I’ve heard it said on librarian discussion groups (yes, it’s true, your librarian does talk about you, but only in the nicest way) that many patrons make their audiobook choices based solely on the narrator.

Before I listened to a lot of audiobooks, I thought this was dumb. Sure, a wretched reader could screw up a great story, but I didn’t realize that reading styles would cause me to avoid whole genres of fiction.

I like a good fast-paced, plot-dependent, snappy-banter, escapist/mystery/thriller-type thing as much as the next person. I thought this would be ideal for whiling away the meters on my imaginary river. So wrong.

Mysteries set in the U.S. and anything “manly” are always read (by a variety of narrator-persons) in this really weird style, where the words are clipped off short and there’s nospacebetweenthem. (Firestorm, Tortilla Curtain, Elmore Leonard)

U.S. Southern women narrators also drive me up the wall. So slow, so honey, and so teeth-grindingly fake.  (Secret Life of Bees, Light in August)

It turns out that what I really like is a British narrator. No, it’s not that I’m prejudiced in favor of a beguiling accent — I get enough of that at home, and it’s pretty much the sound of normal for me. I think there’s just an overall higher quality of voice talent in the UK, whether it’s because over there audiobooks get more respect, because of their awesome tradition of radio plays, or because they have so many top-notch actors. Whatever it is, I’ve listened to a lot of titles because I knew I could count on the narration. (Lord Jim, Moon & Sixpence, Ian McEwan).

Not that actor = fantastic narrator. Just check out Slate’s article, “Read Me a Story, Brad Pitt. When audiobook casting goes terribly  wrong.”

Sometimes the best narrators are authors. I really liked:

  • Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, read by Alexandra Fuller
  • Black Swan Green, read by David Mitchell

Oh, right. They’re not American. Well, there you have it.