Narrator Spotlight: Top 10 Bestselling Audiobooks

Behind every amazing audiobook on Libro.fm is a narrator that brings the author’s words to life. These narrators are responsible for transporting us to another world even as we work, run errands, work out, or commute. This week we recognize the narrators of the Top Ten Bestselling Audiobooks of 2017.

Which of these narrators’ works do you enjoy?


The 166-person cast
that narrated Lincoln in the Bardo

This huge cast includes celebrity voices such as Nick Offerman, Lena Dunham, David Sedaris, and many others. It is impossible to recognize every narrator in this post, but that’s a large part of what makes this audiobook unforgettable.


Nicholas Guy Smith
Narrator of A Gentleman in Moscow

Nicholas Guy Smith’s expressive voice transports the listener to the Metropol and takes them on the count’s journey, even as he remains in the same room for decades. “I always keep the listeners in mind during the narration. How can I keep them connected to the story?” – Nicholas Guy Smith


J.D. Vance
Author and Narrator of Hillbilly Elegy

A former marine and Yale Law School graduate, J.D. Vance gives a powerful account–through both his writing and narration–of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town, offering a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class.


Hillary Rodham Clinton
Author and Narrator of What Happened

In her most personal memoir yet, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Who better to narrate this story than the woman that lived it?


Neil Gaiman
Author and Narrator of Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman breathes new life into Norse Myths with both prose and narration. And he encourages the listener to become the narrator! He says of these stories, “The fun comes in telling them yourself–something I warmly encourage you to do, you person reading this. Read the stories in this book, then make them your own.”


David Sedaris
Author and Narrator of Theft by Finding

David Sedaris is the ideal narrator for a bestselling audiobook made up of his own experiences and observations and told with his own misanthropic sense of humor and generosity of spirit.


Bahni Turpin
Narrator of The Hate U Give and The Underground Railroad

Bahni Turpin’s brings these two important and unforgettable stories to life with her commitment to accurately expressing the stories and their characters. She says, “I like to give each one a characterization and really try to read the way I feel the text should be heard.”


Sherman Alexie
Author and Narrator of You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

No one could have better narrated his deeply moving memoir than Sherman Alexie himself. This audiobook is a powerful exploration of family, love, loss, and forgiveness.


Hope Davis
Narrator of Commonwealth

Hope Davis’ rendering of Commonwealth is both fluid and engaging as she tells the story of how a chance romantic encounter sets in motion the dissolution of two marriages and the joining of two families.

Narrator Edoardo Ballerini on Genres, Beautiful Ruins, and Hollywood

Edoardo Ballerini has had a varied career. He’s had recurring roles in  hit television series such as The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, and will be in Quarry next year. He’s worked as a stage actor and film producer. He’s also narrated numerous audiobooks, including books by James Patterson, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Cherie Priest.

Ballerini’s father is Italian, and he grew up both in America and Italy, which is part of why he was such a natural fit to narrate Beautiful Ruins. I called him up to talk about Beautiful Ruins, the differences between acting and narrating, and his dream audiobook gig.

[Judy Oldfield]: You’ve narrated several audiobooks of all different sorts, including thrillers and mysteries, like James Patterson’s NYPD series, books about mindfulness, and more literary books like Beautiful Ruins. Do you approach reading for different genres differently?

[Edoardo Ballerini]: Absolutely. I have always said that the narrator’s job is to follow the author, to be as faithful to the text in representing it as possible. So the difference between narrating James Patterson and the Dalai Lama as you can imagine is pretty broad.

I really feel like my job is to be James Patterson as much as I can be when I am narrating James Patterson and to be the Dalai Lama—which is a tall order—when I’m narrating the Dalai Lama. It’s an interesting acting exercise. I feel like the narrator is meant to be as faithful to what is presented as possible, as opposed to let’s say theater, where you can be more interpretive, take your instinct, and do something new and different. I feel like the narrator’s job is not that. And so I do approach the different genres very differently.

[JO]: So then it really does differ from your work as a TV or a movie or a stage actor. Was it hard for you to make that switch when you started narrating audiobooks?

[EB]: No, my background is actually literary. Both my parents were academics and I went to school with the intention of being an academic myself—an English major. And so the world of books—the world of literature—was very natural to me, and it’s something that I had wanted to do for a very long time. It felt like a very comfortable fit for me, and I am so pleased that it worked out the way it has. I’ve met so many wonderful people, and I feel very at home in the world of audiobooks.

[JO]: How were you selected to narrate Beautiful Ruins?

[EB]: That’s an interesting question. A woman named Paula Parker was in charge of producing it in concert with HarperAudio and she knew me from some other work we’d done. She knew I spoke Italian, that I have an Italian background, and that I move between acting genres (meaning I do some in television and some in Hollywood). And along came a title which somehow blended Italy and Hollywood, and so she thought of me.

