In praise of audiobooks and their narrators

headset photo by Parag DeshmukhI used to dislike audiobooks.

Not really sure why, but part of it stemmed from the fact that I read so very, very fast; part of it because I didn’t want someone else’s voice telling me how I should understand the text and another bit because the few audiobooks I’d experienced had rather monotone narrators —  a thing that some folks might not mind, but I do.

Another drawback: I tended to fall asleep while listening, or my mind completely wandered…through no fault of the narrator, but of my own mind, that needs more stimulus to concentrate. I can’t even just watch a show, without having something else to do during it. Plus, I don’t actually ever drive anywhere, so listening in a car was out. Even when I did commute to my job, I lived only 15 minutes away, so not conducive to a long story.

There were some I had enjoyed. Nonfiction, mostly humor (David Sedaris, Bill Bryson) that I’d borrowed from the library, but fiction was pretty much a nope. A wandering mind is not conducive to grasping a story. I really wanted to like audiobooks. My sister pretty much lives by them (with a 40-mile each way commute).

I even made the mistake of signing up for Audible, figuring that would make me get into listening (it did not.) I went through and bought a bunch of books (mostly ones I’d already read & enjoyed) figuring that eventually (maybe when I retired), I could spend time to listen. I let my subscription hang in there for a long time, then canceled it, because it grated on me, having those books sit in my virtual library, untouched.

After thinking about it, I realized that with the Whispersync feature, I could read along with the book while listening to the audio. So I gave it a whirl – and something clicked – well, that and the fact that I ran across a really awesome narrator: Tim Gilbert, who narrates Harper Fox‘s Tyack and Frayne books. I love this series beyond the telling and often re-read them because they are so fabulous. Now with the audio, it was like getting to discover them again.

Even thought the books weren’t necessarily Whispersynced, I could still read along on my tablet and Gilbert’s narration fit the stories properly. I ended up binge-listening, each night after dinner until I finished the series.

I then switched over to K.J. Charles A Charm of Magpies series and narrator Matthew Lloyd Davies – another brilliant voice actor. He also narrates her Sins of the Cities series and Society of Gentlemen series. Another most excellent experience.

By this time, I was all in, continuing to (mostly) buy books I already read & loved, still a bit unwilling to dive into an unknown book with only a short sample narration to go by.

Recently, I wanted to re-read Natasha Pulley‘s Watchmaker of Filigree Street, a wonderful, brilliant, complex twist of a book that I adored when it first came out. Its sequel, The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, was about to be released and I wanted to be sure I remembered all the details of this complex story. I bought the audiobook (already owning the actual book) and began to listen: I was transported.

I don’t know what it was about narrator Thomas Judd, but his voice and interpretation entranced me. He simply was Thaniel and Keita Mori and all the other characters. I immediately went back and pre-ordered the audio of Pepperharrow, along with the ebook I’d already ordered. This would be the first time I’d listen to a new, not-yet-read story. It was glorious. In fact, I want to re-listen to them sooner than later.

These days, with COVID-19 anxieties, I find myself unable to focus, to have anything keep my attention. A traditional read (with my eyes) is nearly impossible. I start books, then can’t concentrate enough to enjoy them. I have tons of book in my audio library, but listening requires more brain-focus than reading, and I just can’t. If I open my computer, I usually just end up on Twitter and other social media, flitting from post to post, topic to topic, brain whirling.

Then it hit me. I could try a book of short stories, or something with discrete parts that I could get through in one listening session (usually about a couple of hours.) And I already had such a book in my audio library: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles. Pretty much anything by KJ is an auto-buy for me (as maybe you could tell by my previous listing of her series), and Simon Feximal was perfect for my scattered anxiety-brain: an overarching story made up of individual case files. Perfection.

I’m now happily listening each evening, and when I’m done with this, I might dive into Jordan Castillo Price‘s The ABCs of Spellcraft Collection, Volume 1, which I picked up a while ago. Fun, novella-length stories, with a great narrator, Nick Hudson.  (Side note: Jordan & Nick did a YouTube presentation about Writing & Voicing Characters that is a lot of fun to watch.)

What are your favorite audiobooks/narrators? I’d love to hear your recommendations!




2 thoughts on “In praise of audiobooks and their narrators

  1. I like the Escape Artists podcasts, and listened to them often when I was commuting. I’ve only listened to a few audiobooks, but liked Odd Thomas.

    I think a book with a first-person POV can be more immersive in audio; it’s like hearing the narrator firsthand.

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