Sunday, June 28, 2009

TSS - Audiobooks: When Writers Read

Good morning!  The past few days, I've been thinking about audiobooks.  Specifically, audiobooks read by the author.  On Friday, I finally posted my review of The Clothes They Stood Up In by Alan Bennett.  I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and enjoyed it quite a lot.  It's always a treat to hear an author's voice; somehow it gives additional dimension to the work.  An author reads the piece the way he meant for it to be read. For example, if sarcasm is intended, it comes through in the author's voice, while another reader may be unaware of that intent. When an author reads their own work, I feel like I'm getting the true picture.

Beth, from Beth Fish Reads, left me a comment saying she's had uneven results with authors as narrators. I've heard that said before, but my experience has been mostly positive.  I've been listening to audiobooks for nearly six years (almost exclusively while driving), and several have been read by the author.   Have I just been lucky in my choices?  Do certain types of books better lend themselves to author-readers?

Humor, or humorous essays, seem to work well when read by the author.  Could anyone other than David Sedaris read Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (or any of his books, for that matter)?  Nora Ephron was perfect reading I Feel Bad About My Neck.

I actually prefer autobiography and memoir to be read by the author.  It seems to reveal more of the author's personality.  Anthony Bourdain reading Kitchen Confidential comes to mind here, as well as Ayaan Hirsi Ali reading Infidel.  However, even though I ended up liking Eat, Pray, Love, I initially had some trouble with Elizabeth Gilbert's voice (personality?).

I haven't come across many examples of authors reading their own fiction (other than Bennett), but T.C. Boyle was positively brilliant reading Tortilla Curtain.

General non-fiction has been more of a mixed bag for me. Malcolm Gladwell read both Blink and The Tipping Point.  They were perfectly acceptable, but I wonder what a professional narrator could have done.  The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin was a great book. I noticed there were two versions available from audible and purchased the one read by the author. By the time I realized this was an abridged version, it was too late.  However, Toobin did a fine job reading.

So, what has been your experience with an author reading his or her own work? Are there any you would recommend? Which ones should be avoided?


  1. I agree that memoirs and humor are probably best read by the author.

    But general fiction and nonfiction can be painful if the author is not expressive, swallows or makes other noises, has a grating voice, or cannot distinguish among characters by changing accents or tone. When given a choice, I almost always pick a professional reader.

    So happy to have been an inspiration!

  2. I don't listen to many audiobooks but Neil Gaiman reading his work is truly outstanding.

    I am incredibly excited to learn from your post that Anthony Bourdain reads Kitchen Confidential; I may have to seek that out! I adore his voice and his take on cooking and eating.

  3. It would be great if all authors are good at reading, but I'm afraid they aren't. A skillful actor reading the book may not read it exactly as the author intended, but will almost always make it more entertaining.

    I'm looking forward to listening to Neil Gaiman's books though, as I've heard he is a great entertainer.

  4. T.C. Boyle is also one of my favorites as is Neil Gaiman reading both Coraline and The Graveyard Book. Do not have enough audio book experience to have come across a true disappointment yet, but do know that I cannot handle nonfiction in this format. Sleep-inducing for me.

    Today I am reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Happy reading!

  5. The only ones I remember listening to that were read by the authors were David Sedaris and Chuck Palahniuk. I really liked them both. They have such weird humor that hearing the works read they way they were envisioned by the author added a lot to the experience for me.


  6. I have never listened to an audiobook. I know, shocking, huh? My husband listens to them daily as he is a mailman and he is able to plug his zune in to his small radio with speakers and listen to his heart's content. He has been mad when he occasionally has downloaded an abridged copy by accident though.
    Maybe someday I will have the tools to listen to audio!

  7. I cannot get into audio books. My mind will not focus and I lose concentration and have to keep going back and listening to it again for it enter my brain.

  8. I am so new to audiobooks that I feel I don't have enough experience to say which is better. I did enjoy Bennett reading The Clothes They Stood Up In. I think I would listen to any book Stephen Fry read...he was so great reading Paddington Bear but if I was honest I thought his interpretation of Paddington was a little off. You have given me some great ideas for my audiobook challenge. I love listening to Ephron doing commentary on her films, so I will check out the Neck book, and a reread (or listen) of Infidel would be ideal (she has such a beautiful voice and accent).

  9. I've had mostly bad results when it comes to authors reading their own work. A voice that is perfectly fine in conversation can become annoying when it is in your ear for several hours :-).

