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On Creating a Listener’s List of Outstanding Audiobook Narrators

This month Audible.com announced a new series of audiobooks, each narrated by a well-known Hollywood actor, called the A-List Collection. I greeted this news with little more than a yawn. While I am quite fond of the actors comprising the series and love to listen to Samuel L. Jackson cuss, there is nothing especially compelling to me about the combination of Hollywood super stars and audiobooks. In fact, it’s more likely to make me think twice about listening.

I’ve made the mistake of jumping on an audiobook simply because it was narrated by a Hollywood actor I happen to find quite attractive. I wish I could tell you exactly how long my love affair with this hunky Hollywood actor’s audiobook lasted. Suffice to say I’ve only DNFd one audiobook faster. This person proved not to be a narrator at all. He did little more than read the book out loud. Because the anticipation was so great, the disappointment was that much worse.

One could say that my opinion of the Hollywood actor’s performance – if it can in fact be called a performance – was colored by the audiobook that preceded it, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Having now read many Simon Vance audiobooks, I know just how high he sets the bar. Still, comparing my experience with Hollywood man to the experience provided by a true narrating professional opened my eyes. I understood, as much as someone who is neither an actor nor an audiobook professional can, that narrating an audiobook isn’t the same as acting. I am sure that the skills and gifts vital for each career overlap and intertwine. I’ve often heard that a background in theater can lend itself well to audiobook narration. For myself, I’ve discovered that Alan Cumming and Dan Stevens are very talented both as actors and as audiobook narrators. That doesn’t change the fact that narrating is an art unto itself. Being an A-List movie star does not automatically make you an A-List audiobook narrator anymore than being a one hit wonder automatically makes you the King of Pop.

I probably would still be contentedly in my own little Armchair Audies sector of the audiobook universe right now if it weren’t for a quote I read in Listen Up from Audible’s Donald Katz (emphasis mine):

“Audible has consistently sought to elevate the quality of audiobook narration, and we hope this collection will expose an even broader audience to the rich palette of performances that makes listening to audiobooks so pleasurable.”

I love audiobooks and hope that in some small way I am an evangelist for this art and medium. I also love banding together with others for the love of audiobooks because there is a vast expanse of greatness out there and I alone will never do more than scratch the surface. The use of big name celebrities to bring new listeners into the fold gives me reason to pause. Although my particular experience with a Hollywood narrator may not be typical, what if that had been my introduction to audiobooks? What if I hadn’t just had that come to Jesus audiobook epiphany with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? If “Hollywood” was my first audiobook experience, it very well could have been my last. If that actor had been lauded as part of Audible’s “A-List,” you’re damn right it would have been.* If “the best” turned me off, what else would there be to keep me?

I haven’t heard much about these of audiobooks on the ground since the first four in the collection were released, but Bob Reiss from The Guilded Earlobe published his review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Anne Hathaway’s performance this week. For all the audiobook newbies out there considering one of these titles, I truly hope that each and every one of them will be just as well received. It is often difficult enough to overcome the bias against audiobooks that says that listening to them isn’t “really reading.” I can guarantee that having that same discussion with a person who has given the “A-List” a spin and has been left wanting will be downright brutal.

I’m certain that Audible intended no disrespect when developing the name “A-List Collection” for this project, but I wonder if they see the impression that this might give? I like these actors a great deal. I wish their audiobooks success, but will they continue to narrate audiobooks after this campaign? What does this say to those hardworking, dedicated and gifted narrators who make audiobooks a reading experience like no other when a novelty act, no matter how talented, is given top billing? What does this say to up and coming narrators? Must one have a blockbuster Hollywood movie under one’s belt before truly making it in the audiobook world? Here’s the thing: those narrators called “A-List” by Audible are not the ones who will have me tripping over my feet to spend my credits or to drop additional audiobook dollars. I know who my best of the best are and it is for them and because of them that I will keep coming back for more audiobooks.

