CC: What’s it like in the studio?
BR: I require five things for the recording
process: a good night’s sleep, a full tummy, a
comfy chair, good lighting and fine headphones. Two hours of finished recording takes
at least four hours in the studio. Of course,
the difficulty of the material is also a factor.
Audiobook narrators talk the talk
By Jonathan Lowe
THE KILLER IS NEAR. You can hear him,
even as you pass another highway exit. “Who
is he?” you wonder, anxiously. “Who?”
Well, more than likely he (or she) is an
audiobook narrator, and you’ve just missed
your turnoff because you’re engrossed in listening to another great mystery by James
Patterson, Janet Evanovich or David Baldacci.
Such a diversion is understandable, though.
Audiobooks have grown from dry readings for
the blind into the virtual audio “movies” of
today’s billion-dollar industry, where talented
voice actors employ dialects and dramatic tension to animate unforgettable characters from
By simply turning on a CD player or iPod,
busy listeners can hire these professionals to
read to them while they drive, garden or exercise. Meanwhile, the actors vie for the accolades
of their peers, such as the Audie awards (www.
theaudies.com), which are announced at the
end of May each year at the industry’s equivalent of an Oscar presentation.
Just who are these literary tour guides,
though, and what do they think of their
jobs? We asked four award-winning narrators for their own stories and opinions.
Scott Brick. Brick was discovered in 1999
and moved from regional theater stages to the
demanding job of conveying an author’s
intent while sitting motionless in a confined
space with a microphone. Winner of an Audie
award for performing science-fiction writer
Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Brick also reads
classics, mysteries and nonfiction titles.
Barbara Rosenblat. A veteran of the
London stage, Rosenblat is an audiobook
icon. This master of dialects can probably
voice a Lithuanian cab driver with the flu, and
has fans who will often seek her out instead of
their favorite author.
Richard Poe. A theater and film actor whose
notable recordings include Angels & Demons
by Dan Brown and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
by David Wroblewski, Poe brings an empathetic quality to his acclaimed work, disappearing behind the characters he portrays.
Grover Gardner. Since joining the staff of
the Talking Book program at the Library of
Congress in 1981, Gardner has recorded,
under his own name and pseudonyms, more
than 700 titles for all of the major publishers,
who independently hire him for his wide-ranging vocal talents. This former theater
director has recorded John Irving’s The Cider
House Rules and Terry Brooks’ novelization of
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
CC: How do narrators interpret characters and
GG: It depends. Dickens’ characters are larger
than life, but a modern thriller is more realistic. The key is to match one’s vocal skills to the
book’s style. The best narrators visualize the
characters clearly and let their vocal characterizations follow suit.
RP: Often all that’s needed is a suggestion of
vocal color. I’m right in the listener’s ear, so
he can fill in detail with his imagination.
Regarding interpretation, it’s about identifying
and empathizing with a character. If they’re
well drawn, they speak to you, so the chance
to speak their words aloud is a real treat.
BR: Dialects and characterizations must be
precise so that the listener can follow, but not
so labored that you tire your audience. It’s a
fine balancing act.
SB: There are unique challenges, too. I once
had to learn how to curse in Flemish. Not just
any curse, but the absolute worst thing you can
say in the Flemish language. It’s hysterical, but
I got a lot of mileage out of that odd curse.
The Costco Connection: What’s so attractive about narrating books?
GG: Getting to play all the characters, design
the settings in my head, shape the story and
immerse myself in the voice and style of the
author. It’s tiring but immensely satisfying.
SB: Finding a treasure I ordinarily would
CC: What would the world be like if we listened
to more books instead of watching so much TV?
RP: We’d all be a lot smarter and more
A longtime reviewer and judge for the Audie
awards, novelist Jonathan Lowe maintains the
audiobook Web site JustSayNo Way.com.
CC: What’s most unique or difficult?
BR: It’s a completely different skill from any
other acting discipline, since the voice alone
becomes the silver screen for all the book’s
intent. Exciting, but also a challenge.
CC: How do you prepare?
GG: We prepare by reading the book several
times, researching all unfamiliar names and
terms, and making sure we understand the
dramatic arc of the story.
RP: I usually reread the section I’ll be working on that day, too, paying special attention
to the sound, surroundings and journey of
the characters. Then I can let go and live the
experience with them.
The Costco Connection
A variety of audiobooks are available in
most warehouses and at Costco.com.
•Although audio recording had to wait for
the 20th century, the oral tradition of
passing down stories predates the printing press by thousands of years.
•One of the first commercial audiobook
recordings took place in January 1952,
when Barbara Cohen and Marianne
Roney sat down with poet Dylan Thomas
in the bar of the Chelsea Hotel and persuaded him to read into a microphone.
•In the past decade, the medium has
steadily expanded the number of titles
produced, while including sound effects,
transitional mood music, multiple narrators and even PDF files.
•About 100 people earn a regular wage
by narrating books.—JL