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In the World of Audiobooks, the Narrator Rules Supreme

by on February 19, 2013

I have just recently discovered the attraction of audio books. For the longest time, I couldn’t get comfortable with listening to a book when I would much rather curl up with one on the sofa. Plus, audiobooks were clunky. In the pre-downloadable days, I would have to cart around my Discman and the relevant disk in order to listen in line at the grocery store or while waiting at the doctor’s office. A book, I could just throw in my bag and have with me at all times. It is the same argument as the Bound Book versus e-Reader. For so long, the argument was that e-Readers just wouldn’t catch on because how could you possible curl up with a screen?

It seems that users have answered that question with a “very easily, thank you!” And the same happened to me with audio. Suddenly, I had my daughter, and with a new baby and a tower of literature to “curl up with” for grad school, the clouds parted and the light shone brightly on audio books – an area I hadn’t given a second thought to since well before all the Y2K paranoia. They offered me the opportunity to lose myself in the titles while I shuttled back and forth to campus, or I could download a file and listen to it on the go through my phone. And within this whole new world of easy access and portability and download capability, I made a discovery; in the world of audio, the actual book could be fantastic, but I will never know it if I can’t get past the sound of the narrator.

I have found myself returning more titles that I would like to admit simply because I cannot get past the first few chapters. Recently, I returned a novel that had only two discs left! I had already made such a commitment to the book – one that I am sure I would have loved in print – but the male narrator just couldn’t get his voice around a convincing female character and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I am currently chasing narrators. Narrators who successfully deliver a variety of voices without a hint of caricature and can convince me that there are, indeed, more than just two characters in the book.

This is such a subjective type of advisory. I can consult with my librarian, and even if she knows me, the finicky nature of my audible preferences cannot accurately be described. In a print book, we can narrow it down to fantasy, politics, nature, etc. but there is no such classification for a person’s voice. I cannot look up a recording by the baritone of a character portrayal, or the accent ability of a narrator. I navigate this with a lot of trial and error, and I consult with my fellow audiobook listeners whose opinions I trust. But I wonder if we shouldn’t band together to create a network of fellow listeners to exchange information and rate narrators? Could we not have a service that filters our narrators for us based on similarities to favorite audio books, similar to the Pandora music model that rates music on varying scales that include style, timbre, lyrics, and influences? The increasing popularity of audiobooks is so marked that it is gaining national attention, so for us listeners, a better way must be around the corner, right?  For now, my trial and error works fine, but a listener can dream. Who are your favorite audiobook narrators? Send in your suggestions!