Tuesday, June 22, 2010
For me, it's all about the narrator and the production/editing of the book. When I listen, I know immediately whether the book is going to work for me or not. I have ended books well before I should have on audio -- whereas most print books I'll give 50 pages, the audiobook has just about 10 minutes. I need to be hooked into a believable narrator immediately. Books that haven't worked for me tend to have either a lot of weird editing issues -- where you hear the reader swallowing, the sound quality changes from track to track so you need to keep adjusting your volume, or there are background noises distracting from the reader -- or it has reader issues -- the age of the reader doesn't match the character or the accent is all wrong.
In writing audio reviews, I follow my gut a little more than I do with a printed text. I am willing to talk more about my shortfalls as a listener, too, as you probably remember from my review of Zen and the Art of Faking It. I do use a little bit of a cheat sheet to make sure I hit on as many important points as I can, and that little cheat sheet is from my post right here. I like to look at that to hit on the things that matter, but that I don't necessarily consciously look for, when listening to a book (since I'm listening to the story).
Since I brought up narrator, I thought I'd share with you my best experiences and my worst. My favorite narrators are Joel Johnstone (from The Wednesday Wars and Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie) and Natalie Moore (from The Dairy Queen). Both fit their characters in the books perfectly and they did so in a way that was authentic to the age, gender, race, and accent to the listener. Moore delivers a pitch-perfect Wisconsin accent that made me sad that I had to READ the last book before I could listen to it. She will always be the voice of D. J. to me.
On the worst end, I had a rough time with Susan Beth Pfeffer's The Dead and the Gone on audio, as well as Andrew Smith's In the Path of Falling Objects. I couldn't find the voices as matching the story . . . and interestingly, the reader of Smith's work was the reader for Zen and the Art of Faking It, which fit much better for me as a listener. Proof that it's not necessarily the reader who makes the book hard to go to; it's the need to match the reader with the right character.
Much of what Kelly wrote above applies to my audio review style as well. For me, a lot depends on the narration. While good narration doesn't always save a bad book, bad narration will almost certainly ruin a good one. I'm currently listening to Going Bovine, Libba Bray's huge doorstopper of a book that most recently won the Printz, and the narration is almost killing me. The book is in first-person, and the voice is just so wrong. Apart from sounding much too old, the narrator infuses sarcasm, sardonicism, and irony into every single sentence. This is not so bad some of the time, because Cameron, our protagonist, is frequently sarcastic. The problem manifests itself when he tells the listener something like "I went to the store." Imagine hearing all lines that are meant to be matter of fact, emotionally moving, or exciting as sarcastic. It's grating.
That rant over...other annoyances include mispronunciation of words, long gaps between pieces of dialogue in a conversation (sounds fake), and, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, poorly done female voices (usually by a male narrator).
Poor production values can also get to me, but it's not something I make a habit of listening for consciously. If something sticks out (usually a bad something), I'll remark upon it, but otherwise, I don't pay a lot of attention.
All the importance of the narration aside, when I review an audio for the blog or other medium, I try to devote half the space to the actual story and writing. I like to give our blog readers an impression of whether or not they'd enjoy the book in either format - audio or print - and I can't do that by concentrating only on the narration. If the narration is bad, it's good to note that the story itself is good, so interested readers will check out the print version (and vice versa).