Local audiobook aficionados got an opportunity to hear a master narrator at work and to quiz him about his craft. Johnny Heller, award-winning narrator, actor and stand-up comic visited Bettendorf Public Library July 15th to read aloud and take questions from the audience. A resident of Manhattan, he seemed genuinely interested in learning more about Iowa in general, and the Quad Cities specifically.
Heller is an interesting combination of the highbrow (trained as a Shakespearean actor) and the low to middle brow (he delights in adolescent humor, which serves him well when narrating juvenile books). He read from several of his books (Marley and Me and Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys).
He gave several insights into the process. Most fascinating was how he chooses someone (an actor or actress perhaps) to pair with a character, so he can instantly call up that persona. When asked how narrators can seamlessly and quickly move between male and female characters, he says, ideally, he’s in a zone where he doesn’t consciously have to make those decisions. He doesn’t try to do “female” voices. it’s more about their character. He softens his voice for females but doesn’t go several octaves higher.
Other tidbits, he gets paid by the hour – the finished hour of product, not what he puts into it, so as an experienced narrator, he’s more efficient and the ratio of time spent and actual output is more equal.
His favorite part of the job, though, is to foster the love of books and reading. Mixing with the crowd before and after, Heller clearly enjoys the extensive traveling involved in the job, and doing whatever he can to promote the appreciation of story, in whatever format it may be.
The audiobook of Michael Connelly’s latest (hopefully, not the last) Harry Bosch novel is brilliantly narrated by Titus Welliver. The Burning Room is enjoyable on multiple levels. First, there’s the evolving relationship between Harry and an assigned protegee, Detective Lucia Soto, as well as Harry’s internal monologues about the careerists in charge of the LAPD and the incredible talents of Welliver and, probably least of all, the actual plot.
Bosch grows into an ever more fascinating character; professional in that he cares first and foremost about solving cases, rather than the political implications of each and every action. He skewers the bureaucratic bluster in the guise of the bumptious Lieutenant Samuels, Bosch’s nemesis. As they investigate two entwined cold cases, Harry imparts his survival skills and hard-won knowledge to Lucy Soto, a smart and hard-working disciple. Will she carry the torch in future Connelly books?
There’s a fine balance in audiobooks when it comes to altering the reader’s voice between characters; they should be distinct enough that the listener can follow a conversation, but not so in-your-face that you’re brought out of the story. Welliver’s gift is his ability to create, with consistent and subtle intonation, a conversation’s back and forth action. So much more efficient than “he said” and “Harry replied,” and “she shouted.”
His narrating work can be heard in several Robert B. Parker novels, while his acting can be seen in The Town, Gone Baby Gone, Twisted and Transformers. Age of Distinction. I’m sure acting is not easy, but reading aloud in such an intelligent and enjoyable manner must be even harder.
These true tales range from the funny and flippant to the gritty and gruesome. Give nonfiction audio a try! You may find that nonfiction (which doesn’t always have a strong narrative thread you need to follow) is ideal for listening in stops and starts.
- Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; this gripping tale of a serial killer at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago is so spellbinding, you’ll want to extend your commute to hear more!
- Bossypants by Tina Fey, read by the author: this book is shriekingly funny. Truly one of the best audio books around – Fey is witty and direct, never sappy, and always gut-bustingly hilarious.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; a universally praised book that mixes science with history and family drama.
- Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling Lexie reviewed the book, and I agree with her: this book is FUNNY. You’ll want to be best friends with Mindy by the end.
- I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: Ephron’s candid observations on life and getting older are enjoyable and crisply humorous.
- Zeitoun by Dave Eggers: The gritty true story of the tribulations of Abduhlraman Zeitoun and his family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
- At Home by Bill Bryson, read by the author: see my review for a longer rant on the excellence of this very excellent book.
- The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell, read by the author: You know Sarah Vowell’s voice already – she vocalized for Violet in Pixar’s The Incredibles. You’ll also recognize the many luminaries/musicians/comedians/TV personalities who make cameos in her delectable book – Conan O’Brien and Stephen Colbert, for example. Oh, and it’s full of intelligent and interesting essays about history and American culture, too.
The beginning of the audiobook version of this book is fun – especially if you are also a Little House fan. You’ll have many “I felt like that too!” moments, as the author describes her love of what she calls “Laura World.”
Wendy McClure, the author of The Wilder Life is on the extreme end of the Little House research continuum, however. After a while, I found myself withdrawing – wishing I hadn’t heard that bit of myth debunking. I was quite happy believing that most things in the books were based on emotional, if not factual, truth.
Of special interest are the details about how the tv series overtook the books in popularity and the legal battles over the “Little House” brand, or LHOP, as the author calls it.