So who are the actual A-List narrators? Which narrators makes you count the days, tapping your toes with impatience, until your next Audible credits materialize (I know I’m not alone in doing this!)? For which narrators would you gladly forego groceries and clean clothes when necessary? Who makes you hunt down your local librarian and demand to be moved to the top of the waiting list because, for the love of all things holy, you must listen to [insert narrator's name here] read [insert name of new awesome book here]?

Audiobook lovers have a vested interest in the health and success of the audiobook industry. Why not create a listener’s list of outstanding audiobook narrators? Who better than us to provide guidance to new listeners? After all, we once were them.


* For the record, the Hollywood actor I mention in this post is not one of the actors currently listed in Audible’s A-List Collection. That he isn’t is a very good thing.

69 Comments

  • At 2012.03.30 10:34, Mary said:

    I’ve enjoyed a few books read by Katherine Kellgren. Definitely adding Dan Stevens to my list. Also Vance. Great post, thanks!

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    • At 2012.03.30 20:04, Literate Housewife said:

      Have you listened to The Boy in the Suitcase? Katherine Kellgren knocked that book out of the park! Thanks for sharing your favorite narrators!

    • At 2012.03.30 11:14, Karen White said:

      Jennifer, thank you thank you thank you for this post. As a hard-working, below-the-People-Magazine-radar-yet-professional narrator, your discerning ear and leadership on this topic are SO appreciated!

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    • At 2012.03.30 11:42, Barry Campbell said:

      Thanks for this! I’m an avid audiobook listener and a new narrator (completing my seventh title now). My favs are Simon Vance, George Guidall, Jim Dale, Dick Hill, Scott Brick, Hillary Huber, Vanessa Hart, and Johanna Parker. Someday I hope to make someone’s list of favorites. Again, thanks for your insights!

      • At 2012.03.30 20:09, Literate Housewife said:

        Thank you for your list of narrators and for taking the leap of faith into the world of narration. As an audiobook lover yourself, you know just what a difference a good narrator makes. The best of luck to you!

      • At 2012.03.30 11:51, ABFan said:

        Great article! Bravo! I could listen to any of the following people read just about anything:
        Rosalyn Landor, Julia Whelan, Mark Bramhall, Robertson Dean, Stacey Keach, Edward Herrmann, John Lee, Lorna Raver, Robin Sachs, Bronson Pinchot, Kirsten Potter, Bahni Turpin, Cassandra Campbell

        • At 2012.03.30 20:11, Literate Housewife said:

          Thank you so much! What a great list of narrators you’ve given us. I love Mark Bramhall, too. I just finished Skeletons at the Feast not too long ago. He is fantastic. I’ve also wondered about Stacey Keach. I’ve loved him for a long time now. He played the father in a sitcom I loved back in the 90s called Titus. He was hilarious.

        • At 2012.03.30 13:22, Cassandra said:

          Man, you’re just taking over the audiobook corner of the book blogger universe, aren’t you? You’ll have to consider pitching an audiobook review session at the UNCON. I’ll be sitting in on that one. ;)

          • At 2012.03.30 22:24, Literate Housewife said:

            Ha! An audiobook session would be a good thing to have at the UNCON, wouldn’t it? You always put thoughts in my head. :)

          • At 2012.03.30 13:55, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

            Oh yes, Steven Weber is excellent!

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            • At 2012.03.30 18:10, Jeffrey Kafer said:

              Thank you for this article. As one of the in-the-trench narrators (50 books to my credit), I was a little disheartened at the term A-list. Which list does that put me on? The D-list? But alas, this is the same fate that any working actor faces who isn’t in the limelight. So kudos to you for taking a critical eye and recognizing the craft and art of audiobook narration.

              • At 2012.03.30 22:31, Literate Housewife said:

                Thank you, Jeffrey. And, no, you are not D-list! Thank you for doing what you do.

