Hearing Voices



Audiobooks are starting to get a bit of respect. Their improved reputation is evident in the increasing amount of press coverage given to them by the New York Times. Here are a few of the most recent audiobook features from that paper:

“Hearing Genuine Voices of Midcentury Fiction” by William Grimes:

This is the story of Calliope Records, a spoken word label founded in the 1960s that’s not as well-known as its contemporaries, Caedmon and Spoken Arts. Calliope offered 15-minute recitations by John Updike, William Styron, James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, and others. Grimes does a particularly good job at describing these voices: Updike sounds “impossibly youthful and fey,” Malamud speaks with a Brooklyn accent, Jones and Styron have a “muted style,” and Baldwin brings “refined theatricality” to the passages he reads aloud.

“Serious Listening” by John Schwartz:

Schwartz’s defense of audiobooks points out that buying habits are remarkably similar for both readers and listeners. Surprise, surprise, a large number of listeners (23%) choose literary fiction over more easily digestible fare. Schwartz describes his experience of listening to literary titles that pose challenges to the ear: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest

“Funny Talk” by David Carr:

Review of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, who’s been entertaining listeners of “This American Life” for years with his reminiscences of growing up in North Carolina. Carr calls him “a brilliant audio performer of his own work.”

“An Audible Feast” by Paul Hendrickson:

Simon & Schuster Audio has been releasing the “The Ernest Hemingway Audiobook Library” since 2002. Hendrickson admits to being an audiobook skeptic until hearing such talent as Donald Sutherland, Stacy Keach, William Hurt, and Brian Dennehy take on his beloved writer. Here he is on the sound of Hemingway: “Freed from the page, I could close my eyes and lie on some mental living-room rug and dream my way in all over again.”

“To Hear Her Tell It” by Charles Isherwood:

The Times theater critic gives a rave review to Meryl Streep for her reading of Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary. Toibin’s book – which began its life as a dramatic monologue for the Irish stage – is described by Isherwood as the “ideal audiobook.”

450 Free Audiobooks


Here are more audiobooks that you can download for free. Open Culture lists 450 recordings that you can download for no cost. The narrators include authors reading their own work (Paul Auster, Neil Gaiman, Colum McCann, Flannery O’Connor, David Foster Wallace) as well as authors reading other people’s work (Salman Rushdie, Paul Theroux, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jeanette Winterson, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Philip Pullman, Chang-Rae Lee, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Julian Barnes, Tobias Woolf, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Colm Toibin, Orhan Pamuk, Joyce Carol Oates, T. Coraghessen Boyle). There are even a few celebrities mixed in (James Franco, Christopher Walken, Sean Connery).

The full list is here: 450 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

The Right Voice Can Send an Audiobook Up the Charts

Last year an article in the Sacramento Bee pointed out what a difference the right narrator can make to the sales of an audiobook. Celebrity narrators make the biggest difference, of course. The example given here is Johnny Depp’s reading of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life. Getting the choice right matters to a publisher since it costs at the very least around $5,000 to produce an audiobook recording.

The rest of the article is an interview with voice actor Robert Petkoff, who narrated David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Follow this link for the full piece: “The Right Voice Can Send an Audiobook Up the Charts.”