  10. This is a great discussion topic, JoAnn.

    As you know, I did not care for Toni Morrison reading The Bluest Eye. She added nothing to the story. I was hoping to have some voice inflection in there or something.

    I haven't had a lot of experience with audio books, as I just started listening to them. Thanks for the recommendations you shared.

  11. I second (or third) all the comments saying Neil Gaiman and David Sedaris are brilliant reading their own work.

    I did, however, give up on The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg as read by the author - her voice wasn't pleasant and she read in a monotone.

  12. I am currently listening to Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. She is hilarious, it's almost like she's just sitting there having a drink with you and telling you some stories.

  13. Beth - Thanks again for the inspiration! It seems to be the general consensus that general fiction and nonfiction are the most difficult for an author to read.

    Paperback Reader - You know, I've never read Neil Gaiman. I should try an audio when I get to him. Hope you can find Kitchen Confidential - it's been a few years since I listened, but it was very memorable!

    Jackie - It is quite a different skill to read the book...and probably one most writers don't possess. Hmm, another mention of Neil Gaiman, too!

    Gautami - Audiobooks aren't for everyone. I spent an inordinate amount of time driving five or six years ago and got hooked. I don't drive that much anymore, but I still listen to audiobooks.

  14. Frances - Isn't T.C. Boyle great?! How is it I've missed Neil Gaiman? He's defintely going on my list now. Some of my biggest audio disappointments have been non-fiction.

    Lezlie - I think humor is even better when it's read by the author. David Sedaris is so funny, I went to one of his shows last winter and just loved it! Chuck Palahniuk went on my 'to read' list after reading one of your reviews - it think I'll make a note to try an audio.

    Kim - I've gotten an abridged version by mistake a couple of times now, and I think I've finally learned my lesson to check and make sure it's the complete book!

  15. Scrap girl - Audiobooks definitely aren't for everyone! It takes some getting used to, too...I still find my mind wandering away from time to time.

    BookPsmith - Ephron's book was one of the funniest (but truest!) books I've listened to. I'll have to look into Stephen Fry as a reader. Glad I could give you some challenge ideas!

    Dani in NC - An annoying voice will absolutely ruin a book! Since that is such a subjective thing, I love that audible has samples you can listen to before making a purchase.

  16. Rebecca - Thanks! It's a topic I've thought about from time to time, but finally gathered those thoughts into a post. I think I'll stick with reading, and not listening to, The Bluest Eye though.

    Carrie - Wow, another recommendation for Gaiman! I'll have to put him next on my list. I enjoy listening to Sedaris so much, I doubt I'll ever read one of his books!

    Pam - I'll have to check Carrie Fisher! Thanks so much for visiting and the recommendation.

  17. I never thought to listen to a memoir being read by that person!! I should look one up and try it that way because I've tried several books on audio and really didn't enjoy the experience that much.

  18. Staci - I like memoirs read by the author because it almost seems like they're talking just to you! Hope you find one whose voice appeals to you. You can listen to samples at

  19. I listened to Fahrenheit 451 read by Bradbury and did not really enjoy it. He was too old when he read it, in my opinion. But, I've also had great experiences with authors reading their work. I'd say it's mostly good, but I still get the occasional clunker.

  20. Stacybuckeye - I'm so glad you left this comment! I'm planning to read Fahrenheit 451 soon and probably would have gone for the audio with Bradbury reading.
    That would have been the end of that book for me, since I struggled to get through it way back in high school, too.

  21. As others have said, fiction and nonfiction can be bad if the author isn't experienced in reading it. Or, if it's badly written to begin with, the narration makes it painful. I tend to avoid fiction that says "read by the author" and I often check out reviews at of the author's voice -- I've heard, as someone mentioned, that Toni Morrison is particularly bad.

    But I've mostly had good experiences with audiobooks too. I just avoid novels that say "narrated by the author" unless someone has told me that the author is really good (as people have said about Neil Gaiman, for example).

  22. Rebecca - is a great resource! I never get a book without listening to a sample first. I'm pretty picky about the reader's voice, and have come to the conclusion that it's really memoirs and humor that work best for me with the author reading. Thanks for the comment.

  23. JoAnn, I didn't mention last time but Stephen Fry is incredibly good at reading his own work and other people's. I don't read celebrity memoirs but Stephen Fry's was one I did a number of years ago and it stays in my memory. He is a fascinating individual and something of a cultural icon and national mascot here in the UK.

  24. Paperback Reader - Thanks for mentioning Stephen Fry. I don't know much about him at all and will look for his memoir.


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