              • At 2012.03.30 18:26, Vanessa Hart said:

                My friends Karen and Tavia put it perfectly. We thank you!

                • At 2012.03.30 19:25, Literate Housewife said:

                  I like what you said about a narrator pulling you out of your normal zone. I’ve found the same to be true. I’m much more willing to follow a narrator I love into uncharted territory than on my own in print. Thanks for your additions to the list!

                  • At 2012.03.30 19:27, Literate Housewife said:

                    I would be insanely jealous of your special birthday audio clip but,… wait, I am insanely jealous even if it is well deserved. LOL! Very awesome indeed.

                    I have only experienced one of your narrators. I really need to branch out some into sci-fi/zombie territory. I’m missing out on some great professionals. Thanks so much for your support!

                    • At 2012.03.30 19:28, Literate Housewife said:

                      Excellent addition, especially given how popular Hunger Games is right now. I’m glad one of your favorites narrated that series.

                      • At 2012.03.30 19:31, Literate Housewife said:

                        I almost instantly found my favorite narrator, but I love that you haven’t. Without a must listen narrator, the audiobook world is open wide to you without the “distraction.” :) Thanks for sharing narrators you’ve enjoyed. No need to be a rabid fan to let us know who you’ve enjoyed listening to. Long live audiobooks!

                        • At 2012.03.30 19:33, Literate Housewife said:

                          Thank you so much, Clay. Very interesting that your first audiobook love resulted from an author read. I’ve been leery of that, but I’ve had some good luck recently. I loved Ayad Akhtar’s narration in American Dervish. Thanks so much for your entire list! Much appreciated.

                          • At 2012.03.30 21:47, Susan said:

                            A timely article and so many great names listed (and so many more that could be). Others I’d like to include are Grover Gardner, Johnny Heller, and William Dufris. Wil Wheaton is not to be missed in Ready Player One or Fuzzy Nation. Yes, I’m a pushover for Brit accents, but won’t mention Simon Vance, as he’s already been listed. But there’s also Neil Gaiman, Gerard Doyle, and Stephen Briggs – who makes any of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld or Tiffany Aching series worth their weight in gold. And although I’ve never yet heard a title she’s narrated, Xe Sand’s “Going Public” project is a treasure and I’m looking forward to hearing my first book narrated by her.

                            • At 2012.03.31 21:48, Literate Housewife said:

                              Thank you so much for adding some great names to the Listener’s List. I appreciate your support.

                              I agree with you about the “Going Public” project. I’ve been meaning to write a post about it for some time now. It’s such a neat way to bring attention to the talented narrators out there. Also, since the pieces are chosen by them, it gives a little incite into their personalities and preferences. I must write that post!

                            • At 2012.03.31 20:38, Care said:

                              Bravo! I don’t have a list of favorite narrators but posts like this DESERVE attention! I know that a few names here are on my want-to-listen-to list (since I’m still learning how to appreciate audio books.) Thank you.

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                              • At 2012.03.31 21:50, Literate Housewife said:

                                Thank you so much! I am so glad to hear that you’re beginning to acquire a taste, shall we say. :) You’ve come to the right post for narrator ideas.

                              • At 2012.04.01 05:36, Gilly Fraser said:

                                As a writer and broadcaster (tv and radio) I thought it would be a simple task to turn my first ebook into an audiobook with myself as the voice. NOPE. My stories are romances and although they’re by no means erotica, they do contain sexual scenes. To my chagrin, I couldn’t read them aloud without getting the giggles – I was completely defeated by nipples!
                                Fortunately I have a good friend who has an excellent voice and is made of much sterner stuff and I think she did a cracking job of narrating my stories.
                                However – I’m very interested to know – specifically – what makes a good reader? Is is intonation – is it because they do different voices for different characters – or do they seem to act out the parts? Please – I’m really keen to pin this down.

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                                • At 2012.04.02 23:23, Literate Housewife said:

                                  For me, a good reader embodies the story. Putting those qualities into words is difficult, though. They simply draw you in to the story. Tone and voice differentiation are important. Most of all, listening is believing.

