrators read books where the protagonist is supposed to be in their teens or early twenties.
- Bad accents: If you can’t master the accent, don’t bother. There’s nothing worse than listening to someone butcher an accent over and over again.
- Men who attempt to make women’s voices by switching to high pitched reading. It doesn’t work. Just read in your natural voice. Listeners aren’t stupid, we get that the character is a woman without needed you to sound affected.
1. Jim Norton reading James Joyce’s Ulysses & Portrait of an Artist. Jim Norton read both of these works and was AMAZING! Anyone who can tackle Ulysses must be skilled and Norton was probably solely responsible for my being able to complete the book on my fourth try. I found that what worked best for me was to read portions myself, then listen to the audio. I used whispersync to go back and forth. You can hear a sample here:
2. North & South Narrated by Juliet Stevens. I don’t typically come across too many female narrators and I’m not sure why. Juliet Stevens was wonderful in her rendition of Craskell’s classic, North & South. She altered her voice in subtle ways to capture differences in characters and was utterly convincing. Here’s a sample:
3. Neil Gaiman: Narrating any of his works. Normally authors aren’t great at narrating their own works but Gaiman is the exception. I have listened to several of his books and often seek out the audio versions simply because he is so wonderful. Even the books he doesn’t read himself are quite wonderful. I asked him (via twitter) whether he picks out his narrators:
Here’s a nice interview that is worth listening to where Gaiman discusses audio narrations. You should check it out. And here is a clip of him reading Neverwhere (one of my favorite of his books).
4. David Pittu: The Goldfinch & The Marriage Plot: The Goldfinch wasn’t my favorite book but I did love the audio. He’s an example of a narrator who can successfully pull off a variety of accents.
5. The Heather Blazing: Tim Gerard Reynolds. I’ll admit have a thing for Irish narrators (and English narrators). Reynolds was a perfect fit for Heather Blazing.
6. The Sea by John Banville narrated by John Lee. Another great Irish narrator. Quite wonderful and a very good fit for the book.
7. Dracula narrated by Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, & Simon Vance, Katherine Kellgren and others. Alan Cumming & Tim Curry? Enough said!
Least Favorite narrators/audio
- The Quiet American by Grahame Greene narrator: Joseph Porter. This was by far my least favorite audio for a number of reasons. Porter has a really nasally voice and sounded like he should be narrating Downton Abbey-like book instead of this book. His attempts at American accent was so bad that I actually tried to return the book and when I couldn’t figure out how to do so on my phone I sped up the audio to 2x because the chipmunk rendition was preferable to his actual narration. One of the main characters happens to be from Boston (I live in Massachusetts) and yet ended up with an odd Southern drawl that broke into an English accent every third word. Don’t even get me started on his rendition of the female character (Vietnamese) who sounded like a man trying out for a bad and racist comedy sketch audition. Here’s a sample:
- The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman narrated by Mark Bramhall. Three of my pet peeves: An narrator who is much too old to be reading the voices of high schoolers, a narrator who butchers an Australian accent, and a narrator whose rendition of female characters is horrendous. He had moments that weren’t terrible but anytime the female Australian character appeared, I wanted to poke my ears out. Here’s a clip:
- 11/22/63 Stephen King narrated by Craig Wasson. I had two problems with this narrator. 1. Age mismatch: the protagonist is in his thirties and Wasson is in his 60s and sounds it. Honestly, it creeped me out listening to him particularly when reading the romance parts. It made it sound like a lecherous old man seducing a younger woman when in reality the two characters were the same age. 2) His rendition of the female lead was terrible: She sounded weak, pathetic, and whiny – a complete mismatch from how I think she was intended to be portrayed. I do think that this narrator would be great for some books, just not this one. He also has a tendency to be very dramatic – I consider it bordering on overacting but apparently it works for a lot of people since he gets great reviews. Here’s sample (not the terrible parts though – from audible sample which contains the best of it):
4. The Snow Child narrated by Debra Monk. She made the main female character sound kind of whiny. It wasn’t the worst rendition I’ve ever listened to, but it wasn’t good.
5. Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd. Narrated by Derek Jacobi. Very monotone to the point where I had to stop listening to the narration in my car for fear of falling asleep at the wheel.
We want to hear from you! Have you ever come across narrators that you either love or hate? Who do you recommend?