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Book narrators who make or break your audible experience

audiobooks

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Favorite narrators/audios:
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:

twitter

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).

Honorable mentions:
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

  1. 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: 
  2. 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:
  3. 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): 

Dishonorable Mentions:
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?

18 Comments Post a comment
  1. The narrator can make or break an audiobook for me. I get my audiobooks from Overdrive and I’ve returned some almost immediately if I thought I couldn’t get through the narration (i.e. the guy who narrated The Enchanted – couldn’t listen to his voice at all. Nope. The guy who narrated The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene) – honestly, his narration was so jumbled that I could hardly make out what he was saying and I was listening to it at 1.0 speed).

    Others that I got through even though I disliked the narrator:
    The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty narrated by … Eudora Welty. Ok, I feel kind of bad for criticizing this one but her narration was awful. About 90% of the time her f’s and v’s sounded like b’s. So, voices = boices, funeral = buneral, Fay = Bay, vision = bision. It was incredibly distracting. And I don’t think the problem was that Welty was so old when she narrated it because Toni Morrison narrated her latest book and she did a great job.

    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri narrated by Matilda Novak. Most of it was okay, except for when she did Indian accents. NOPE.

    The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough narrated by Mary Woods. Same as above, most of it was good but when she tried accents I actually laughed out loud at times.

    Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet narrated by Cassandra Campbell. I thought she did a good job when narrating the book except when she got into dialogue. Oh man, everything out of the characters’ mouths ended up sounding bitchy and ditzy.

    Some good ones that I would whole heartedly recommend:
    House of Mirth by Edith Wharton narrated by Elizabeth Klett on librivox.org. It’s a free one and yeah it has the annoying librivox blurb at the beginning of every chapter but this narrator brought Lily Bart to life. She did such a beautiful job. She also did a great job with Howard’s End.

    The Bees by Laline Paull narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. The book was great but she really did an amazing job.

    Fourth of July Creek and Welcome to Braggsville, both narrated by MacLeod Andrews. He’s fantastic at bringing characters to life. He does a bit of the high pitched woman voice but not really. It’s not as noticeable as it is with some other narrators.

    Sorry about the long post!

    Liked by 1 person

    November 2, 2015
    • Forgot to add: Sleepwalkers Guide to Dancing written and narrated by Mira Jacob was fantastic. She brought so much empathy and humour to the book that I really didn’t expect. She’s an Indian American author (as in from India) and she does Indian accents for some characters but it never sounds silly or exploitative.

      Liked by 1 person

      November 2, 2015
  2. I don’t use audio books but I have heard amazing and not so good readings on the radio. One of my fave narrators at the moment is Hattie Morahan. She has a very calm and versatile voice. Something I find interesting is that if you have a very good actor, they can sound a different age, ie younger. As with accents, sometimes it’s something that an actor can’t get the hang of, in which case it’s an unfortunate casting decision.
    I thought your pet peeves were spot on 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    November 2, 2015
  3. I feel like narrators are important for the enjoyment of listening to an audiobook… So far I’ve only listened to two audiobooks and to be honest I don’t like both of them. I liked the books, but I just got really sleepy and my mind would wander off in the middle of a sentence because the narrator wasn’t very captivating! Are all audiobooks that way or am I just unlucky enough to get a bad narrator?

    Liked by 1 person

    November 2, 2015
    • I used to feel that way until I finally got a great narrator. If your mind wanders then it’s probably the narrator

      Liked by 1 person

      November 2, 2015
  4. JoLene R #

    I have only been listening to audio books for about 2 years and wholeheartedly agree that the narrator can make or break it.

    My all time favorite is Katherine Kellgren. She does the Royal Spyness series which has lots of different British (and Irish). I liked her so much that I’ve tried some books because she was the narrator (Bloody Jack series).

    Some others that stood out, but I have only listened to a trilogy with them are: Kate Rudd (Into the Veil trilogy) and Jennifer Ikeda. I thought that Eliah Woods did a great job with Huck Finn

    I know this might be blasphemy, but I wasn’t crazy about Jim Dale who does the Harry Potter series — actually I just don’t like it when Hermione says Harry (which she does quite a bit). The other voices are fine.

    Some that I really didn’t like were Eva Wilhem (Much Ado about Magic). She didn’t convey enough enthusiasm and the main character is from Texas but sounded like she was from the north east.

    I also hated Kim Basigner’s reading of The Awakening (also wasn’t crazy about the book ;-). I also stopped listening to Jenny Offill who narrated her own book Dept of Speculation. It was too monotone.

    One of my pet peeves with narrators are if they don’t take a long enough pause between scenes (or chapters). If they don’t do that, I sometimes get lost when a scene changes — this is especially true with books with lots of characters or locations.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 2, 2015
  5. sylviemarieheroux #

    I’ve never been into audio books, but a serial reading of one of Emile Zola’s novels on the radio made fall in love with his writing. That show would be one just at the time I would be driving back from a countryside college where I thought evening classes. I used to give a ride to another instructor at the time and we both loved that reading. I bought a copy of the book and gave her one as copy at the end of the semester. Quite unforgettable moments!

    Liked by 1 person

    November 2, 2015
  6. I’m scared to try audiobooks for this very reason! But I want to try it simply to be able to multitask, as I now struggle to find time to read. Might take your Neil Gaiman recommendation as I’ve been meaning to read Neverwhere for a while – thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    November 5, 2015
    • He is fabulous. I hope you try it out and then stop back and tell us what you thought!

      Like

      November 5, 2015
      • I will! Do you use Audible?

        Liked by 1 person

        November 5, 2015
      • I do. Saves a lot of money because I use it a lot for my commute. But you could try the free trial then cancel it after the first month. Or if you buy the ebook sometimes you can upgrade to the audio for fairly cheap amount

        Like

        November 5, 2015
      • Hm. I’ll try the free trial I think. Do you find that one audio book lasts the month or do you end up paying for another?

        Like

        November 5, 2015
      • I try to get really long books on audible. they don’t last the whole month but I won’t buy extra usually unless there is a sale. They just had one sale that was two books for one credit.

        Like

        November 5, 2015
      • That’s a good idea. Thanks for your advice 🙂

        Like

        November 5, 2015
  7. Sigma Tee #

    You are so right about the narrator making or breaking the book. Alfred Molina is superb in “The Foreign Correspondent” by Alan Furst. Daniel Gerroll is also in a number of Furst’s novels. Graeme Malcolm is very good in “Dark Voyage”. Stephen Thornton is very poor – ruins the book in “Kingdom of Shadows”. George Guidall in several of Furst’s book is terrible. He can’t do European accents.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 10, 2016
    • Thanks for commenting. I look forward to checking out the ones you recommended!

      Like

      June 10, 2016
  8. Eva Maeder #

    I hate Nick’s (Landrum) way of impersonating women in Halen Coben’s book “Stay Close” makes me cringe.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 18, 2017
  9. greene fan #

    I haven’t heard Porter read The Quiet American yet but I thought he was spot on in his reading of The Comedians (also by Greene). His American accent for Smith is exactly as graceless as the character should be. I liked Porter’s version of The Heart of the Matter as well. And I’ll agree with the first commenter here: Bernard Mayes, who reads The Power and the Glory for Overdrive, is terrible so far, though I will try to get through it. He’s too quiet but at the same time too hissing, so if you have the volume turned up to hear him at all it’s uncomfortable to hear his S’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 11, 2017

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