Have you ever found yourself excusing yourself to someone for listening to a book rather than reading it? We sometimes feel that others may judge our listening to not be as legitimate a literary experience as reading is. Listening to a book is just another way of reading it.
Remember that we all started out having stories read to us before we learned to read ourselves, and most of us still enjoy listening to stories well told. In fact, for many books, the experience can be enhanced when read by skillful readers.
Most narrators of audiobooks nowadays are actors, capable of taking on different accents, inflections, or even genders for different characters. Some productions involve multiple actors, from two to several. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks has forty.
I sometimes wonder, after listening to a book wonderfully read, if I would have liked it as much if I had read it with my own eyes. Sometimes I’m not sure because the audio experience was so memorable. Here are a few books for which the audio version was so well done that I’m glad I listened to it instead of reading it first.
Faithful Place by Tana French (Murder Mystery, 2010)—This novel is the third book in French’s series about the Dublin murder squad, but can be read as a stand-alone. Frank Mackey is a cop who grew up in Faithful Place and was happy to leave, never to return. But Frank finds himself involved in a case reaching back to 1985 after the body of his true love, Rosie Daley, is discovered in an abandoned building. The narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds, brings to life the characters’ Irish working class roots, and the voice of the main character rings true as he shifts from tough to confused to bitter and beyond. I particularly loved the narration of the conversations between Frank and his young daughter as he teaches her hard truths.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows (Historical Fiction, 2008)—True confessions—I have read this book once and listened to it three times. It’s written in epistolary style using letters between all of the various characters, but mainly from columnist and author Juliet Ashton.
It takes place during the World War II Nazi occupation of the Isle of Guernsey, and introduces a charming array of quirky island characters (sound familiar?) who find their way into Juliet’s heart. The various narrators brilliantly voice each character imbuing them with atmosphere and personality. If you haven’t read this book, try listening to it now.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, 2006)—The skies are perpetually gray and humanity is teetering in the dying world that McCarthy builds. It’s a dark novel in which animals are nearly extinct, starvation is virtually universal, and ruthless cannibals rove the land.
But the writing is breathtaking, and the themes of enduring when all seems lost, and of love that exists in a world that seems bereft of all humanity, are hopeful. Just reading the first page always makes my heart beat faster.
Tom Stechschulte, the narrator, uses a gruff, weary voice to portray the father in the book, sometimes raised in anger, in others lowered to comfort, but straightforward, unadorned and honest. His voice, telling his son to "carry the fire," has lived on in my mind for years.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Psychological Thriller, 2012)—Nick’s wife Amy disappears, and Nick is suspected of murder. The book is told from Nick and Amy’s alternating points of view, but neither proves to be a reliable narrator. What do we know, and how do we know it? And are we sure we know what we know? The twists keep coming in shocking waves that show a toxic marriage taken to unimaginable extremes. Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne, the narrators of the audiobook, convincingly portray two people who are not honest about the way they portray themselves to the world, and eventually reveal their true dysfunctional natures.
A few other books I’ve enjoyed listening to are Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Literary Fiction, 2013), Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (YA Historical Fantasy, 2011), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (Historical Horror, 2010), and Chasing Fire by Nora Roberts (Romantic Suspense, 2011). Go on listening to and enjoying great books. And if you find one with an exceptional narrator, share that with your friends. They might just get hooked on listening, too.
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