Beautiful Ruins and I, I feel like, were a match made in heaven. I really feel like if there was ever a book I was meant to narrate, that was it. To me—I’m almost embarrassed to say this—but it was easy. It was an easy book to narrate because it just felt so natural. It just felt like these worlds that were being written, these characters—I knew them all. I didn’t have to do that much outside of myself, and so I remember when I first read it I thought, “Wow, this is going to be special.” And I think the longevity of the success of the audiobook has proven that there was this kind of perfect match of narrator and text.

[JO]: Yeah, I heard Jess Walter talking about audiobooks on his podcast and he said that of his books that have been made into audiobooks, this was definitely his favorite and the only one he can really listen to comfortably.

[EB]: Yeah he said that to me as well. . . . We actually did an event together here in New York where I read a piece of the book and we discussed it in front of the audience and he said to me the same thing, privately, that it’s the only book of his that’s on audio that he can really listen to. So, it was the right pairing. I think casting, be it in audiobooks or be it in film, television, stage, whatever it is, is so important and this was just one of those moments where it all came together in the right way.

[JO]: You talked about having a bit of insider information. How did you feel about his depictions of Italy or Italians?

[EB]: I thought the main character, Pasquale, is a very beautiful character. That was in the sixties portion of the book as readers and listeners might be familiar with. My father is of that generation and so I’ve certainly met a lot of these people, and been to a lot of these smaller towns up the coast. It felt very honest to me. It felt very pure. It felt like this guy really could have existed and I could see him very easily. I thought it was a very honest, fair depiction of an Italian man of that time and that place in a small town, falling in love, and trying to expand his world and trying to break out.

[JO]: And what about Hollywood?

[EB]: The Hollywood characters also felt equally honest. You know, the Michael Dean producer, the young development assistant who is trying to make her way, and her slacker boyfriend. I feel like I’ve met these people a hundred times over.

I think, the success of the book, both in print and in audio, speaks to these chords that it struck in people, that these were real characters, that they lived authentic lives.

[JO]: Do you have a favorite moment in the story?

[EB]: It’s very easily the Richard Burton parts. I mean I know it’s an easy thing to point to, but it was so delicious, these scenes. And believe me, I’m never going to get to play Richard Burton ever again in my life. Just the chance to embody this legendary actor was just so absurd. From what I was told about Burton, it seems that too was an honest depiction of what the man was like. And just the chance to be in his voice and his head—it contrasted with Pasquale who is this beautiful young innocent. Those scenes were so great, they were so great.

[JO]: I know you said that this was almost like the ultimate audiobook for you, but if you had the chance to record any audiobook, what would it be?

[EB]: That’s a tough one. There are so many. You know one that I would love to do, is Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again—which is Thomas Wolfe, not Tom Wolfe. I’m not a Southerner so I probably shouldn’t be asked to do it, but it was a book that had such an impact on me as a young man in college that I would love to do that.

There’s another actually, now that I think about it: Jack London’s Martin Eden. It’s essentially London’s semi-autobiographical story of how he was this sort of brutish sailor who ended up in this wealthy man’s library and was introduced to the world of books and then launched into being a writer. It’s such a beautiful story, I’d love to do Martin Eden. So if anybody’s ever producing Martin Eden please give me a call.


Edoardo Ballerini shows great range as a narrator. Check out some of the many books he’s narrated.

Narrator Kathleen Wilhoite on the Best and Worst Parts of Making an Audiobook

It’s strange to call someone on the phone—someone you’ve never met—after listening to them speak for ten hours. It’s even stranger when that person turns out to be as wry as the main character in the book they narrated.

I spoke with Kathleen Wilhoite, a singer and actress who played Liz on Gilmore Girls and Chloe on ER among other roles, about narrating Where’d You Go, Bernadette, how she met Maria Semple, and whether or not she’ll narrate any more audiobooks.

[Judy Oldfield]: What’s it like to record an audiobook? Can you tell us about the process?

[Kathleen Wilhoite]: I’ll tell you about a regular day. I have an elliptical trainer in my bedroom. So I would wake up, go on the elliptical, and read what I was going to read that day, to get an idea of the characters that I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. And get an overall spec of the arc of each chapter—study it a little bit. Then I’d finish my workout, shower, and drive to work with traffic, which I never do, because I’m an actress. I rarely drive with the flow of regular working-people traffic. So that was jarring. I can’t believe people drive in that kind of traffic every single day. That was weird.

I’d show up to work at nine o’clock and we’d start. I’d get a cup of coffee and start reading until lunchtime. Time flew because I was so focused. So much of my brain—the left side and the right side—was engaged. Maria is a great writer, and her book is great and engaging. Thank God it wasn’t dry or boring.

