Narrators of Distinction

I’ve always found choosing a good audiobook to be complicated. Not only do I want the title to be interesting and compelling, there is also the added layer of the quality of the narration. It can be the greatest book in the world, but if I find the narrator’s delivery dull, grating or outright annoying I won’t touch it. On the flip side, if I discover a narrator I really like I will often give a book a listen even if the narrator is reading a title I wouldn’t normally touch with a ten foot pole. So clearly the narrator is key, but how exactly do you choose a good narrator?

One of the easier ways is to take a look at the Audie awards. The Audies are awarded annually by the Audio Publishers Association to titles deemed to have excellent narrators in a wide variety of categories. While this year’s awards won’t be until May 31st, the APA has just come out with all the titles that have been nominated. This list is an easy way to look for titles with potentially great narrators. Listed below is a partial list of the categories and titles that have been nominated for the 2017 awards. Feel free to look at the full list of all the titles and categories, via this link, as well.

audies1

Autobiography/Memoir

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart, narrated by Hannah Hart and Judy Young

The Rainbow Comes and Goes written and narrated by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

Best Female Narrator

Another Brooklyn: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson, narrated by Robin Miles

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, narrated by Bahni Turpin

audies2

Best Male Narrator

End of Watch by Stephen King, narrated by Will Patton

Jerusalem by Alan Moore, narrated by Simon Vance

Fantasy

The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer

Fiction

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

audies3

History/Biography

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman, narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, narrated by Scott Brick

Humor

The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy written and narrated by Rainn Wilson

Black Man, White House: An Oral History of the Obama Years by D.L. Hughley, narrated by Keith Szarabajka, John Reynolds, Fran Tunno, Cherise Boothe, Dan Woren, P.J. Ochlan, Gregory Itzin, Paula Jai Parker-Martin, Mia Barron, Ron Butler, and James Shippy

You’ll Grow out of It written and narrated by Jessi Klein

audies4

Multi-Voiced Performance

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, narrated by Mitch Albom, Roger McGuinn, Ingrid Michaelson, John Pizzarelli, Paul Stanley, George Guidall, and more

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, narrated by Audra McDonald, Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fliakos

Mystery

Crimson Shore by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, narrated by Rene Auberjonois

The Crossing by Michael Connelly, narrated by Titus Welliver

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, narrated by Robert Bathurst

audies5

Narration By The Author or Authors

Dear Mr. You written and narrated by Mary-Louise Parker

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo written and narrated by Amy Schumer

The View from the Cheap Seats written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

Non-Fiction

Hillbilly Elegy written and narrated by J.D. Vance

Romance

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, narrated by Nicole Poole

The Obsession by Nora Roberts, narrated by Shannon McManus

audies6

Science Fiction

Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dean Foster, narrated by Marc Thompson

Thriller/Suspense

Cross Justice by James Patterson, narrated by Ruben Santiago Hudson and Jefferson Mays

Home by Harlan Coben, narrated by Steven Weber

audies7

Young Adult

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, narrated by Carla Corvo, Steve West and various

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and James Patterson, narrated by Nicola Barber

Winter by Marissa Meyer, narrated by Rebecca Soler

Lights, Camera, Read

You see them everywhere: smiling for the camera, promoting their latest film, putting their hands in cement. Yes, I’m talking about the famous (and infamous) stars of stage, screen and television. You can stoically resist their charms, but even the most cynical of us have a tendency to succumb to their gravitational pull eventually.

I was surprised to find that, for me, this even holds true when I’m selecting an audiobook. I’ve found that, if the narrator of an audiobook has a famous name, I will sometimes give it a try no matter what the book itself is. Call me shallow, but this has actually led me to listen to some interesting audiobooks that you might enjoy as well. Here are two examples:

world war zWorld War Z (Movie Tie-In Edition) by Max Brooks
I know, I know. More zombies. But there are two good reasons to give this audiobook a try. First there are more stars than you can shake a stick at narrating this edition. Clearly the author, with the help of the studio promoting the upcoming film I would wager, pulled some strings to get the likes of Mark Hamill, John Turturro, Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg, Henry Rollins, Martin Scorsese and many, many, others to narrate. Secondly, this book is actually more of a social history of a zombie apocalypse than a survivalist do or die zombie apocalypse. I know it sounds odd. Lisa captured the feel perfectly in her post from last summer. Once you get into it, it truly does feel like an oral history, albeit of a fictional future event.

I, ClaudiusI Claudius: A BBC Radio-4 Full Cast Dramatization by Robert Graves
There is no need for an ancient history degree to appreciate this fun visit to a very, very dysfunctional family who just happens to rule the Roman Empire. While definitely based on the Robert Graves novel, this recording is a fresh take on the material and is more akin to a recorded play than a reading of the book. There is little gravitas which lets the dark humor of the Machiavellian scheming come through. Best of all, the cast is chock full of British stage, film and television actors that are top-notch. Standouts include Tim McInnerny, Harriet Walter, Jessica Raine, Tom Goodman-Hill and, of course, Derek Jacobi playing Augustus this time around.

Sadly my listening time is even more limited than my reading time. There are only so many listening hours (primarily when I’m driving, exercising or weeding) that I can squeeze out of the week. But if my formula of star power leading to intriguing listening experiences holds true, these new titles might also be worth considering.

gatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Timed to coincide with the theatrical summer release, this version is narrated by the actor Jake Gyllenhaal. To my shame, I’ll admit that Gatsby has never been one of my favorite novels. On the other hand I really did like Donnie Darko. Perhaps the two might negate each other and lead to a pleasurable listening experience. Stranger things have happened.

88 by Dustin Black
This is a recording of Black’s play about the legal attempt to repeal proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that repealed the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. While an important topic, politics and the legal system can be a bit dull. The all-star cast (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Kevin Bacon, John C. Riley, Jamie Lee Curtis and many more) might just bring it to life, however.

During my search, I was surprised to find that actors and actresses narrating audiobooks is not a new phenomenon. There are many who regularly narrate and are well represented in our collection. A few names that you might recognize are: Joe Mantegna, Campbell Scott, Elizabeth McGovern, Gary Sinise, Bronson Pinchot, Wil Wheaton and Dan Stevens.

So there you have it. A new method of selecting audiobooks based on star power. Don’t be embarrassed. Resistance is futile.

Richard