Tag Archives: audio books

My Favorite Audio Book Narrators

One of the great things about audio books is the added dimension the narrator brings to the book. I find this is true for both fiction and non-fiction, but it is especially true for fiction. When I started listening to audio books back in 2013, I didn’t always pay attention to the names of the narrators, but I quickly learned to do this, in the same way that I learned to read the bylines in newspaper articles, or look for who wrote episodes of television shows I’ve enjoyed.

The very first audio book narrator I listened to back in 2013 was Lindsey Crouse, who narrated the first two audio books I listened to, Misery and Gerald’s Game both by Stephen King. In the years since, I’ve listened to more than 500 audio books. Here then, are some of my favorite audio book narrators.

Fiction

  • Craig Wasson: Wasson narrated Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d read the novel once before I listened to the audio book version. Craig Wasson’s narration helped make that novel one of my all-time favorites. His performance was so good that it has an unexpected negative result: I can’t listen to other performance by Craig Wasson. Usually, when I find a narrator I like, I will look for more books they’ve narrated. I’ve discovered a lot of books in this manner. But Wasson became Jake Epping to me, and I can’t imagine him in any other role.
  • George Guidall: Guidall’s voice took some getting used to for me. The first thing I listened to him narrate was Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. But where George Guidall really captured my heart was when I heard him narrating the Walt Longmire books by Craig Johnson. These books are all told in first person and like Wasson, George Guidall has become Walt Longmire in my mind, even more than Robert Taylor, who portrayed Longmire in the television series. Strangely, I can listen to Guidall narrate other books, and I look forward to those narrations as well.
  • Will Patton: Will Patton has narrated many books that I’ve listened to but the one that stands out most in my mind is his performance narrating Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. He does an incredible job with that book, making it, my mind, a better book in the audio edition than it is in the print edition alone.

Nonfiction

  • Malcolmn Hilgartner: I discovered Hilgartner through his narration of E. B. White’s One Man’s Meat, one of my favorite collections of essays. I know what E. B. White sounds like, of course, and Hilgartner sounds nothing like him, but his style of narration makes me believe that White is talking to me when I listen to him. He’s also done narrations of a biography of Ty Cobb and Bob Hope that I enjoyed.
  • Grover Gardner: Gardner’s voice took me some getting used to. But he narrated at least half of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books, and those are among my favorite histories, even though they are somewhat dated now. He is a reliable narrator that I’ve grown used to and versatile in both fiction (The Stand) and nonfiction alike. He narrated all of Robert A. Caro’s volumes on Lyndon Johnson so far.
  • Simon Winchester: Winchester narrates his own books, but I sometimes wish he narrated others as well. His is a voice I could listen to for just about anything.

Author narrators

At last, here is a list of some authors who also narrate their own books. No every writer is a good narrator, but these are a few that have really caught my attention and blown me away with their performances:

  • Harlan Ellison (the first person I ever heard give a “dramatic” reading)
  • John Le Carré (another writer who could have narrated other people’s books to great effect)
  • Bruce Springsteen (hid understated narration of his memoir was pitch perfect)
  • Simon Winchester (mentioned above)
  • Mary Robinette Kowal (she gave a marvelous performance of her novel The Calculating Stars)
  • Carl Reiner (because I love how he sounds like he is casually chatting with me)

Looking over this list, I note that it is alarmingly void of women. Mary is the only one. I took a second look at the list of audio books I’ve read and it turns out that while many are written by women, they are not as often narrated by women. Take Doris Kearns Goodwin, for example. I really enjoy her books, especially books like No Ordinary Time and The Bully Pulpit, the former of which was narrated by Nelson Runger, and the latter by Edward Hermann, both men.

When I occasionally browse for books on Audible, in addition to searching for writers I enjoy, I also search for narrators that I enjoy, hoping to discover new things that I might have missed. This above list are the people I most often search for when it comes to narrations.

1,000 Audio Books

On Saturday, I obtained my 1,000th audio book from Audible. It was Alan Lightman’s The Accidental Universe. On the one hand, for someone who once wrote here that audio books were not his thing, this is pretty remarkable. On the other hand, as a bibliophile, this is just an example of catching up.

