The Importance of Narrators

I’ve been talking a lot about audiobooks recently. It shouldn’t be surprising – I’ve essentially taken on the role of audiobook evangelical since I started my longer commute 3 years ago. I tell everyone and anyone about how audiobooks have helped me keep up with my TBR list, revisit favorite books, and are accessible in a pinch through downloading services at public libraries including Overdrive and Axis360.

Early on in my foray into audiobooks I became aware of the importance in considering the narrator when selecting my next “read.” A skilled narrator well suited to the material can make or break an audiobook.

That’s why I was dismayed when BookRiot (which I generally LOVE) published the 100 Family Friendly Audiobooks – a list of great books (and possibly great audiobooks) without specifying narrators.  For example, book no. 1 was The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden but when I searched my public library catalog for audio versions I found performances by both Tony Shalhoub and Rene Auberjonois. Professional actors narrating audiobooks has been a growing trend in recent years with narrators including but definitely not limited to Kate Winslet, Colin Firth, and Claire Danes and productions by A-listers are not a guaranteed success.

A few weeks ago however a librarian friend on Twitter put out a call asking for audiobook recommendations – but for NARRATORS rather than TITLES. I jumped at the chance to comb through my favorites and thought I would share those names with you as well.

  1. Jim Dale: I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t enjoy Dale’s wonderful audiobook narration. I discovered him with The Night Circus and followed with his productions of the Harry Potter series.
  2. Julia Whelan: I only discovered Whelan’s stellar performance a few months back with Fates and Furies and just finished my second narration of hers with Delicious! by Ruth Reichel. Excellent performances and (sadly) refreshing to have a talented female narrator for a book written from a woman’s point of view. I read the print version of Gone Girl but might have to check out the audiobook at some point because of Whelan’s narrative ability.
  3. Sunil Malhotra: I fell for Malhotra in the audio version of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park and then searched him out again – he brought Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland to life. I look forward to eventually revisiting the masterpiece Cutting for Stone with Malhotra’s performance.
  4. Neil Gaiman: The benefits of an author reading his or her own book is knowing exactly how pacing and inflections are intended. A word of caution: not all authors (Ray Bradbury I’m looking at you and your narration of Fahrenheit 451) are good performers. Gaiman however shines in his audiobooks and his voice is soothing and dreamy. I’d suggest starting with The Ocean at the End of the Road  or American Gods. 

These are narrators where I have enjoyed more than one of their performances so I can confidently assert their caliber is not a one-off. I look forward to tracking down additional performances by narrators I’ve enjoyed once and perhaps publishing another list in a year or two. In the library catalog scroll to the bottom of a record to look for the “added author” field – the narrator is also often listed right next to the author’s name in the Goodreads record.

Happy listening!

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2015 Reads

I set myself two reading challenges for 2015: My Goodreads Challenge to complete 50 books in the calendar year and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge which I made into a BINGO sheet and competed with coworkers to complete.

Good News: I surpassed my Goodreads goal and read 52 books in 2015.

2015GoodreadsChallenge

Bad News: I was two books short of completing my #ReadHarder Challenge. I should have been more strategic.

 

2015 Read Harder

I am most disappointed by the fact that the two white squares are two books that I never read. I am partly through a book of Rumi poetry and have the first book of the Outlander series on my table – I just chose to read other books instead.

So what did I read in 2015? Lets do my annual breakdown.

2015 Stats: 52 books

Gender:

Authors read in 2015 – 23 books by men, 1 anthology, 28 books by women.

In 2015, only 53.8% of the books I read are by women authors – this is a 24% drop from the previous year which disappoints me. I wonder if the Read Harder Challenge which pushed me out of my regular reading habits somehow skewed me towards more male authors.

LGBTQ:

This year I read 4 books by an author known or easily identified as part of the LGBTQ community. This is slight improvement over the previous year and means I need to continue focusing my attention on expanding my reading of these authors.

Race:

A look at the authors I read by race:  41 white,  4 Asian, 4 Black,  1 Native American, 1 Hispanic authors  (and 1 anthology). This continues to be disappointing, I did not really improve the racial diversity of my reading since last year.

