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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