Great audiobook narrators, Part 1

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”

— Lemony Snicket

Picking a good audiobook isn’t just about picking the right book.

It’s about picking a voice you can listen to for the next 12 hours. I’ve written about it before, but a narrator can make or break an audiobook.

Struggling to find something you’ll enjoy? I’ve done the hard work for you.

Here are some of my favorite audiobooks by narrator:

 

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Rosamund Pike, Pride and Prejudice

Not only is Rosamund Pike my favorite Jane Bennet of all the Pride and Prejudice film adaptations, she is a marvelous narrator. Her voice is melodious and her voices for different characters are marvelous. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can count, but listening to Pike’s narration was like hearing it for the first time. Her voices are excellent, and her delivery impeccable.

Use your free 1-month trial from Audible and fall in love with this classic again!

 

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Carey Elwes, As You Wish

If you’re a fan of The Princess Bride (especially the movie), you’ll absolutely love this audiobook. Carey Elwes (aka Wesley) narrates the story of The Princess Bride‘s journey from book to movie production. His humorous stories, wonderful voice (who could resist Wesley??), and storytelling ability is a wonderful tribute to the movie and its fans.

What I especially love about this particular audiobook is that many of the original actors narrate sections of the book from their perspective. The story of making the film is almost as hilarious as the film itself.

 

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Rob Inglis, Lord of the Rings

I love Rob Inglis’ narration. Every time I press play, I feel like I’m being wrapped up cozy blanket by the fire with a mug of tea, listening as Gandalf reads me a story. While I absolutely love Lord of the Rings, there are definitely some thick/slow parts that audiobook helps you power through.

Also if you, like me, love Lord of the Rings but hate reading the songs and poems, you’re in luck. Rob Inglis actually sings every song, so you can finally appreciate Tolkien’s poetry instead of just skipping over it.

 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

If you love listening to writers read their own books, listen to a copy of Between the World and Me next. I honestly don’t know if I would have recognized all the emotion, heartache, and passion Coates writes with if I hadn’t heard him read his own words aloud.

Beyond the fact that Coates is an excellent narrator, Between the World and Me is an excellent book, and it’s one you need to read. I didn’t have the slightest understanding of what it was like to be black in America before reading this book. I probably never will, fully. But this book was a good place to start. Listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and let Between the World in Me draw you one step closer to understanding, compassion, and hope.

 

Who are your favorite audiobook narrators?

 

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My favorite audiobook genre

Once upon a time, I dropped $60 on a stack of nonfiction books at Books-A-Million, and I didn’t. finish. a. single. one.

I’m ashamed.

Really, it’s a complete scandal.

Not the $60 part, but the fact that I couldn’t finish any of them. I just got bored. I don’t know why exactly, but for the longest time, I have struggled to finish (or even enjoy) nonfiction.

AND

In some ways, it’s a classic case of analysis paralysis: I would spend so much time pouring over every single meaningful sentence that it was impossible for me to actually finish. And because of my over-analyzing, reading nonfiction required so much brainpower that I’d rather just pick up a fiction book or magazine — anything that didn’t require deep personal contemplation.

Until recently, when I discovered something beautiful.

Like a glorious, glittering unicorn riding out of the clouds and trailed by a stream of rainbow-colored butterflies, I discovered the magic grail.

The nonfiction audiobook.

Suddenly, my life flashed before my eyes and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me: It was possible for me to love nonfiction!

It was just like the moment I discovered I could like guacamole. I’d wanted to like it for so long, recognized the benefits of liking it (it’s totally hipster to be into guac, obvs), and I’d even tried a few bites at restaurants … but I just hadn’t discovered the perfect method of enjoying it (homemade, extra chunky, light on the onion).

And from that moment forward my whole life has changed. (Ok not really, but this is BOOKS and GUAC we’re talking here people)

I know this is all difficult for my fellow visual learners out there to swallow, but hear me out:

Isn’t finishing a book is better than it laying around, untouched and lonely, for months?

If you’re worried you won’t retain as much knowledge listening to audiobooks as you would reading them, just remember this simple math: you’ll probably remember about 60% of what you listen to via audiobook, as opposed to 85% if you read it with your eyeballs. Contrast that with about 20% remembered if you never finish the book.

I’m 100% making this math up. I actually have no idea and these results have no basis in scientific fact (please don’t sue me).

My math teacher father would be so proud.

 

What genres do you like listening to on audiobook?

5 reasons I’ll stop listening to an audiobook

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I love audiobooks—or “books on tape” as we ’90s kids are still prone to call them.

There’s nothing better then finding a great story you can listen to over and over again (Lord of the Rings narrated by Rob Inglis, anyone?). They’re also a great way to make a dent in your reading goals.

But sometimes finding a great audiobook can feel like a Goldilocks pursuit.

They can’t be too this or too that. They need to be just right.