Genre:

5 biographies – 2 essays – 3 fantasy – 16 novels – 8 memoirs – 3 mystery – 4 general non-fiction – 2 science fiction – 2 self-improvement – 3 collections of short stories – 4 young adult novels.

I am pleased by the range of genres I covered in 2015. My traditional genres have been fiction, memoir, essays, and a smattering of non-fiction. The inclusion of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery in my reading repertoire continues to show a broadening scope.

Format:

As I’ve referenced several times in this blog I have embraced audiobooks due to a 40-minute commute to work. In 2015,  28 (more than half!) of the books in my 52 count were audio books (CDs or OverDrive/Audio 360 downloads). 7 books that I read in 2015 were graphic novels – more than twice the number of graphic novels I read last year!

Looking Forward

My coworkers and I are doing the Book Riot Read Harder 2016 Challenge and I’m thinking about setting my Goodreads Challenge to 54 books next year.

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Faux Pho

When I went back to Michigan in July for a family wedding I stocked up on Asian ingredients at the local Asian market – one of the things we really miss living in our more rural area is proper ingredients. And they are important to our monthly menu of recipes which includes a Faux Pho. I call it faux for two reasons: 1) there is no raw meat that is cooked in the broth and 2) in all restaurants where my husband has ordered Pho the broth is always meat based. As a pescetarian that doesn’t work for at-home meals so we adapted recipes we found to our choosing.

Faux Pho

2 tsp canola oil

1 onion (sliced)

2 TBSP ginger, minced

1 TBSP garlic, minced

10 peppercorns

5-7 star anise

6-7 whole cloves

2 TBSP fish sauce

Bok choy (3-4 baby) – separate stems from leaves, rough chop stems

2 TBSP brown sugar

1 package rice noodles (thick)

1 pound small mushrooms (button or baby bellas), chopped

2 32-ounce cartons of vegetarian stock (unsalted)

1 bag of frozen shrimp

1 lime

1 bundle cilantro (chopped)

3-4 green onions (chopped)

Hoisin

Hot sauce (sriracha) or pickled hot peppers as desired

How sad is it that my husband just taught me the adage “Hot pain, cold oil”? I’m really almost a hopeless cook. Thankfully he usually feeds me – but I do want to take on more of the cooking so I’m not SO reliant on him.

In a stock pot saute in the canola oil, onion, and ginger, and garlic. Once the onions are nicely browned splash in a little stock to de-glaze then add the rest of the stock, peppercorns, star anise, cloves, and fish sauce, half of the mushrooms, the boy choy leaves,and brown sugar.

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Bring the mix to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

Prep serving bowls: Squeeze juice from a half a lime into each bow and add 1-1.5 TBSP hoisin.You can add some of the bok choy stems at this point if you want the crunch. Add hot sauce or chopped picked hot peppers if desired (see left bowl).

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After the broth has simmer for 20 minutes, strain to remove all flavor items and return the broth to the pot.

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Reheat to a boil, then add the noodles and cook for 8-10 minutes. Pull noodles out (divide between serving bowls) and bring broth back to a boil.

Add second batch of mushrooms, and bok choy stems and simmer to soften (about 3 minutes). Remove mushrooms and boy choy and divide between serving bowls. Add shrimp to broth and cook until pink*. Ladle soup into the bowls. Garnish with green onion and cilantro.

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*Under-cooking shrimp can results in a food-borne illness.

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Signs of Spring

It’s March and Spring has Sprung!

That is, we hope it has…there were some snow flakes today but next week there are 50s in the forecast and I am hoping that today’s flakes were the very last of winter.

There are some promising signs this pas week, including…

At the start of the week my thyme which I stubbornly kept watering over the winter despite it remaining brown suddenly sprung lots of new green growth! So, now (hopefully) I don’t have to buy another thyme plant!

Spring Thyme

And yesterday I put the laundry on the line for the first time since November. I’ve read you can hang laundry out all the year even when its freezing but I am not that intrepid. Give me 39-41 degrees Fahrenheit and a sunny day and I will take that laundry challenge (even with snow on the ground)!