I picked up my first audio book on February 12, 2013 so it took me about 8 years and 1 month to manage to collect 1,000 of them. I did a little math. There are 2,951 days between the day I acquired my first audio book and yesterday when I got my most recent one. That means I’ve added one audio book to my collection about every 3 days or so over the course of the last 8 years.

I’ve got a little over 1,000 books on the bookshelves in my office, and about 500 e-books in my Kindle library. That means I now have almost as many audio books as I have physical books on my book shelves.

Keep in mind that I haven’t yet read 1,000 of them. Many of them I pick up during Audible sales and when they have special deals, knowing that I won’t read them now but will get to them eventually. I’d estimate that I’ve read about 60% of what I have in my library.

Audio books have undeniably helped me read more than I might otherwise have had time to read from the printed page alone. The chart below, which I maintain in a notebook along with the list of all of the books I’ve read illustrates this pretty well. The dotted line down the page represents the time at which I began listening to audio books. You can see how the slopes of the other lines change after crossing that boundary. Of course, not every book I’ve read since has been an audio book, but the majority have.

Handwritten charts of my reading since 1996
Books per year and cumulative book count

These days, especially for nonfiction, I often get the e-book along with the audio book. This allows me to keep notes and highlights as I read. When I am not engaged in another activity, I’ll follow along in the e-book, marking passages and making notes, which eventually get transferred into Obsidian.

Today I’ll finish one audio book–The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson. I keep the audio books that I want to listen to next downloaded on my phone just in case I find myself somewhere with no Internet access. There are currently 7 downloaded books, not counting The Code Breaker. They are:

  • The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew by Alan Lightman
  • A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman
  • The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  • The Unreasonable Virtual of Fly Fishing by Mark Kurlansky
  • The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
  • Roughing It by Mark Twain
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Here’s to the next thousand!

A Funny Thing About Jim Boulton’s Ball Four Audiobook

I am currently reading Jim Boulton’s 1970 baseball smash, Ball Four. I’m listening to the audio book. So far, it’s great. But there is something particularly funny about it that makes it even better.

Most audio books these days use professional voice actors or narrators to read the book. Occasionally, the author will read their own book, but with few exceptions (Neil Gaiman or Mary Robinette Kowal, for instance), authors aren’t always the best choice as readers.

Jim Boulton reads his own book, Ball Four. He is not a bad reader. In the context of the book, he’s actually pretty good, because it’s him telling stories about his days playing baseball. But for nonfiction books, voice actors typically play it straight. The funny thing about Boulton’s narration of Ball Four is that he sometimes cracks himself up with what he’s written. So he’s reading his book, gets to a funny part, starts laughing, and has to pause, or re-read a sentence after the laughing has stopped.

I love it! It comes across as so genuine that you can’t not laugh yourself. The genuine emotion that his impromptu laughter brings to the reading makes it that much better.

My Difficulty with Speed Reading and an Unlikely Solution in Audio Books

When I get going, I probably cruise along at an average reading speed. I’ve never tried to measure my reading speed in any scientific way (which, I suppose, is unusual since I measure just about everything else about myself). I read a lot and it might seem to those looking in from outside that I read quickly, but that is an illusion caused mostly by the fact that reading is the water that fills in the jar of pebbles that makes up my day. Reading is my default mode. Put another way: when I am not otherwise occupied, I am reading.

But the actual speed at which I read is mostly constant with one quirky exception: my reading picks up speed as I approach the exciting conclusion of whatever book I happen to be reading.

Maybe this happens to you and maybe it doesn’t, but my own personal brand of speed reading is a kind of steady increase in pace as the excitement picks up at the conclusion of a book, until it seems as if I am simply zipping past each page barely seeing the words. I finish the way a sprinter finishes a race, out of breath and with the last push one big blur.

This alone convinces me that speed-reading techniques would be completely lost on me. The thing is, while I race through the end of the book, I do so by gestalt, and not be that calm, leisurely absorption of each word on the page. And that is a problem, because the ending of books are often much more of a blur to me than the 90% of narrative that comes before. I wish that I could maintain the same pace that I maintain through the rest of the book, but the excitement rushes me along. I turn pages, skimming, desperate to know what happens next. In doing so, I sacrifice the details and the beauty of language in an effort to swallow the plot whole.

I’ve lived with this problem my entire life, as far as I can recall, and I’ve never discovered an adequate solution–until I began listening to audio books a few weeks ago.