I’ll be the first to admit—I’m a little picky when it comes to choosing audiobooks.

My top audiobook pet peeves are things that distract me from focusing in on the story. Just like bumpy sentences and dry dialogue in print, certain narrator quirks often distract me to the point that I have to press “stop” and move on.

Here are a few things that make me DNF an audiobook:

Long pauses between words or sentences

I ran into this problem when I tried to listen to Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Between every sentence, I could literally hear the narrator take a breath.

No surprise—the book moved along at the speed of mud and I hit stop before I’d even gotten to chapter two.

The opposite is also true.

This may be my Alabama roots showing, but if a narrator is talking so fast I have to tilt my head toward the speaker to keep up, I’m out.

The narrator sounds like Siri

This should be a given, but pretty regularly I come across audiobooks where is seems like the narrator is actually trying to sound a robot-like as possible. What?!

Give me some Jim Dale narrating Harry Potter any day of the week over that.

Audiobook magic happens when the narrator starts to fade away and the story is front and center. It takes an enormous amount of talent for a narrator to give each character their own distinct voice and personality. I love it when narrators craft an immersive world with their voice.

The voice doesn’t match the book’s vibe

There’s something really disjointed about listening to an audiobook narrated by a voice that so clearly does not match the vibe of the book.

Sometimes I can get used to it (like in The Circle), but other times it just doesn’t work. One of weirdest book/narrator mashups I’ve heard was Francine River’s Bridge To Haven. This is a story about a young, impressionable actress in 1950’s Hollywood … narrated in an elderly, mature-sounding voice. I don’t think the narrator is actually old, but the style just didn’t work for me.

The accent is all wrong

Ok, I know this is really a minor pet peeve.

But come on, if I’m going to listen to a British novel, I want to hear a rich British voice dripping with tea and scones and crumpets telling me the story. Not an American.

When the volume ranges from yelling to a whisper … the entire book

This is probably my number one pet peeve.

I listen to audiobooks most frequently in the car, and there’s nothing more obnoxious than constantly having to adjust the volume because one minute the narrator’s practically yelling, and the next they’re whispering.

I ran into this problem with The Light Between Oceans. I loved the narrators voice, but every time I pulled into a parking lot I felt like people were staring at me because I had a loud Australian voice blasting from my car stereo.

BONUS: The editing is bizarre

So this just happened to me recently while I was listening to Scary Close by Donald Miller. Instead of normal pauses between sentences or chapters, every space seems to have been edited out.

This is how it would go: … you knowChapter5When you think about …

I’m wondering if they edited it down to fit within a certain time frame? Either way, I had to stop and borrow the book from a friend because the reading was so fast, my brain didn’t have time to stop and absorb what was just said. Super frustrating!

 

We all have our pet peeves, but the good new is, most audiobooks are great.

What are some of your audiobook pet peeves? Who are your favorite narrators?

Is The Circle by Dave Eggers worth reading? | Book Review

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Title: The Circle
Author: Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Fiction (Dystopia)
Audiobook note: The Circle‘s main character is a woman. Soooo I’m still trying to figure out why it was narrated by a man. It doesn’t make sense. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to enjoy the audiobook, because Dion Graham honestly sounds like the voice of Aslan (which definitely doesn’t fit the book’s tone). After a while though, I got used to it—plus Graham’s “valley girl” interpretation of Annie’s voice is actually hilarious.
Is it worth reading? If you’re a sucker for anything dystopia, you’ll probably enjoy The Circle. If your only foray into dystopian fiction is The Hunger Games, I’d pass on this one. What I enjoyed most about The Circle was how it built on the dystopia genre and compared to other dystopian books, and not so much for its merits as a stand-alone book.

 

>>Minor spoilers ahead<<

In the spirit of full disclosure, the only reason I picked up this book was because I saw The Circle movie trailer.

Emma Watson with an American accent? Tom Hanks as a villain?! Creepy dystopian universe eerily similar to our own?!?!?!?

Yeah, I was in.

So I popped over to my local library (tip #2 in my 4 tips for keeping your 2017 reading goals post) and picked up the audiobook.

This is dystopia for our current era. I’m looking forward to more in this genre to come.

The Weird Stuff

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. There were many things I disliked about this book, to the point that it made me wonder if that was the point. Maybe Eggers is intentionally trying to create a certain revulsion in the reader so that we recognize the ultimate message behind the book (read more under The Good Stuff).

Sheep Characters

I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book from the perspective of one of the sheep.

By that, I mean that Mae Holland believes everything the Circle tells her hook, line, and sinker. Even when trusted people in her life challenge her to think critically about the company she works for, she rejects their ideas as stupid, ignorant, and selfish.

The speed with which the world adopts the tyranny of the Circle was a little unrealistic to me, but not too unrealistic that I completely rejected it. I was spooked by how mindlessly and willingly the characters were willing to give up their freedoms—without even realizing it.

