It was years before I understood the appeal of audiobooks. (And by years, I mean a good 22 of them.) When I was 22 I had a stupidly long commute and was stuck in traffic for an disproportionate amount of time. I felt this time could be better utilised but there’s not a lot you can do when you’re constantly stopping and starting and merging onto the motorway, so I decided to try audiobooks. It was hit and miss. And do you want to know something? It still is. It all comes down, I’ve decided, to the narrator.
I’ve just completed my 26th Audiobook (Percy Jackson The Battle Of The Labyrinth) which I don’t think is bad going in the two years since discovering them. Especially considering that I only really listen to them while commuting. Anyway, I may have completed twenty six of them, but I have started and given up on several others. Why, you ask? Well, there’s a variety of reasons.
Let’s start with one of the more minor qualms. Some of the narration is just too slow. Thankfully, both the Audible and Overdrive apps allow you to speed up the narration but even so, there are times when I can’t quite make it work. Too slow and my mind wanders, too fast and I feel like I’m missing a chunk of the story. Sometimes there is no middle ground. I also find long pauses at the beginning and end of chapters frustrating, and would rather they did without the chimes and jingles as well. But that’s just me.
Then there is the narrator’s voice. A lot of the books I’ve been interested in have been narrated by men with voices arguably higher on the register and I just can’t get on with it, like the narrator for The Raven Boys. I’ve come to realise that I much prefer deeper, British, voices. And now that I think about it, I tend to avoid books narrated by women altogether. The closest I came to enjoying a book narrated by a women was one of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series instalments, but unfortunately the plot was all over the place. One of these days I’ll find one I can get on with, though!
And that brings me to my third point, split narration. I can also say from experience that I much prefer it when the book is read by one person. I don’t even really need them to affect voices for the different characters, though certainly some narrators do a great job of that and it does enhance the listening experience. I can’t be doing with the chopping and changing and the weird editing… though in typing this I realise perhaps if it were done properly, I might enjoy it.
But despite all this, I haven’t given up hope. In fact, once I find a narrator and author combo that I like, I tend to latch on. For example, James Marsters’ narration of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. Then there’s narrators who are brilliant and elevate already enjoyable stories to brilliant new heights, like Will Wheaton. And thirdly, there are narrators who are splendidly cast like Robert Glenister reading Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series. In fact, in all of these instances I prefer to listen to the audiobook and even preorder the audio over the ebook when a new book is released.
So tell me, what do you think makes a good audiobook? Does it all lie in the narrator? Or are there other factors to take into account?