Continue reading My Difficulty with Speed Reading and an Unlikely Solution in Audio Books

More Than Halfway Through the Misery Audiobook

I am now more than halfway through my first complete1 audio book, Stephen King’s Misery. And having now listened to more than 7 hours of the book, here are few thoughts:

  • This is one really good book. I had no idea! I seem to recall seeing bits and pieces of the movie once, a long time ago, but the book is so much better, so much richer. It is just fantastic so far.
  • I love the metafictional aspects of the book. I love the work within the work (Misery’s Return) but even more, I love the multiple levels of recursion that are taking place. I’ve got to imagine that this was a fun book for King to write.
  • The book is narrated by Lindsay Krouse and so far, if I had my way, I’d have her narrate every future audio book I read. She is outstanding.

Now for a few of the downsides I’ve discovered:

  • I can’t really multitask while listening to the book–not beyond walking or working out on the elliptical machine. And even then, if I don’t focus on the story and let my mind wander, I soon discover that I’ve missed something and have to go back.
  • It’s not as easy for me to pick up where I left off. When reading a book, it’s easy to open to where you left off and continue, but I find I tend to have to back up a little when listening to the audio book in order to more easily slip into the narration.
  • I think Lindsay Krouse is a fantastic narrator. She has the perfect voice for listening (as far as I am concerned) and the trouble with that is the chances are very good she won’t be narrating the next audio book I listen to. And I suspect that whoever does narrate it simply won’t be as satisfying to my ears.

I have not yet decided what I’m going to listen to next. I do enjoy working out listening to the book. I enjoy my morning walks listening to the book, too. I take a quick 1 mile walk every morning at 10am to get some air. The last two mornings have been bitterly cold and windy. I would have ordinarily cut my walk short both days, but I pressed on mainly because I was so absorbed by the story and Lindsay Krouse’s voice, and I wanted to keep listening, at least for a little while.

  1. My first attempt at an audio book was with Stephen King’s Gunslinger, but I couldn’t get through it.

On audio books

Every once in a while, when I reflect on how small a dent I make in my stack of reading, I think about audio books. I have friends who swear by them. For some of them, it seems, it is the only way they get their fix. There is a great deal of advantage to audio books: you can listen do them while performing other activities, like commuting to work, chores around the house, working out, taking a walk. Indeed, you can make use of those times when reading a book is impractical.

But though I’ve tried on one or two occasions, I cannot bring myself to listen to audio books, particularly fiction in audio book form. There are several reasons for this:

  1. The voice bothers me. I am so used to my own internal voice, and the voices I make up in my head for various characters, that I can’t bear the voice of someone else reading to me. I’ve tried. Even when it is someone whose books I greatly admire, like Isaac Asimov, I’m not able to disappear into the story the way I can when I’m reading from the page.
  2. I cannot divide my attention to make listening and doing something else worthwhile. I will either focus on the story (if I can get past that alien voice in my head) or I will focus on the tasks that I am performing while listening to the story. I can’t do both. This is true for music, too, by the way. If I listen to music while I work, for instance, I will eventually discover that I never heard the music because I was so focused on my work.
  3. Reading aloud tends to be too slow for me. I am by no means a speed-reader, but I do read somewhat faster than the pace of reading aloud. It is just too slow for me and I find myself growing impatient.
  4. For me, reading is an active thing, and finding that groove where the words start to fade away and the scenes flow smoothly through my head is a kind of heaven that I haven’t been able to achieve listening to audio books. To me, audio books come across as performances and I’m not looking to listen to a performance.

That is not to say I have not delighted in audio performances–readings with expression–that were wonderful. I’ve written about my experiences seeing and listening to Harlan Ellison read aloud. Such performances spoil me because I’ve never heard anyone quite as good. But then, those readings really are performances as opposed to someone simply reading a book and perhaps adding a little color through the use of their voice.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because it was not more than a few years ago that I had a similar attitude toward e-book. I could never read an e-book, I thought, because I delighted too much in the feel of the printed page. Well, I learned pretty quickly that, at least for me reading an e-book feels no different than reading off the printed page. And so I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t giving audio books a fair shake for similar reasons.

But after careful consideration, and especially for the reasons I list about, I’ve accepted the fact that audio books are not for me.