                                • At 2012.04.01 07:03, Lisa Worthen said:

                                  Wow all the responses and no one has yet mentioned Therese Plummer!? I could listen to her recite a phone book her voice is amazing and I’ve listened to so many authors thanks to her being the narrator!

                                  I love Lorelei King but she is so very good at narrating Stephanie Plum books that I struggle to let it go if I hear her reading other series (even my family when hearing a Patricia Briggs book narrated commented “what’s Ranger doing in a book with werewolves?!”)

                                  • At 2012.04.02 23:26, Literate Housewife said:

                                    Never fear! Therese Plummer is now on the list!

                                    I’ve picked up on similar accents from the narrators I listen to the most. Any one person can only have so many different voices I suppose. I haven’t had difficulty with this yet, but I can understand how hearing the same voice outside of a series like that would be a little like waking up in the past.

                                    • At 2012.04.21 22:24, Therese Plummer said:

                                      Lisa Thank you for mentioning my work and your appreciation and Karen thank you for writing this article. It is so refreshing to hear my fellow narrators recognized for the talented work they produce through storytelling! Onward and Upward:-)

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                                    • At 2012.04.01 07:10, Lisa Worthen said:

                                      I also love Amanda Ronconi (perfect for snarky narrations) Xe Sands (soothing voice that can break your heart with the emotional narration but her voice seems to ‘hold your hand’ and help comfort you till the bad soothes itself better) and Christina Moore is Amazing at reading The Spellman series by Lisa Lutz (I still scowl when I see the book in my library that’s narrated by the ‘imposter’ voice I too hastily wasted a credit on not realizing it wasn’t Christina narrating)

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                                      • At 2012.04.02 15:32, Amy Rubinate said:

                                        I have a spreadsheet with the upcoming release dates of the next Orlagh Cassidy as Maisie Dobbs, Lorelei King as Stephanie Plum & Len Cariou as Harry Bosch releases on it, so I won’t miss a minute of my favorite narrators/series. I’m convinced these books are made even better by fine narration.

                                        I also have a spreadsheet of great authors and narrators, so I can always look for them – Kirby Heyborne, Ron McLarty, Scott Brick, Simon Vance, Justine Eyre, Renee Raudman, Julia Gibson, Julia Whelan, the late Anna Fields, Rosalyn Landor, Cassandra Campbell, Emily Gray, Katherine Kellgren, Angela Goethals, Blair Brown, Emily Bauer, Bernadette Dunne…

                                        There are many more great narrators, and many I just haven’t heard yet. But those listed above can make a good book great, a great book phenomenal, and will always keep me listening. It’s nice to have a forum to give these folks a shout-out; hate to see movie stars getting attention they don’t need when these actors are doing the industry heavy lifting. That said, anything that gets more people listening to audiobooks is a good thing!

                                        • At 2012.04.02 22:10, Amy Rubinate said:

                                          Whoops, almost forgot Kate Burton and Kate Reading…

                                          • At 2012.04.02 23:32, Literate Housewife said:

                                            I love the spreadsheet! I haven’t gotten to the Maisie novels narrated by Orlagh Cassidy yet. I need to fix that. She played a role on my all-time favorite soap opera. Since it’s been canceled, a good audiobook would be a little like coming home.

                                            Thank you for all the great narrator suggestions. I’ve made sure they’re all on my list. I also agree that anything that gets people listening to audiobooks is a good thing. I just hope that first time listeners have a wonderful first experience that leads them to many, many more.

                                          • At 2012.04.10 07:02, Listener’s List Poll ~ Ladies First said:

                                            [...] I posted my thoughts on Audible’s A-List Collection of audiobooks and countered that listeners are best able to [...]

