Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Trouble with Audio Books





There were two articles in the NYT this past Sunday about audio books. I am a great fan of good audiobooks but I rarely find one that fits my needs. Virtually all people reading a traditional book are sitting in a chair, their full attention on the text in front of them.But...

People listening to audio books are 1) driving in the car 2) running 3) doing household chores as they listen 4) sitting in chair, their full attention on the voice next to them.

1-3 need a certain sort of book, and even more than that, a certain type of voice. I fall into the #3 category and like to listen to an audiobook while I cook, clean, etc. I never sit in a chair and listen to one. If I am sitting, I read a regular or Kindle book.

So because I am running water or moving as I listen, I need a reader that is a very clear speaker. Women don't usually work well. Nor do people with accents. So it is usually American books I listen to.
My favorite reader is Will Patton, who reads the James Lee Burke novels. The guy who read Plainsong was also terrific.But only about 1 in 5 audiobook works for me.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Do you see an advantage in having the actual writer read it? I would have thought I did until I heard Junot Diaz read his book of stories. His voice was so smart alecky I was even less inclined to finish the book.

Who is your favorite audiobook reader and what audiobook did you thing worked the best? I am looking for suggestions.

29 comments:

Joe Barone said...

This may sound silly, but for me the actual process of reading is relaxing. Listening doesn't do the same thing for me. When I was in a stressful occupation, reading could relax me when watching television on listening to a book didn't.

Deb said...

I only listen to audiobooks when I'm on a long car trip. There's something about the actual process of seeing words on paper that works for me in a way that hearing the words just doesn't. But I get car sick if I try to read in a vehicle (as a passenger of course!), so an audiobook works then. We listened to Michael York reading Brave New World on a drive to Florida a few years back and I thought he did a good job.

Steve M said...

I've only listened to one or two, all read by a single person. But I have some that have multiple readers playing the different characters, doing this the character is often not named and you have to try and remember whose voice is who - something I've found difficult with female readers the most, especially if they aren't in the book regularly. These books often have many sound effects too. The William Johnstone westerns are good examples of these.

Dan_Luft said...

I don't listen to audio books very often. When I do I much prefer first person to third. It's easier to get the characters (and the rhythms) in place.

My wife is in grad school now and has been using text-to-audio for a lot of books she uses. If she's not reading or writing, there's one of these on. She usually has it cranked to double or triple speed of normal speaking. I'm surprised how understandable it still is.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

A couple of years ago the library had the audio of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes but the book was checked out. I was impatient so I grabbed the audio.

Matterhorn is a grunt level Vietnam book replete with all of the appropriate coarse language you can think of. Now I'm no stranger to salty language so that didn't bother me. My problem was that Bronon Pinchot was the narrator (he does a lot of audiobook work) and hearing Balki cuss like that was too much, it was the rare time I got pulled so far out of the story that I had to stop.

So I waited until the book was returned and read it that way.

Anonymous said...

No. I don't listen to them. When I've tried I've been like your #3 as I'm doing whatever it is I'm doing and find I've lost the thread of the book.

Best (and most appropriate) reader: Frank McCourt reading Angela's Ashes.

Jeff M.

Todd Mason said...

Steve M finds himself describing radio drama, or at least a partially dramatized reading...BBC Radio 4 does a number of those.

I don't have a favorite reader, but indeed a higher-pitched voice, or one in the kind of field circumstances (notably war-zone reporting) where the speaker has enunciate above the background noise (or speak in the patented NPR/FM radio dj purr) are precisely the kinds of voices that are lost over the sound of water running in a sink, and so I tend to crank up the better-recorded radio drama (including such latter-day examples as BEYOND BELIEF, which is recorded from a stage performance before an audience...as with http://www.nerdist.com/2012/06/thrilling-adventure-hour-76-beyond-belief-djinn-and-tonic/ ).

Throatier women's voices, such as Paget Brewster in BEYOND BELIEF or Kathleen Turner, work well even in such circumstances...and too many readers of all genders are simply too flat for the noisy work environment...and, no, most writers are definitely NOT the ideal performers of their work, since they simply aren't good performers. Even those that are often seem to stress aspects in their vocalization that actually subtract from the experience of the work in question, perhaps passages they are particularly proud of.

Al Tucher said...

I have never listened to audiobooks, but those articles made me want to try them. I'm intrigued that John Schwartz loved Junot Diaz's reading, while you had the opposite reaction.

BTW, I loved the anecdote about the hypersensiive microphones and the two actors whose pants were too loud. Literally.

Loren Eaton said...

Audio books by authors can work if the author has a nice voice. I love most everything that Neil Gaiman reads.

Randy Johnson said...

Never did well with audiobooks. A few Stephen King things, usually short stories, and I seem to fall asleep while listening. I don't think I could listen to one while doing something else. I need the concentration, usually preferring low volume lyric-less music playing in the background.

Ron Scheer said...

Driving while listening to audio books must be as dangerous as driving while taking calls on a cell phone. I conclude that from personal experience.

For me, listening is a different skill set from reading. I'm not good at it.

le0pard13 said...

