As old faithful readers may know already, I have a history with audiobooks. Some experiences have been positive ones, while others have been painful. For the longest time, I attributed this to the books; readers respond differently to different works, so it makes sense that, as I love some books and hate others, I similarly love some audiobooks and hate others. The fault lies with the book. But in reality, does it?
Now, don’t worry, this isn’t a post debating the worn out question of whether it’s better to read or to listen. It isn’t even a post asking whether listening to an audiobook means that you can claim to have read the book. This particular post is regarding whether a “bad” narrator has the potential ability to ruin a book the reader/listener would otherwise have loved.
I’ve had a number of great audiobook experiences, including all of the LOTR books and The Hobbit, which are all narrated by Robert Inglis. Listening to Robert’s narration brings life to the texts in a way that affords distinct accents, personalities, drama, and humor. I can’t say enough good things about these works by themselves, but I truly adore the audio versions just as much, if not more, due to the narrator (especially when I pretend it’s Tolkien reading them to me).
A more recent positive experience with audiobooks was with Bill Nye’s Unstoppable. First of all, let me just say, Bill Nye for VP. Secondly, listening to his book on audiobook was the perfect way to get this book under my belt. The book is chock-full of detailed information, info that risks causing my simple brain to putt, sputter, and stall out completely, but luckily for listeners, Bill Nye narrates it and he has always been the master of taking difficult information and simplifying it so that it seems so obvious. Science, guys! You can do it, too! Global warming! It’s obviously real! Conservation! Simple things can save the world!
I have no doubt that I would have loved reading the hard copy of this non-fiction scientific bombshell, but I also have no doubt that I enjoyed it more having listened to Nye’s soothing tones informing me about his often humorous but always urgent and important message.
On the other hand, I had an unpleasant audiobook experience recently with Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Now, I have a number of friends, whom I trust immensely when it comes to book recommendations, who adore this book. The consistently positive reviews of this novel lead me to think that it was the narration that left me… disenchanted. The narration was “performed” by a full cast of actors, some of whom were absolutely ridiculous in their efforts to imitate the voice of an adolescent cockney girl, an Archduke from bygone centuries, or what I can only assume was an elderly Ukrainian woman. The dialogue and sequence of events were constantly overshadowed by the overpowering, absurdly exaggerated accents. Now, to give some credit where credit is due, I understand that this story is meant for children and children often respond positively to character voices, so this version may be wildly popular among toddler audiences. Along the same lines, I have heard that Neil Gaiman himself narrates another version of the audiobook, so oops. I picked the wrong version. But good grief, should a version be so strongly directed towards young audiences that it becomes wholly intolerable for adults? Should the pizzazz with which a line is delivered overshadow the message itself?
The point of this rant was to say that the narrators can make or break the books, at least they can for me. Bill Nye made the difficult subject of global warming less difficult and more present in my daily life, and whatever that narration was for Graveyard made an otherwise delightful book into an absurd mockery of the text. It makes me wonder how much stock Audible and other audio companies put into narrators, and whether it should be more.
In terms of my future classroom, I’d still recommend Graveyard to some of my students, but I’d absolutely give them the hard copy, not the audiobook. Once I have time (possibly never again?), I’d like to buy a hard copy and read that version, to see if my conclusions are correct and the narration ruined it, or if I just dislike this book.
I’m hoping to find time to write a few reviews soon. I’ve finished several of my summer reads since I last posted, and if you read my last post, I’m hoping you’ll be forgiving of my absence. I’m… busy, to say the least. Anyway, don’t give up on me because I have some good reviews coming! Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!