                                            • At 2012.04.17 06:02, Listener’s List Poll ~ The Gentlemen said:

                                              [...] I posted my thoughts on Audible’s A-List Collection of audiobooks and countered that listeners are best able to determine who the star narrators are [...]

                                              • At 2012.04.17 22:27, Suzie Z said:

                                                I wait longingly every month for my audible credits to post and I do not spend them carelessly. I need a good narrator and a wonderful story that is at least 14+ hours….that way I feel like I get more for my money. But there are a few narrators that I will break the duration rule for and they are Oliver Wyman and Ray Porter. I adore the Monster Hunters International (Oliver Wyman) written by Larry Correia and the Joe Ledger series (Ray Porter) written by Jonathan Maberry. Feed: The Newsflesh Trilogy was cool because it featured 2 narrators, Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein. They complimented each other very well and the story was awesome and I can’t wait for the next part.
                                                I love Dan Stevens and Jim Dale too.
                                                For those who like Phil Gigante, you HAVE to listen to “The Zombies of Lake Woebegotton” by Harrison Geiller. Even if you don’t like zombies, the humor is well worth it.

                                                • At 2012.04.22 19:43, Michelle said:

                                                  Very well-written post! Like you, I skimmed over the announcement and went on my merry way. To me, I am always very cautious about trying new narrators because I have been burned one too many times to pick an audiobook willy-nilly. My first audiobook experience was with an actress, and the fact that I am still listening to audiobooks is more a testament to my stubbornness to give up than anything else because I detested her performance. She may be decent on screen, but her attempt to perform on audio left me wanting to poke sharp sticks into my ears and scrub my brain of the memory.

                                                  I agree with you and fear that Audible’s A-List narrators list is nothing but a gimmick. This will be seen with a lack of new memberships. True audiophiles know who the real audiobook celebrities are and will continue to flock towards and rave about these narrators who make the auditory experience so amazing.

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                                                  • At 2012.05.01 13:45, Joanne said:

                                                    I am a librarian and totally enjoy listening to audio books on my commute to and from work as well as any other time I am driving.
                                                    I have hears some extraordinary narrators over the past year. I do not have their names in front of me at the moment but the titles of the works are:
                                                    Day After Night by Anita Diamont and The Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory. I can get their names and pass them along if anyone is interested.

                                                    • At 2012.08.17 12:05, Creating a Listener’s List Team said:

                                                      [...] this year, I felt compelled to highlight and celebrate the fantastic professional audiobook narrators who make listening to audiobooks a compulsive pleasure. Although celebrity narrators can be fun and [...]

                                                      • At 2012.09.03 20:21, kathe Mazur said:

                                                        Just got back from vacation to see this great post, and all these wonderful narrators! I do appreciate that sometimes the celebrity readers can bring in audiences to audiobooks that might nit have tried it before. And as a narrator and lover of this fantastic medium, I like anything that raises its profile. But my favorite readers are the people listed above, and it’s an honor to be a part of this community of readers, listeners, reviewers, bloggers, publishers. It’s a great community.
                                                        Thanks for all you do for it every day. It blows me away.

                                                        • [...] Audiofiles’ Golden Voices and ALA’s The Listen List ), or a long list of fan favourites on the Literate Housewife blog [...]

                                                          • At 2013.09.21 18:11, beverly stanley said:

                                                            I would like to know if Gweneth Paltrow is one of the narrators of a book I have listened to. Of course, her name isn’t on the book, but it surely has her lovely English accented voice, nevertheless Thanks for your help.

                                                            • At 2013.09.21 18:12, beverly stanley said:

                                                              Can you tell me if Actress Gwen Paltrow has narrated a book under another name. It’s driving me crazy, the voice I heard on a book I listened to, exact same English voice. thanks a bunch.

                                                              • […] Audiofiles’ Golden Voices and ALA’s The Listen List ), or a long list of fan favourites on the Literate Housewife blog […]

                                                                • At 2014.06.04 14:46, katie said:

                                                                  simon vance is amazing!!!!

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