To answer your questions:
1. Yes. It's now my primary avenue (given family and work).
2. Rarely. Most authors, though most familiar with the material, aren't professional narrators. I very good one (and their are a number of them) really bring an experience for the listener (studio values and direction are another prominent component to a good audio production). That's not to say that some authors cannot turn out a good reading.
3. My favorites readers are usually tied to book series:
• George Guidall reading the Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson
• Gerry O'Brien is without a doubt Jack Taylor in Ken Bruen's series (hard to get in the US, though)
• Bronson Pinchot (yes, the actor) has become an extraordinary audiobook narrator
• Michael Kramer's reading of Thomas Perry's Butcher's Boy series is quite good (and does a number of this author's books)
• Luke Daniels has taken over narration duties for Robert Crais Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series and is really good -- William Roberts, the BBC's reader, has done the same series and is also great (though, another one hard to find on this side of the pond)
• others to try would be those featured ones at Audible
• Ray Porter reading The Dawn Patrol and The Power of the Dog (by Don Winslow) is extraordinary
• Robertson Dean doing Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND is something else.

There are others, but I just can't think of them at the moment. HTH

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Most definitely audio books make us use our brains in different ways, so we concentrate differently when we're listening to a story. I honestly don't listen to them too often, but when I do, I like the fact that I can be doing something else with my hands, but still enjoying a story. That said though, I agree completely that there are some things better done when one's not listening. If a story is really absorbing, I don't want to be driving when I listen for instance; I get too caught up in the story to drive safely.

Charles Gramlich said...

For a while I listened to books on my kindle during my commute, but then I got satellite radio.

Scott Parker said...

I am an avid listener of audiobooks and, given family and work requirements, audiobooks have become my primary medium of ingesting books. I find that I can do just about anything while listening to a book and get all the stuff in it. There are, for example, various places in my yard where I can remember listening to certain books. Weird, I know. I listen to it all: fiction and non-fiction, easy thrillers to complex books. Right now, I'm listening to Oliver Twist read by the fantastic Simon Vance. He also reads the James Bond books. Like le0pard13, I love the Ray Porter-read books. He does the Dawn Patrol and it's sequel. Scott Brick is also a good one. Johnny Heller reads the Richard Castle books and I love them, too. I could go on and on here...

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great, great information. And if anyone listens to one, in any area, that like, please let me know.
I am doing BLUE HEAVEN (C.J. Box) right now and it is working okay although his reading skills are not sterling.

Anonymous said...

Jim Dale has won a lot of awards for his reading of the Harry Potter series, among others.


Jeff M.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I have never listened to an audio book. Never really thought of it. Do the voice-over in audio books depend on the books? For instance, I'd imagine different voices for a Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy audio books, in sync with the tone of the book. The closest I have come to listening to anything audio, other than music, was the news on All India Radio, 25 years ago, where the news reader would intone in his deep voice, "The news read by..." followed by his name. Now I only listen to music on FM.

Todd Mason said...

http://www.audible.com/

You've checked their catalog? They advertise heavily on podcasts, and offer podcasts as well as books and such.

le0pard13 said...

I probably offered up too many men in my list. Women narrators are quite extraordinary, too. Susan Ericksen, Xe Sands, to name a couple. Audiobooks that featured women worth noting include Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin for 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot and 'Fifty Grand' by Adrian McKinty that featured a great performance by Paula Christensen.

George said...

Martin Jarvis and Jonathan Cecil do a great job with P. G. Wodehouse. The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories on CD (11 Volumes!) is outstanding.

Gerard said...

John Lee is my favorite. Phil Gigante does very well with Hap and Leonard.

I listen while walking or jogging and when driving.

Cullen Gallagher said...

I tried listening to one of my favorite writer's new books as an audiobook and couldn't get into it at all. I need to interact with the physical book. After a few minutes I couldn't recall the main character's name, or what was happening. It was like the words bounced off of my ears and didn't register. This might be one reason I hated lecture classes in college.

Todd Mason said...

Some of HarperAudio's reissues of Caedmon's recordings are most welcome, whether the full productions of O'Neill and Williams plays, among others, or the readings collections Harper has assembled from the Caedmon archives...my love for the lp version of the Walter Brennan and Brandon DeWilde album Caedmon released in the late '50s led me to pick up the Twain pack (that I've since blogged about, some time back).

Cap'n Bob said...

Whenn I drove to the country twice yearly I'd pop in a cassette of SON OF THE MORNING STAR when I hit the area where the radio wouldn't pick up any stations. I heard maybe 5 cassettes (of 20) and stopped doing it. That's my total experience with audio books. I'm not that keen on being read to in the first place, being above the age of 4, and I have enough real books to last me forever, so why bother?

Naomi Johnson said...

I'm in agreement with everything you said. So I don't often listen to audiobooks. My favorites include the late Mark Hammer's reading of James Lee Burke's books, and Scott Brick's reading of Nelson DeMille's John Corey series, particularly Night Fall.

Ron Scheer said...

Traveling cross country (on pretty boring Interstate highways) my wife and I once listened to ON THE ROAD, which seemed a perfect match with long distance driving.

Richard R. said...

I will listen to an audio book while walking (not running) or sitting. I'm not comfortable listening while driving, I try to avoid distractions. I have a set of Naxos CDs of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet and love to listen to it relaxing on the sofa, preferably in the dark. I just bury myself in the language and pictures he paints as well as the plot.

Yankee Cowboy said...

I too have a problem with most readers and most audiobooks. A great narrator makes any book seem even better.

The best reader I have found is Stephen Lang.
For fiction try him in "Vertical Run"
For non-fiction try "Six Frigates."