There’s a terrific interview up on Slate between Bruce Holsinger, a historical novelist and professor of medieval literature, and Simon Vance, one of the great audiobook narrators. Pro that he is, Vance dispatches with the reading vs “cheating” debate in the first line in order to clear the way for more substantial questions about the audiobook as an art form in its own right. He makes a persuasive case for the narrator’s ability to enrich the reading experience.
Perhaps the most interesting question posed here is whether there’s such a thing as a “period voice” for, say, a 16th-century landowner. After all, narrators have enough trouble trying to voice characters without worrying about stuff like vowel shifts. Vance proposes an interesting compromise between authenticity and entertainment—or, as he puts it, no Swedish Chef voices. You’ll definitely want to hear Vance’s Henry VIII in the recording of Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies.
A recording of Holsinger and Vance’s conversation can be found here: “The Voice of the Poets: The Life and Work of an Audiobook Narrator.”
Last April, journalist Jenni Laidman discovered that an audiobook is more than just some guy reading. The epiphany came after hearing Ron Silverman read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. That’s when she encountered the Nathan Zuckerman of her imagination.
Logging over 100 audiobooks gives Laidman the authority to ask the perennial question: isn’t reading a book superior to listening to it? She turns for advice to Don Katz, founder and CEO of Audible.com. Actors formerly told to “read bland” were given very different directions by Katz, who brought in marquee names to read books in a dramatic fashion: Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Colin Firth, Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon, Nicole Kidman, and Hilary Swank, to name a few.
The next person turned to for advice is Arnold L. Glass, a professor of cognitive psychology at Rutgers, who has good things to say about both reading and listening. The piece concludes with clips from five great narrators, including Simon Slater’s reading of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.
You can read the story here: “Audiobooks: Are they really the same as reading?”
The top five list is here: “Five great audiobook performances.”