What Makes a Good Narrator?

Thursday, June 28, 2012


There are so many elements that go into a good audiobook. Obviously the plot of the book itself, but you must consider a slew of other factors. I know that I have a few preferences and I’d love to discuss those today. 

I love when the narrators’ sex matches that of the main character. I hate it when some male tries to do an awful high-pitch imitation of a woman when speaking for a female character. A few examples of perfect narration that come to mind are Lenny Henry’s reading of Anansi Boys, Frank Mueller’s reading of Motherless Brooklyn, and Jenna Lamia’s reading  of The Secret Life of Bees.

I enjoy a full cast of narrators when there are multiple main characters. For example, I’ve listened to a few of Shakespeare’s plays that were done with a full cast and they are excellent! Also, the audiobook of The Help was done this way and it is one of the best I’ve heard.

I almost always dislike it when authors read their own work. For the most part, authors do not have the skill of a seasoned narrator. There are a few major exceptions to this rule that come to mind. Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris are wonderful at narrating their own work! Also, I know Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling both did their books and they’re both great. 

I particularly dislike special effects or music in the background of the performance. Some audiobooks rely on this as a way to explain what is happening to a reader. Here’s a tip, if the book says, “And then he closed the door,” I don’t need to hear the sound of a door closing.

As far as genres go I’ve found that I prefer listening to nonfiction on audio rather than reading it. I’d highly recommend trying one of Erik Larson, Bill Bryson or Mary Roach’s books if you’re interested. Young Adult books, especially series also worked beautifully on audio. I’d recommend the Percy Jackson series, the Flavia de Luce series, the Harry Potter series, the Lemony Snicket series and The Dark Materials series as good audiobooks.

My biggest pet peeve when it comes to narrators is blatant mispronunciations. It drives me bonkers! I don’t mean an English to American difference, like pronouncing aluminum Al– Loo – Mini – Um. I mean just saying the word wrong. Some are funny and others make me cringe. Does this bother anyone else?

Here’s a few of my favorites…

Despot … pronounced DespoTATE

Fruition … pronounced Froot – Uh- Tay - Shun

Guillotine … pronounced GILL – Uh- Teen

Carnagie … pronounced Car – NEG – E

How about all of you, what do you love or hate about audiobook narrators?

This post is part of Audiobook Week hosted by Devourer of Books

Image from here.

16 comments:

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

Something that really gets on my nerves are the narrators that have a certain repetitive cadence (it's difficult to explain what I mean). It's not the tone, it's the way the voice, for instance, goes up at the end of a sentence, or almost always ends at it there was a question mark there.

JReiss said...

My 2 cents:

I listened to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter read by Cherry Jones and it was incredible.

Frank McCourt is also incredible at narrating his own work.

I love British accents for British books. I will always have stuck in my head the way the narrator said "Mr. Rochester" in Jane Eyre.

Kristi said...

I don't have anything to add since I'm not an audiobooks listener (yet), but the door comment made me laugh. That would drive me crazy, as would the blatant mispronunciations. That's crazy that anyone would pronounce fruition and despot that way. Their eyes must be seeing a few extra letters there.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I agree that in most cases the author makes for a terrible narrator in most cases. I have a terrible time listening to to an audio book with a British narrator so I always avoid those. Strong Southern accents often have the same effect for me.

Jeanne said...

I so agree about authors reading their own work. Sarah Vowell is another exception--she has a very funny voice, and I think it adds to the low-key funniness of her writing.

Douglas Adams is another notable exception--I didn't appreciate a scene between Marvin and a bigger, dumber computer as much until I heard Adams read the big computer with a cockney accent! (I actually heard him read that scene in person, at UMD in the early 1980s, but it's in his version of the audiobooks now).

Heather said...

You are so right about nonfiction. I need to start listening to more of it. With the right reader, it can be so much more exciting!

Kristin said...

I've only listened to one book that was narrated by the author and it was ok. I listened to another book by that same author that was narrated by someone else and preferred that one much more.

Kristin @ Always With a Book

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

I had never heard of Lenny Henny until 3 minutes ago, and then both you and Michelle raved about his narration of ANASASI BOYS. Now I need to listen to it!

wordsandpeace.com said...

YES! I can get so upset when they mispronounce words, especially foreign words.
Which Erik Larson's audiobook would you recommend? I'm not too keen on Hoye's narration of The Garden of Beasts. see my answers today to read more about it: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/06/28/what-makes-a-good-narrator-audiobook-week-discussion/

Squeak Torres said...

I hate mispronunciations too! They tend to pull me right out of the story.

Dorothy - The Alaskan Bookie - Squeak
Blog ~ http://alaskanbookie.blogspot.com/
Twitter ~ http://twitter.com/AkChocoholic

Sandy Nawrot said...

Lenny Henry is amazing, isn't he? I've never heard such an amazing narration as his. He needs to narrate more! I hate special effects (although I liked the music they played in Shadow of the Wind). Love Sedaris, Sarah Vowell and Tina Fey narrating their own stuff, and I'm just now listening to American Dervish, which is narrated by the author and he is wonderful.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alex - I know what you mean, that drives me nuts too.

JReiss - McCourt was perfect! And yes, British book definitely need British narrators.

Kristi - I'm sure there are words that I mispronouce, but I feel like it's kind of their job to get it right.

Diane - Accents don't bother me as long as they are appropriate for the story. Funny how different things bug people.

Jeanne - Vowell is perfect on audio! I refuse to read her work, I have to listen to it. I can't believe you got to see Adams read in person. I am so jealous right now. I've listened to his audiobooks and they're wonderful, but he's one author I really wish I could have seen read from his work.

Heather - Since I started reading with audiobooks my nonfiction intact went through the roof.

Kristin - Obviously there are exception (usually with nonfiction memoir-style books), but it's a safe bet to avoid most author narrated books.

Jen - It's so good! I've talked to people who read it instead of listening to it and weren't impressed. This is one of those cases where the narration just hits it out of the park.

wordsandpeace - I actually really didn't like The Garden of Beasts. I'd recommend his book Isaac's Storm. It's my favorite of his!

Squeak Torres - They ruin it for me! I feel like someone should stop them and say, wait that can't be right.

Sandy - If you find more by Henry let me know. I loved him!

JoAnn said...

I usually prefer listening over reading, too, when it comes to nonfiction.

Jenners said...

I agree with you on all of this!! I've found how much multiple narrators can work for multi-character books … it just make it come alive. Men doing women's voices can be so horrible!

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I've listened to the American narrator do the harry potter books and it really annoyed me when he kept pronoucning Voldemort incorrectly... Stephen Fry was soo much better!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

JoAnn - For some reason it just works better.

Jenners - It's funny how irritating those things can be.

Becky - I've been dying to try the Stephen Fry version. I've heard it's gerat.