All of the sudden I had hunger pains in my stomach and BOOM it’s lunch. The time just flew. We’d have an hour of lunch and they always had delicious food.

The people I worked with were all young too, pipsqueaks, probably younger than thirty which was alarming, and they were really smart and great. And super talented, the engineer was talented, the director was talented, fantastic. The atmosphere had great vibes, and was super creative.

Then after lunch we would tackle the next half of the day. It was the same type of thing. Focused. I couldn’t boggle the sentence; I had to be crystal clear. We had to create, like I said, the arcs, the characters, and the scenes. It was really great fun, engaging work.

Then, I would get in my car and drive with the flow of traffic—working-people, bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way home. I cannot believe people work like this! That they drive in traffic like this, day in and day out. It was so bizarre to be a part of the regular world. I’m an actress and a writer. I’m rarely with regular, working-people traffic. I will avoid that traffic at all costs, even auditions. If they want an audition at nine o’clock, I’m like, “Yeah . . . can’t do it, I’ll be there at eleven.”

So then when I’d get home, I would make dinner for my kids because they’d say, “We’re hungry!” I’d been working all day and my brain is fried but you’ve got to feed your kids! It gave me tremendous respect for working people because that is a lot. And then by the time my husband got home (he’s a producer for television), he’d say “Hey Baby,” and I’d say “Goodnight!” I was out. And I did that for two and a half weeks.

[JO] Wow, two-and-a-half weeks.

[KW] But what was so cool about that process is how much my brain was engaged. I just don’t utilize my brain like that—that consistently—for that long of a period of time. Just think of how you focus when you read, right? How engaged you are. So if you’re reading out loud it’s absolutely not boring, but is totally exhausting.

[JO]: And you have to do so many different character voices, and get the nuances for each character right.

[KW]: I’ve been reading stories to my kids for years and that’s fun for me. I know it doesn’t feel like there’s a difference between acting and reading material but there’s a real subtle difference and I think it’s important to make a distinction. Because Maria Semple wrote her book to be read. It’s more like reading stories to your kids.

[JO]: Was it ever hard not to laugh?

[KW]: Oh we cracked up. We cracked up with tears in our eyes laughing when I had to do a New Zealand accent. My New Zealand accent is so bad, it was hilarious. The closest thing I can get is Australia, eh? And every time I would miss a line, I’d look in the booth and the kids were like, “Ahhhahahaha!” I was like, “You’re laughing at me because I’m sucking so hard!” We had a lot of fun.

[JO]: When it came time to sing, did you have to stop and warm up your voice before you sang the few lines of “Holy Night”?

[KW]: “No, I’m a singer and performer. I’ve made a couple records, and I sing at a nightclub. I felt like that part of the book had a lot of momentum. And I just blasted right through there. There was no stopping in that section.

It was about being in the moment. I told the production team before we did it, “You guys know that I actually sing? I made a couple records. So when I get to this point, I’m just going to freakin’ sing.”

At that point I felt like we were in a really special flow place. It just felt natural and then the singing came in. The pacing in Where’d You Go, Bernadette is really good. Maria Semple comes from television and her stuff is very easy to visualize. The rhythm of the words and the cadence of the sentences she chose fit nicely with me. That’s why I think she wanted me to read it. It was a good fit.

[JO]: So she asked you personally to narrate the audiobook?

[KW]: Yeah, I’ve never narrated a book before. In fact, if you hear of anything let me know, because I think I was pretty darn good at it.

[JO]: I keep seeing bloggers say that this is a book that is even better on audio. I was really surprised to see that this was your first and only audiobook. Do you think you’ll do any more?

[KW]: Yeah, in fact I’m debating—you know I’ve written a couple books myself.

I’m debating whether or not I should do an audiobook for my own novels. I have two of them. Well, I’m working on them. That’s where I met Maria—in writing class.

The answer is, if you hear of anything, I could use the dough. And I thought I was sufficient at it, and this makes me feel fantastic that you’re saying this about people enjoying my reading. I appreciate that very much.

[JO]: Yes, I’ve heard so many people say that. One last question: what’s your favorite moment in the book?

[KW]: When Bee finally sees her mom. It’s so beautiful. It’s such a relief. When I was reading it out loud I was crying. I thought that was beautiful.

I really like the characters. And I love my friend Maria, so it was nice to read her stuff. It was a very good experience for me. All together very positive, so I’m very grateful to her for choosing me.

To find out more about Kathleen Wilhoite, visit kathleenwilhoite.com


It sounds like Kathleen is up for more work in audiobooks. What book do you think would be a perfect fit for her?