Monday, March 15, 2010

The best audio book narrators

It has been about a year now since I started listening to audio books in earnest. This past weekend, I found myself trudging far out of my way, in the rain, to pick up an audio book that I had reserved at the local library. I was walking back, huddled over the CDs to keep them from getting wet, not caring for my leather jacket, when it hit me. I really like this stuff now!

Over this last year, I have probably heard twenty audio books. Not that many, if you think about it, but enough to develop the early bits of a (there's no other way to say it) taste. One of my early realizations has been that you need more than a good book, more than a great writer to make for a good audio book. You need a great narrator.

Hearing a story is a deeply personal experience. You are alone, in the car, and at that very moment, you are the only person in the world who can hear the story. And the narrator is your medium, your temporary granddad if you will. How he tells the story can make it stand out, or make you step out.

Here then are some audio book narrators that I have most enjoyed. I am sure there are many others who are supremely talented, and hopefully I will get introduced to them in due course, but in my first year with this medium, here are the narrators who have stood out for me -

1. Frank Muller: I heard Muller narrating the John Le Carre classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Fans of Le Carre don't need to be told how great a book this is. I read it for the first time more than ten years ago. Muller though, takes it to a whole new level. This is not going to be the last I hear him!
2. Stephen Fry:
I have raved about the excellent Mr. Fry before on Brick and Rope. Douglas Adams made better. Enough said.
3. Jonathan Cecil: The most British of Brit voices. A perfect match for P.G. Wodehouse books. Have loved everything he has narrated. If you are listening to Wodehouse, do yourself a favor, pick a Cecil version.
4. Bill Bryson: Is there anything this guy can't do? His narration of the Australian travel book In a Sunburned Country was half the reason the book was such a hit with me. Friends tell me his narration of A Brief History of Nearly Everything is even better. Can't imagine that!
5. Alexander Spencer: All right, it is not safe to ignore everything I said in #3 above. Cecil, who? Alexander Spencer is your man for Wodehouse! Or anything halfway British. A better Wooster has not been done, not even by Cecil. So, as I was saying, if you are listening to Wodehouse, do yourself a favor, pick a Spencer version.

Two notable misses on my list - Simon Prebble and Jim Dale. I have heard only the best things about them, but haven't had the chance to listen to them yet. So next stop, Jim Dale narrating Harry Potter. That should be a blast.

Honey, do you want me to go get some groceries? No? Maybe I will get some milk anyway, just in case we run out. And oh, I will probably drop by the library on the way back.

32 comments:

  1. The second sentence stopped me in my tracks- you at the library! Are you still in shock? I see a stronger influence at work. Or is it that they don't come out with audio books in nice hardbound covers that can be displayed in bookshelves?

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  2. What about Frank Muller??? He is a genius when it comes to audiobook .

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  3. What about Guidal??? He is a genius when it comes to audiobook .

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  4. John Lee is great!

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  5. Frank Muller was my favorite, and I've listened to many of his recordings. Unfortunately, he was in a terrible motorcycle accident several years ago, ending his career, and he passed away last year.

    Two that I really enjoy are Len Cariou and Scott Brick.

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  6. I am currently reading Le Carre's 'Our kind of traitor'. Am really missing Muller.

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  7. David LeDoux. Just Fantastic! He did Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen) and Freedom (Jonathan Franzen).

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    1. i have listened to audio books read by Dave regardless of the book because I LOVE his voice.

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  8. try Davina Porter... she reads the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon... 2nd best Jim Dale being my first choice

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  9. i have to stay that i started enjoying audio books just by chance on the way down to new jersey (5 hour trip) last year and now i am addicted to them. my favourite narrator has to be by far steven pacey in the joe abercrombie series.

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  10. I was just thinking today as I was listening to Frank Muller narrate John Grisham's "The Partner" how much I missed him. His characterizations were just perfect. I also like Len Cariou, who is the perfect Harry Bosch. The narrator definitely makes the book. If he/she doesn't do a good narration, I usually just stop listening.

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  11. My vote goes for Roy Dotrice - He did the first three books of "A Song of Ice and Fire" !

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    1. Agreed. Roy Dotrice is the best.

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  12. Oh.. and another vote for Guidall in Michael Crichton's "Eater's of the Dead" - his deadpan rendition of Ahmad ibn Fahlan's scholarly work is jaw-dropping. I was in his grip - enchanted - transfixed!

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  13. I have listened to more than 500 audiobooks. My favorite narrators: John Lee, Grover Gardner, Tom Parker, Joe Barrett, Edward Herrmann, Mark Deakins, Norman Dietz, Juliet Mills, Edwina Wren. One narrator is dislike is the prolific Scott Brick. There are many talented narrators. It is an under-appreciated talent.

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  14. Dick Hill is the best narrator. He reads Lee Child's books.

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    1. Dick Hill does set a great tone for Jack Reacher's narrative through the US.

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  15. I agree about Jonathan Cecil. He is truly the preeminent interpreter/narrator of Wodehouse. Any list of book narrators must include Cecil; I think it must also include Martin Jarvis. Jarvis is second only to Cecil for Wodehouse, but his readings of Dickens's books stand head and shoulders above all others. Simon Callow deserves a mention too.

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  16. Rosalyn Landoris good is you like historical romance novels. She's the best!

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  17. You must listen to Michael Page. I think he is one of the best narrators I have heard. He does'The lies of Locke Lamora'by scott lynch and a lot of the classics like 'great expectations. Also the Jack Higgins books. Fantastic voice. My other favourite is Roy Dotrice reading 'a game of thrones by george r. r. martin.

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  18. What about Frank Muller??? He is a genius when it comes to audiobook .

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  19. George gudall and frank Muller read me SK dark tower and are the best I have heard
    I just don't like women reading. Not being sexist but I found all the female voices sound 12 and all the male sound 12 lol

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  20. Other Great examples are Roy Dotrice for Song of Ice and fire. He really immerses you in the material. Scott Brick (seems like all the best Sci-fi), George Guidall (the Prague cemetary) He does an incredible job mastering all the different nationalities and accents. My underrated actually goes to James Marsters(Buffy the vampire slayer fame) He is extremely good with the slightly above average material of Jim Butchers dresden file series. You could really see the drop off in talent when someone else read it

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  21. Craig Wasson hasn't done too many, only 12, but he is amazing. Hope he will start doing more. Agree with Frank Muller. Will Patton is good also.

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  22. Nathaniel Parker, with a wide range of performances from young person's to adult. His beautiful "warm chocolate" British voice, his astonishing ability with accents and dialogue that make you think there are five people not one reading the book, his acting talent - stories come alive via his voice. A true master of "theatre for the mind". Try The Waterhorse for children (and the child in all grown-ups), the Artemis Fowl and Young Bond series for young people, A Child in Time (Ian McEwen)for adults. And of course, there are many more of his marvellous recordings. I've listened to them all, and he's simply wonderful.

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  23. Why is Nathaniel Parker never mentioned when it comes to good readers. He is one of the few I really can listen to for hours, without being bored. I especially love The Waterhorse, but Nathaniel did many more books that are worth a listen. I agree with Audiobookfan that he has a beautiful voice. The characters really come to life when he reads the auidobooks. Nathaniel Parker certainly is my favorite audiobookreader.

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  24. Listening to Allan Corduner reading The Book Thief is sheer pleasure. And a note about the talented Grover Gardener; I was somewhat irritated when he began "Defending Jacob," but quickly became an admirer as he tackled a multitude of character voices distinctly and believably.

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