Audiobooks are my new favourite things and there is almost nowhere that I won’t listen to them. I listen while commuting, on long car journeys, sitting at home knitting, in the bath or lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. Although I only recommend the last if you are already familiar with the plot!
It turns out that I’m a lot fussier about my audiobooks than I am about books that I read to myself though. I’m less forgiving of bad plots when I listen to them and I’m absolutely unforgiving when it comes to bad narrators. A good narrator is an absolute must and, for me, there are two qualities that make a good narrator.
First, someone who treats the reading as a performance rather than a reading. Different voices for different characters, appropriate emphasis, etc., so that my brain thinks I’m listening to someone telling me a story, not to someone reading me a book.
Secondly, the narrator should be appropriate to the text. I recently listened to a sample of an audiobook of a Wilkie Collins’ novel read by someone with a very strong American accent. Obviously, everyone’s tastes will be different but there was no way that I was going to be able to listen to 5 hours of 19th century detective fiction set in southern England where all the characters had American accents. My ability to suspend disbelief just isn’t that good. David Tennant reading Quite Ugly One Morning, by Christopher Brookmyre, however, is one of my absolute favourites. His Scottish accent(s) set off the Scottish text brilliantly. Another good example of this is Lenny Henry’s excellent reading of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. Usually, Neil Gaiman reads his own work (and very well too) but he wanted someone to read Anansi Boys who could do credit to the range of Afro-Caribbean accents required.
Something else to watch out for with audiobooks, if you’re as fussy as I am, is whether the recording is of the American or British version of the text. I love Neil Gaiman’s reading of his novel Neverwhere but it is the American version of the text and the occasional references to “sidewalks” in London are quite jarring to me.
Quite Ugly One Morning, by Christopher Brookmyre, read by David Tennant. (Audible)
Be warned – this is typical Christopher Brookmyre and so features gruesome scenes, dark humour and strong language from the start (the first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes are the worst!) I’m probably biased here, what with one of my favourite actors reading one of my favourite novels, but I thoroughly enjoy this every time I listen to it.
The Stone Rose, by Jacqueline Rayner, read by David Tennant. (Audible)
Easily the best Doctor Who audiobook that I’ve listened to. David Tennant does great impersonations of the other characters and, unlike some of the other Doctor Who audiobooks, the plot is pretty good as well.
I, Claudius, by Robert Graves, read by Derek Jacobi. (Emusic)
Derek Jacobi’s dead-pan reading of this is perfectly suited to the text. His absolutely straight-faced
The Graveyard Book, written and read by Neil Gaiman. (Audible)
Neil Gaiman has a wonderful sing-song story-telling voice that I love to listen to. I’ve enjoyed all of his audiobooks that I’ve listened to but this is my favourite.
As well as the traditional books on tape or CD, there are several online sources for audiobooks.
Emusic are subscription only, and don’t have as large a selection as Audible, but it is increasing all the time. If you subscribe to their music service as well, it’s worth looking under Spoken Word.
Librivox is the Project Gutenberg of the audiobook world, with public domain texts read by volunteers. Depending on your preferences, you might have to be a little more careful selecting books here as the narration quality can vary wildly over the course of a single book. Their search facility does allow you to specify only texts with a single narrator though and once you’ve found a narrator that you like, you can search directly for texts read by them.