I’ve set myself a a goal of reading 100 books this year and am doing pretty well. I include audiobooks in that list, though I used to sheepishly believe that letting someone else read to me was cheating when it came to reading challenges. But I love to read and when life gets too busy and my mind just too unfocused to handle words on a page or screen, audiobooks have become my saviour.
I first learned about the medium from my brother, who would listen to them on his very long commute to and from work. My brother-in-law was the next to suggest them. He is not a big reader himself, but he wanted to enjoy some of the more popular books out there, like Game of Thrones. His praise for Shantaram convinced me to finally give audiobooks a try and Humphrey Bower’s narration just about blew me way. After that, I tried Star Wars: Annihilation. While Marc Thompson’s narration was pretty good, it was hard to reconcile the voices of characters I’d grown used to in the Star Wars: The Old Republic video game with Thompson’s interpretation. On the plus side, the audiobook came complete with telltale Star Wars sound effects and that unforgettable John Williams score.
Sometimes I’ll stumble onto an audiobook with a narrator that just doesn’t work for me at all, but that’s the risk you take with any venture. Hit or miss (mostly hit), audiobooks are now an important aspect of my bibliophilia and my participation in this audiobook reading challenge is well under way with 27 books already under my belt. I listen to them when I go for walks or long drives, but most often I’m listening at work. I’m a multitasker, so when my mind is on something that doesn’t require too much focus and brain power, I’ll pop in my ear buds and listen as I plunk away at data entry or file documents. They are also great companions while doing chores around the house. My supply usually comes from Audible.com, where I’ve been a member for about two years. Many books come Whispersync ready, which means if you also own the digital copy, you can switch back and forth between your Kindle eReader and the Audible app without worrying about losing your place. My local online library has its fair share of titles that I listen to using the Overdrive Media app. I prefer to listen to them at two or three times the regular speed setting, which some people find strange. “Why would you want to listen to the chipmunks?” I’ve been asked. The truth is, the regular speed is often intentionally slow. While 3x speed is pretty fast, listening to a narration that’s too slow would make me tear my hair out. This is why I will only use apps that allow for speed adjustment so that I can set my preferred pace.
I’ve developed a long list of favourite narrators and will often recommend audiobooks based on the narrator alone. As I said, sometimes a narrator just doesn’t work for me, but when they do, it is simply amazing. A good narrator can turn a mediocre book into gold. (Hell, it’s the only way you’d ever get me to read Fifty Shades of Grey—as long as Gilbert Gottrfried is doing the reading.) The award-winning Simon Vance holds the top spot on my list and I recently had the pleasure of interviewing him to get a behind the scenes look at a day in the life of an audiobook narrator. Personally speaking, I can barely manage reading a few chapters to my kids at bed time without getting a sore jaw and tripping over my tongue. I cannot fathom how these skilled voice actors can manage hundreds of pages, hours upon hours, and how they can keep all the different characters and accents and and strange pronunciations and emotional beats straight! But they do manage and I’m so glad.
My most recent listen from Vance is the adaptation of the movie, V for Vendetta. Normally, I wouldn’t pay much attention to a novel based on the movie, but Vance makes for an automatic passing grade, and I was not disappointed.
Claudia Black is also a favourite. She already has me swooning over everything she does on screen in Farscape or behind the scenes as a voice actress for some of my favourite video game characters. Her reading of Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner practically had me out of my seat during one particularly climactic chapter.
Reading for an ensemble cast can’t be easy, yet narrators like Justine Eyre certainly make it sound so. She narrates a recent favourite, Patrick Weekes’ The Palace Job, which features several main characters. The kicker? Eyre also gives them very distinct accents to go along with their unique personalities, and wraps her tongue smoothly around nouns and phrases that are far outside any language we might know in the real world. You try yelling “Kun-kabynalti osu fuir’is!” five times fast, and instill within those few words, the various meanings a warhammer imbued with the soul of an ancient king can express.
As a comic book lover, I have plans to venture into the world of graphic audio books. These are often full cast productions, complete with sound effects and graphic descriptions that help you sink right into the story, even if you aren’t looking at the pages and reading along. I have also listened to a few full cast readings of novels, such as Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie. BBC radio drama readings have become a favourite as well. Who wouldn’t want to listen to the dulcet tones of Blair Underwood and company reading haunting Twilight Zone tales?
Sometimes, it’s just one narrator handling an ensemble cast. That is, though most narrators will read for many different characters, it’s no simple matter to read many different characters when they are all in the same scene. Justine Eyre makes playing multiple characters sound so easy, even when she’s busy yelling “Kun-kabynalti osu fuir’is!” and instilling within those few words, all the different meanings a warhammer imbued with the soul of an ancient king can express. I am looking forward to the third installment of Patrick Weekes’ Rogues of the Republic series, but I won’t be able to read the book myself after having listened to Eyre’s masterfully delivery. I’d much rather wait for the audiobook.
For whatever reason, I used to think that audiobooks weren’t worth my time. Now I find it strange when one isn’t playing while I’m doing other things. If you love to read but don’t have the time, or if you don’t like to read, but really want to, audiobooks are the perfect solution.