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Book-Talk Monday: Let’s Talk Audiobooks

Monday, July 8, 2013

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If you’ve been around for more than a few days, you know that I’m a regular listener of audiobooks. In fact, I have a membership/subscription at, I listen to so many. I even chose to experience my first Stephen King book, Under the Dome, as an audiobook rather than in text, because I enjoy them so much (it’s just over 35 hours long!). It made a great traveling companion on my trip to and from Hot Springs to visit my parents over the long holiday weekend.

I started listening to books-on-tape more than seventeen years ago—the first time was when I drove from Northern Virginia, where I was living at the time, to Nashville for a job interview and to apartment hunt. The public library system in NoVA had, even then, a HUGE selection of books-on-tape because so many people up there have quite long commutes (at one point, I was commuting almost an hour and a half to work at a job in downtown DC) and, either sitting in traffic in their cars or on the Metro, listening to a book-on-tape helped make that commute a little more tolerable. I don’t necessarily remember in what order I checked them out, but the first three books I listened to were Dances with Wolves by Michael Blake (who then turned it into the screenplay for the Kevin Costner movie), John Grisham’s The Firm, and an abridged version of Catherine Marshall’s Christy, read by Kellie Martin (the show had just gone off the air). Those books made the ten hour drive between Chantilly, Virginia, and Nashville—which I was making almost every weekend the first month, as my relocation was somewhat piecemeal—go by so much faster! (Since then, I’ve downloaded the unabridged version of Christy.)

My next big audiobook purchases were all six of Jane Austen’s novels, Little Women, and a bunch of novels in the Star Wars expanded universe. When audiobooks started coming out on CD, I was sold! The only problem was changing them in and out safely in the car.

In 2005, I downloaded my first book from Audible—it was Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money (an assigned genre read for grad school), and I had to burn it to CD because I didn’t have an MP3 player. And that, as we say, was that. I was hooked. I started researching MP3 players, because it had to be better to do that than to keep burning CDs. So I bought one. But even still, there was one series I had to buy on CD—and that’s the Harry Potter series. I have the entire unabridged audiobook of each of the seven books. But I didn’t listen to them as CDs. I ripped them to the computer and made my own digital audiobooks of them.

And it was the narrator of the Harry Potter books, Jim Dale, who turned me into an extremely picky consumer of audiobooks. I’m a narrator snob! I want readers who can make each character sound different, who gives enough tonal difference between male and female characters, it’s easy to tell them apart. And who can do accents, drama, and humor.

Of course, no one will ever equal Jim Dale—nor should anyone ever try!—but I do have a few other favorites. Charlotte Parry, who narrated Sandra Byrd’s To Die For and also voiced Catherine Howard in Philippa Gregory’s The Boleyn Inheritance is one of my favorites. Ashford McNabb, who was (up until book 5) reading the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt, is another favorite.

The narrator can make or break an audiobook. The reader they got for the fifth Elizabeth Hoyt/Maiden Lane book was so terrible that I almost couldn’t finish the book—and this is a series I’m hooked on! Then there’s the sound editing. I listened to another book this year in which the reader’s “mouth noises” and swallowing were so prominent in the recording that I could listen only for short periods before I was so grossed out that I had to turn it off.

The reader for Under the Dome is good—though he has a tendency to make the characters who are supposed to have a “posh” Maine accent sound they’re from rural Georgia, and a French character sounds like a bad parody of a deep-bayou Cajun accent. But, that aside, especially considering how many characters he’s having to voice, he’s doing a great job.

There are certain narrators I will not listen to, as well—though those are mostly based on personal preference on whether or not I enjoy the sound of the narrator’s voice or how he/she pronounces words or uses (or doesn’t use) inflection/tone/accent. I was highly disappointed after downloading the unabridged versions of all of Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series to discover the narrator was an older man who sounds like he’s smoked heavily all of his life. This was especially bad when he was trying to voice the female characters and the romantic scenes.

The nice thing about Audible—and what I make use of now when it’s a narrator I’m unfamiliar with—is the sample that you can listen to before committing to buying the book. And other listeners are pretty good, if they do leave a review, about reviewing both the narrator and the story, since each is so integral to the experience.

Do you listen to audiobooks?
Do you have a favorite reader?
Are there certain types of books you prefer to listen to?
When do you listen to audiobooks?
How do you listen to audiobooks (an iPod/MP3, your phone, tape/CD, etc.)?
What’s been your overall experience with audiobooks?

  1. Melanie Ann Schaeffer permalink
    Monday, July 8, 2013 8:12 am

    I have been enjoying audiobooks for years. At first I didn’t tell anyone because of the criticism. I’ve ‘come out of the closet’ and recommend them. (Wasn’t that silly?)
    I love to listen especially when I’m driving or knitting. I download to my iPod and jack it into my car system. I also listen while I sew using a Bose dock.
    I really only see one problem – for me – when I listen to a book. The voice of the reader and the use of inflection, pause, etc. are interpreting the text and I might have read it differently. Recently I listened to Silver Girl and there were two female readers for the two primary characters. Certainly made the change in POV obvious.


    • Monday, July 8, 2013 8:49 am

      I think interpretation is one of the draws—or drawbacks—of listening to audiobooks. And I think that’s probably one of the esoteric things that may keep me from liking particular narrators . . . they don’t interpret the prose the way my brain does, thus it sounds wrong to me.


  2. Dora permalink
    Monday, July 8, 2013 9:15 am

    I absolutely love audiobooks. I have listened to books for years. My best friend got me hooked on a trip to Pa. We listened to a series of 3 books on that trip. It has been nearly 10 years, since that trip and I always have a book in the car.

    For the most part, I listen to books while driving to and from work. I have a thirty minute commute to work.

    My favorite reader is Jim Dale. However, I enjoy Christina Moore and Stina Neilson, as well. Also, Gerard Doyle was wonderful in the Eragon Series.

    I agree the reader can make or break a book for me. It is also hard to continue to listen to a series when the reader changes in the middle of the series.

    I listen to a variety of authors’ works. Karen Whitemeyer, Julie Klassen, Beverly Lewis, Beth Wiseman.

    Strangely enough, I can not begin a series in audio and then read some of the later ones in print. I either need to read it or listen to it, I can not do both.

    I listen either on my MP3 or CD.


  3. Tuesday, July 9, 2013 8:48 am

    I love audiobooks! Jim Dale’s reading of the Harry Potter series was the highlight of the cross-country drive every summer; his hours of storytelling almost a perfect match to my total drive time.

    Jerry Orbach, Tony Britton, Marina Sirtis, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Frank Muller are some of my many favorites. Current hook is David Strathairn (on the last of the Lincoln debates). As for story styles – mysteries, sci-fi, westerns and generally well-written stories are my picks. Readers first; author-story second.

    Indulge on “The WaveDancer Benefit,” if you can. To hear King, Straub and Conroy read their own works, for a worthy cause, is splendid.

    I recommend L.A. Theatre Works. Stumbled upon them with John DeLancie’s ‘War of the Worlds.’ There’s a wonderful variety of performances to choose from.

    How do I listen? Still have my portable cassette player, CD player and for work purposes – my MP3 player. Love the library’s option of borrowing books online, too. If I don’t have time to read books, I’ll steal time for someone else to tell one to me.


  4. Tuesday, July 9, 2013 8:49 am

    Reblogged this on Tommia's Tablet and commented:
    Always fun to find a fellow audiophile’s take on the talking book!


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