June Is Audiobook Month: The Narrators Part 1 #ListenLit

In my last post in this series on June Is Audiobook Month, I took time to celebrate the author as the foundation for any and all audiobooks.  In this entry and the next entry, we are going to talk about the narrator--the life of the audiobook.  I should warn you, this post is pretty much a fanboy rant about how wonderful narrators are.  It will be filled with praise.  The second post (next week) on narrators will have some critiques, but this post--not so much.

Narrators are wonderful.  They are.  They take static words on a page and breathe life into them.  They give color to the black and white page with their inflection and emphasis, timing and projection.  The listener is passenger to a long drive filled with twists and turns, sometimes with rather challenging stretches, but the narrator brings through to the destination with apparent ease and grace.
london calling

Narrative Dynamics

Not all narrators are alike (and we'll talk about that in the next post), but any good narrator must find a way through the text.  They must establish a rhythm and method of narration that is likely to change from book to book depending on content, point of view, and writing style.  For instance, a narrator's voice should be more inviting if the text is a first-person memoir rather than a history of some person or event.  The author might imbue her voice with more emotion if reading a children's novel than if she is reading a literary novel.  Narrators also have to balance and consider how to do voices within a given text.  In nonfiction, this means delivering a generic male-sounding or female-sounding voice when quotes arise, but this can change, if the author provides vocal cues about the voice or if the voice being offered is a very famous voice.  How closely should the narrator aspire to sound like the person if it is William Shatner, Chris Rock, or Bill Clinton?  Does hearing a good Bill Clinton impression enhance an audiobook, whereas a neutral reading might pull the listener out of the experience?  Would it matter if the book is written for a political viewpoint?  By contrast, fiction can be quite challenging as narrators must keep track of the different voices they use for different characters and remain consistent.  They also have to consider what it means to sound authentic.  For instance, when it comes to race and ethnicity, how far might they go to capture authentic sounding voices without crossing over the line into being exploitative or performing some form of blackface oral performance?

All this is to say that the narrator needs to be a co-creator of the content with the author.  He or she must translate a textual experience into an oral experience, often with little or no help from the author.  And more often than not (as indicated by the explosion of audiobooks in the last twenty years), they are quite successful at what they do.  

Favorite narrators

Finally, I want to identify some of my favorite narrators.  In truth, I've listened to so many narrators over the years, it's hard to keep count, but here are some of my favorite narrators with links to their websites or to a listing of their narrations on Audible.  The first thing I will willingly admit is that the list is stacked towards males.  I think this seems to be my experience with audiobooks as a whole in that it favors males (like many other industries), but I could be (and would love to be shown that I am) wrong on that.  Anyway, these are some of my favorite narrators and I encourage you to check some of them out.  They're arranged alphabetically because trying to rank them...would take hours to figure out for me.  They all are pretty great people to be speaking into my ears.

Keep an eye out for my next post that looks at some of the challenges about narrators as well as I lay out the tough questions I'm dying to ask any narrator that's willing to answer!

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.