Spring Laundry

What signs of spring have you seen?

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2014 Reading: Diversity Evaluation

Last year I thought it would be enlightening to breakdown what I read by genre, author, etc. and found the results interesting. Out of 50 books 62% were by women, 86% were by white authors, and I was pleased by the spread of genres I covered. Lets see how 2014 compares.

**If I read more than one book by an author (for example I read all of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling) I counted them each time.**

2014 Stats: 45 Books — 11,266 pages

2014 Books

Gender:

Authors read in 2014 – 9 Books by men, 36 books by women.

I am proud that 80% of the books I read are by women authors. As I mentioned last year there is a gender gap in publishing but I seem to gravitate towards female authors without giving it too much thought.

LGBTQ: This year I read 2 books by a known gay author. This was a new author to me but the small number of books and the fact that both books were by the same person indicates to me that I need to make an effort to expand my reading in this area.

Race:

A look at the authors I read by race: 39.5 white, 1 Asian, 1 African, 1.5 Native American, 2 Hispanic authors. This continues to be disappointing, I did not really improve the diversity of my reading since last year — hopefully the Book Riot Read Harder challenge will push me along this goal. Also note that Sarah Vowell was counted as .5 white and .5 Native American in the racial breakdown.

Genre:

7 memoirs—1 short stories—6 fantasy— 11 Children/Young Adult—13 Fiction—1 essays—4 non-fiction—2 mystery

I am pleased by the range of genres I covered in 2013. My traditional genres have been fiction, memoir, essays, and a smattering of non-fiction. The inclusion of fantasy and mystery in my reading repertoire continues to show a broadening scope. As with last year for the purpose of fantasy v science fiction I used the Ray Bradbury definition – that science fiction COULD happen but fantasy couldn’t. In 2013 I did read 2 science fiction books but apparently did not include any of that genre in this past year.

Format:

As I’ve referenced several times in this blog I have embraced audiobooks due to a 40-minute commute to work. In 2014,  21 (almost half!) of the books in my 45 count were audio books (CDs or OverDrive downloads) and 1 book was an ebook (a GoodReads ebook). 3 books that I read in 2014 were graphic novels – a format I hope to continue including in the future.

Looking forward:

My goal for 2015 is to read 50 books. Last year I upped this goal to 52 and feel short, I hope that even with more attention being given to our new house and garden I will be able to #makeithappen

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2014 Reading in Review

My 2014 GoodReads Challenge goal was to read 52 books — last year I successfully completed my 50 books goal and felt I should up my game. Unfortunately, I did not meet this goal — I hit 45 books (maybe 47 if I finish an ebook and audiobook by the end of the day!).

I DID however complete my Reading BINGO challenge.

FullSizeRender

I had a great time figuring out which books I was reading would fit the criteria and which books I would NEED to read to complete the challenge. In 2015 I’m going to create my own BINGO sheet based on the Goodreads/BookRiot Read Harder Challenge. Download the page Read Harder BINGO.

Read Harder BINGO

Who wants to play?

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My Favorite Audiobooks

I’ve mentioned on here previously that as a result of my longer commute, in the last year I’ve taken up audiobooks as a way to continue enjoying as many books as I can. I also make a point to listen to audiobooks when I take trips back to Michigan to visit family or when I have to drive across the state for meetings. So I feel like I am becoming pretty well-versed in what makes a good audiobook (to date I’ve completed 30).

In my opinion commuter or travel audiobooks must follow this criteria:

A. The story must be interesting enough to distract you from the mundane roads you see on a regular basis (although not so interesting that you are distracted during high-traffic periods or that you make the mistake of driving down your hilly driveway after an ice storm and slide off into a ditch  – totally not talking about me, I swear…)

B. The narrator is key. In most books that means the narrator must be good at both the third person narration and doing voices. The number of characters in a book can be critical — a narrator who is excellent in a novel with a small cast may not provide such as stellar performance for a book that has hundreds of characters.