The end is satisfying and thought-provoking. McClure ties in what she learned about how Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder told their stories with how she came to terms with memories of her mother.
Every day, I have to drive across the bridge to get to work and back home. Inevitably, cars are backed up for miles and I end up idling on I-74 for long periods of time. Luckily, I always have an audiobook in my glove compartment for just such an occasion, and the ones that I come back to most often are the Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling. My personal favorite of the audio series is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
For an audiobook, the most important thing to have is a good narrator, and Jim Dale is one of the best. He has won countless awards for his vocal portrayals of Harry, Hermione, Ron, and the rest of the Hogwarts gang. Even if this is your fifth time hearing the story, Dale manages to evoke such excitement into his presentation of the text that it feels like a whole new experience. You feel as though you are there at Hogwarts carrying on a conversation with your fellow Gryffindors.
My favorite to listen to has to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Jim Dale gets everything right, from the light moments to the dramatic. I have found myself more than once having to pause the CD so that I wouldn’t be driving and crying over the climactic battle scenes at the same time. I highly recommend this series, or any other audiobook read by the fantastic Jim Dale.
Have you ever been in the car and bored by what’s currently on the radio? Pop in one of these best-of-the-best NPR audiobooks and transport yourself to a laugh-out-loud Scott Simon interview with Dame Edna to a story about misunderstood song lyrics.
If you’re a fan of NPR, you’ll love books-on-cd that public radio staff have produced. Compilations such as Driveway Moments, Road Trips and Holiday Favorites are hodge-podges of previous stories.
If you like Baxter Black, Rob Gifford, Bill Harley or Susan Stamberg, you’ll be glad to have them handy on a long trip or if you’re stuck on one of the bridges for hours on end. (David Sedaris got his start at NPR and is in a class by himself).
Some, like This I Believe, can be downloaded to your MP3 player. If you’re a Davenport Public Library cardholder you can access our WILBOR audiobooks via our website.
The library’s mission – you will never be bored again.
Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have created a wonderful tale as a prequel to legend of Peter Pan. Peter and The Starcatchers, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, and Peter and the Secret of Rundoon explain many of the hows and whys to the Peter Pan. How does he fly? How did the alligator get the clock in his stomach? Why does Peter never grow old? These questions and more are answered.
Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook have been reinvented so well that a generation from now no one might remember where J. M. Barrie’s original creation ended and Barry’s and Pearson’s begins. So far, the two have written three incredibly fat and action-packed volumes of Peter’s adventures with the “starstuff ” – the magical fallen stars that gave him his power and – in effect – rendered him immortal, though as a boy doomed never to grow up.
If you haven’t read this trilogy, you can’t wander through them; the books have to be read in order. Peter’s powers grow, as does the villainy of his foes. And readers are gently nudged out of the world that existed then and slid right into Neverland. If you like juvenile fantasy novels, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better, more quick to read, or more inventive than these. The world is at once familiar and wondrous.
If you are going on a long trip, with or without children, this is a great book-on-CD set to listen to as Jim Dale (narrator for the Harry Potter series) takes you to the magical world of Peter Pan with his many voices.
Value added activities, isn’t that the current cliche? Well, this one works for me. I listen to books. I admit it, I’m practically obsessed with it. It doesn’t feel right if I turn on my car and there’s not someone telling me a story. Right now I’m listening to a Tami Hoag romance, Straight From the Heart. It’s one of those windows-closed books, you know, the steamy parts always seem to happen at stoplights. People look at you funny when they hear some of the things that come out of books. It’s one of the duties that comes with being a responsible listener, pay attention to what’s going on around you. Including who may be listening in.
I use audio books to broaden my reading list. I enjoy listening to my favorite authors being read, but I also will listen to a book that I would never take the time to read. Like a new title that everyone’s talking about but that is outside my usual choice. This has led me to find things I would have skipped over. I tried to read Wicked (by Gregory Maquire) twice and just couldn’t do it. I listened to it and loved it. It’s probably one of my favorite stories. I would have missed out on it if not for the Book on CD.
I especially like it when an audio book adds to the depth of a book. The reader’s are so important in this aspect of the genre. I have stopped listening because I just didn’t like the reader. But when they get it right, it’s magic. Jim Dale has become famous for his presentation of the Harry Potter books. C.J. Critt really nails Stephanie Plum’s character in the Janet Evanovich mysteries. But my favorites to listen to are James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Most are read by Will Patton, but all of the readers really set the mood for the sultry Louisiana scenes.
I listen other times, too, like while painting my living room. There’s no chore or long drive that an audio book can’t make better!