Books worth hearing

Still waiting for that Geronimo Stilton/Jack Kerouac double feature audiobook release.

My wife and I each have a daily commute of up to an hour, each way. We’ve found audiobooks to be a good way to mitigate the frustration of gridlock and boredom of the highway. We’ve been sharing discs between us, so we can discuss the stories over dinner. We also discuss the narration — an interesting story keeps us engaged, sure. But often, a good read keeps the story interesting.

We’re not the only ones in our family listening to audiobooks these days. Our daughter, M, has been winding down in the evening and gearing up for her day in the morning by listening to the Geronimo Stilton series, narrated by a couple of different voice artists (Bill Lobley and actor Edward Herrmann). She says she likes them both, but really enjoys Hermann in particular.

Why?

“I like it when he does the voice for Sally Ratmousen,” she says, “He acts like her.” M invited me to listen to the story with her. When Sally stormed onto the scene, rudely ordering mice around, I could see what M meant. Hermann wasn’t just reading the story — he was becoming the characters for us.

There’s been discussion lately about whether or not celebrities should venture into the voice acting realm. Should screen actors leave the voice acting to those who make their living doing voice acting?

Personally, I don’t care who’s doing the reading, as long as they’re able to bring the story to life. I have a few favorite performances.

  • Will Patton’s read of Kerouac’s On the Road is incredible. From the gruff, fast-talking, mad opportunist Dean Moriarty to the shy, sad young Mexican woman who becomes Sal Paradise’s lover, Patton’s pacing and vocal qualities match Keroucac’s prism of characters perfectly.
  • Kristoffer Tabori’s narration of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex is also quite good, and not a small task: Twenty-two hours of reading, spanning a host of characters, with different accents, all the while covering decades of each character’s life — in some cases, 60 years. Oh, and in one character’s case, this means reading as more than one gender. One mesmerising chapter is dedicated to the rhythm and cadence of a new immigrant worker’s first day on the assembly line in Henry Ford’s factory in the early 1920s. Tabori should receive an award for this chapter, alone.
  • Kate Forbes‘ reading of Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio kept my attention. Her gentle southern lilt gives a genuine touch to a story of a girl growing up with undiagnosed Tourette’s Syndrome in the hills of Kentucky in the 1950s and ’60s. Forbes gives each of Rubio’s characters their own voice: the frustrated, misunderstood 10-year-old protagonist, her patient, wise grandparents, her kind-hearted, morbidly obese confidant, the sneering school teacher, the sadistic hospital aide…each of these and more are treated with their own mannerisms and affectations, which helps the listener to really come to know and care about what happens to each.
How about you? Any favorites? What makes a good audiobook in your estimation?

And because you’ve read this far, here’s a bonus: Harry Potter reader Jim Dale revealing his unfair advantage to an aggrieved Paula Poundstone.

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