What books meet this criteria? See my list below:

1) The Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling,  narrated by Jim Dale. Remember what I said about the challenge of narrating a book with many characters? Dale nails it. According to this article Dale created and recorded 134 characters in The Order of the Phoenix — and he does so recognizably. I was never confused about which character was talking — not across the span of 7 books! A good audiobook for a solo drive or family trip. I had read all of the Harry Potter books growing up and enjoyed revisiting them in this format.

Harry Potter

2) The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, read by Yareli Arizmendi, Christine Avila, Jesse Corti, Gustavo Res, Ozzie Rodriguez, and Gabriel Romero. If you have a book with many characters and you can’t find a suitable narrator to play them all a growing option is for publishers to cast multiple narrators. I think this is a tricky line to walk but in the case of The Book of Unknown Americans it really works out – probably because of the diverse view points written into the book with chapters from different character’s perspectives. The use of different narrators also lends authenticity to the wide span of Latino characters in the book ranging in all ages, sexes and countries of origin. The story itself is masterfully written and incredibly moving. My only concern in recommending this is that I almost had to pull over to cry.

Unknown Americans

3) Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly-True Memoir written and narrated by Jenny Lawson (perhaps better known as @TheBloggess). I’m sure this is a funny read as well but in audio I was laughing out loud in the car to and from work. Creative Non-Fiction ate its most rib-tickling.

lets pretend

4) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, written and read by Catherynne M. Valente. Other than memoirs I’m wary of authors who narrate their own books (Ray Bradbury’s narration was my first go at this performance and his reading of the characters was very flat). However, Valente is a talented writer and performer. It did take me most of the first CD to lose myself in the story but then I was hooked! This might be a good one for a family trip with a print copy so kids can also enjoy the illustrations which I’ve heard are wonderful.

Fairyland

5) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and narrated by Jim Dale. What can I say, the man has talent! This is actually the first Jim Dale book I listened to and it was enchanting. The book earned a lot of buzz when it came out and rightfully so – the world created by Morgenstern is wondrous and I’m so glad she found a talented narrator to give it justice.

Night Circus

6) The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty and narrated by Elizabeth McGovern. Does that second name sound familiar? She’s the actress that plays Lady Cora Grantham in Downton Abbey and she’s sublime in this narration! Set in one of my favorite historical time periods for books (the 1920s) this book touches on many of the issues of the day including family ties, heritage, and women’s rights.

Chaperone

7) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and narrated by the awesome duo: Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra. Like many this was my first novel by Rowell and I have since gone on to devour every one that is in print – the story lines just pull you in and like an addict you can’t put the book (or audiobook rather) down. I listened to this book right before a work trip and had to get on the plane with about 30 minutes to go. It was pure torture — this book may be best for a long drive rather than chopped up into smaller doses or you’ll be wondering what’s going to happen all during the workday. The dual narrators works well with the books structure which volleys back and forth between the title characters. A must-listen!

Eleanor

8) Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, read by Edoardo Ballerini. This was one of my first audiobooks I really starting listening to and it breaks Guideline A a bit — at the start of the book the storyline jumps around between characters’ viewpoints and chronologically. BUT when you finally get a handle on what is going on the audiobook is wonderful – and everything comes together in the end, I swear.

Beautiful Ruins

9) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston and narrated by Ruby Dee. Another challenging audiobook to begin with. It might be easier to wade through the unfamiliar cultural slang and fast-paced dialogue in a print version but I really and truly believe that audio is the way to experience this story that challenges every societal assumption and norm through the backdrop of a loves story.

Their Eyes

10) The Cuckoo’s Calling by Richard Galbraith and narrated by Robert Glenister. We all know by now that Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling right? Her pseudonym by which she publishes this mystery series. I wanted to try her adult books but have a hard time investing myself in the mystery genre even when a book receives multiple good reviews by friends, so I decided to fit this one in via audiobook. Devoted sleuths may have figured out the ending, but I enjoyed listening to the story unfold as I drove my commute and contemplating in the back of my mind who the killer could be. The narration was very well executed and I will be looking for other audiobooks narrated by Robert Glenister. I will definitely be checking out the audiobook of the sequel (The Silkworm) soon.

Cuckoo

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