The question pops up every so often when I’m reading a book: am I seeing the words on the page or hearing them being spoken in my head? When you experience audiobooks, the decision has been made for you—you are listening. And you are now beholden to someone else’s voice, rhythms, and choices. A great reader will make you feel the story in a new and startling way. If you don’t believe me, first read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, then listen to her read it to you. You can hear the world the story inhabits beyond just the words. It is both funnier and more terrifying when you listen to O’Connor narrate it.
AudioFile also believes in good narrators. So much so, that they “review and recommend the best listening, most interesting performances, and what audiobooks are worth your listening time.” Notice that they review the listening experience—they are interested in the presentation of the audio, not necessarily what is written down on the page. AudioFile a great reference for people who experience their books by listening to them. They come out with some 400 audiobook reviews every two months, profile authors, interview narrators, host a podcast and pretty much cover every aspect of the literary listening experience. They also put out the monthly Earphones Awards, naming the best of the best, when it comes to audiobooks. Here are a few of their January selections, along with their reviews:
By Joseph Fink
AudioFile Review: “Even if you’ve never listened to the podcast on which this gripping production is based, fear not: Fink’s audiobook is so effectively scary that it’s easy to binge-listen to on its own. Throughout, Jasika Nicole’s narration is effectively subtle. Keisha is searching for her wife, Alice, who is presumed dead. Her search requires scouring a landscape of dark highways, empty parking lots, dusty motel rooms, and untrustworthy law enforcement. Along her journey, she encounters a murderous entity that seems to know where she is at every turn. Fans of horror will appreciate the simplicity of the story’s premise and the skill with which the suspense builds. Nicole’s performance is tense, even chilling when appropriate–but with an underlying suggestion of hope.”
By Diane Setterfield
AudioFile Review: “It’s easy to become immersed in this audiobook about a river and its neighbors. At the center of the tale is a young girl who was retrieved from the river, apparently dead. Yet, somehow, she revived and lives, but does not speak. From that beginning, this novel grows into an examination of the lives of the people in the village. Juliet Stevenson is simply an excellent narrator. She convincingly portrays each member of a large cast that includes an abused woman who is a bit slow, a nurse with deep dreads, a selfish son, and a couple grieving their missing daughter. Stevenson can slip in and out of attitudes, accents, and personalities seemingly effortlessly. The story and its telling are an awesome combination.”
By N. K. Jemisin
AudioFile Review: “A stellar cast of seven narrators takes turns performing this collection of shorter pieces by science-fiction novelist Jemisin. Each narrator drills down to the core of the story, developing believable accents and highlighting the characters’ personalities. Listeners will be impressed with how complete each story feels, almost as if this were a collection of novellas. Jemisin opens the audiobook with an explanation of how she came to write these pieces, some of which were later expanded into novels. The stories stand on their own but share themes such as feminism, otherness, relationships, motherhood, power, fertility, and dreams. Listeners will appreciate the mix of settings, including a futuristic New York, a Katrina-suffering New Orleans, and off-planet settlements.”
By Sy Montgomery
AudioFile Review: “Naturalist and bestselling author Sy Montgomery narrates her memoir on animals that have shaped her life and her understanding of the world. She taps the full range of experience: Her stories are engaging and touching, humorous and terribly sad. Montgomery’s narration captures her deep sense of wonder and affection for the creatures she studies–from Octavia the octopus to a pinktoe tarantula. Listeners will also hear her soul-crushing heartache at losing beloved pets, including her good pig, Christopher Hogwood, and her beloved dog, Tess. Listeners will come to share Montgomery’s belief that animals have much to teach us about humor, perspective, empathy, forgiveness, despair, and gratitude. Every word of this production captures Montgomery’s reverence for the world we share with other creatures.”
By Neal Bascomb
AudioFile Review: “This audiobook demonstrates that history is often more interesting than fiction. Narrator L.J. Ganser tells the true story of a group of Allied prisoners who escaped from a WWI POW camp. Ganser recounts the previously untold details of how this group of men overcame long odds to break out of Holzminden, a German prison camp under the control of an brutal commander. Ganser’s performance is, as usual, spot-on. Whether he is highlighting the leadership of pilot David Gray or the frustrations, fears, and hopes of Gray’s colleagues, Ganser delivers the story in a style as intense as the men who are being celebrated.”
See the full January AudioFile Earphones Awards playlist.