(More on this under Critical Thinking is Critically Important)

Mae is Freaking Annoying

What an obnoxious head to be stuck inside.

I’m really curious how Emma Watson is going to play her in the movie. Mae accepts everything without question, ridicules and hates anyone who questions her wisdom or choices, and cares only about the power she has over people or the way they make her feel.

She is petty, vain, people-pleasing, self-centered, and thoroughly unlikable. She is completely asleep to the dangers of the world around her. Listening to her internal dialogue was agonizing at times. But what made it worse was that I was also sort of rooting for her at the same time.

Incongruous Sex Scenes

In general, I’m not a fan of sex scenes. But I have no problem just skipping over them, and normally they don’t ruin my reading experience. I can still find a lot to love about a book aside from the parts I skip over (like in Game of Thrones or Pillars of the Earth).

But for some reason, I never saw the sex coming in this book. It just seemed so oddly out of place with the whole theme/tone of the story to have kind of descriptive sex thrown in there 5-6 times.

I don’t know if Eggers was trying to highlight the vast gulf between the digital and physical at the Circle or what, but it seemed weirdly incongruous with the rest of the book.

The Good Stuff

While I definitely didn’t love The Circle, there were some redeemable points. If nothing else, it served as a warning, and it’s always, always a good idea to examine warnings.

Especially when we live in a world where the plot of The Circle seems plausible.

These were my main takeaways (aka The Good Stuff):

Great World Building

One thing I loved (and which I think is critical for a good dystopian novel) is solid world building. If I’m going to buy into a futuristic, oppressive society, a believable, well-constructed world is key.

The Circle excels at creating a believable setting.

Maybe we’re just used to the idea of sprawling tech company campuses, but I think Eggers takes it to the next level. I could picture going to work with Mae every day and experiencing the things she experienced. Even the sometimes-tedious descriptions of her moment-by-moment movements helped highlight Mae’s increasingly frantic mental world.

Critical thinking is critically important

Every program or initiative started by the Circle was good in theory: microchips to prevent children from being kidnapped, programs to prevent racial profiling, surveys to ensure quality products and services, etc.

But no Circler seems to recognize how each new, exciting advancement is another infringement upon personal freedom and liberty. Every initiative is cloaked under the guise of safety, wellness, and acceptance.

The groupthink was so strong and the ideas were so “good” for society that it’s nearly impossible for any person to disagree without being branded as outlier, anti-social, or luddite.

When society loses the ability to constructively critique itself, tyranny slips in the door.

Disagreement does not equal hate

The more the Circle takes over, the more that negativity, disagreement, or dissent is punished.

I think this reminder is especially poignant in the wake of the 2016 election season. It’s easy to assume someone who disagrees with you hates everything you stand for, or even worse, hates you. But in reality, disagreement is valuable and necessary for a thriving society. It drives us to look at problems from all angles, and it reminds us that each person is unique and brings their own perspective to the the table.

When we seek to erase all disagreement, we encourage a culture of robots.

The dangers of seeking approval in a digital world

The more likes, followers, and approval ratings Mae receives, the better she feels about herself. She gets an endorphin rush from the instantaneous affirmation the Circle encourages.

And the more she’s treated as an object (albeit, a loved object) by her fans, the more she treats other people as pawns in her attempt to feel loved, valued, and approved.

This is a real problem we’re facing right now.

Social media makes it incredibly easy to start basing our value and our worth as human beings on the impersonal approval of people we have no connection to in real life.

The Circle shows us the danger when every action we take is categorized, ranked, rated, and evaluated. When our performance in the job force, the classroom, and the social realm are ranked and rewarded, it’s easy to slip into a mindset where we believe arbitrary numbers correlate to real things like value. It’s a dead-end search that can never be satisfied.

State-imposed morality is bad, bad, bad

The flaw with the goals of the Circle is that Eamon Bailey believes he can eradicate sin and change human nature by instilling “checks and balances” that will ensure everyone is intimidated, harassed, or forced into perfect behavior.

And it’s impossible. You can’t force people to make moral choices and you can’t force people to be perfect.

Although a perfect society would (theoretically) eliminate pain, suffering, fear of the unknown, and heartbreak, it would also eliminate choice. It would rob us of the agency to do good, to love others, and to make mistakes and learn from them. It would remove the ability to heal.

There’s a biblical application here as well: Agency means we have the choice to move toward God or away from Him … He didn’t make us into robots who are forced to choose Him.

Is The Circle Worth Reading?

Either this book is kind of crappy, or Eggers is doing something powerful here. I’m honestly not sure. Maybe I’m reading too much into it … or maybe not.

But that’s what I love about reading. To me, a book isn’t wasted if it teaches or reminds me of something powerful and true.

So is it worth reading?

I’d say yes if you like dystopian novels. If not, some of the subtler themes may not be worth slogging through the droning of Mae’s sheep-like mind or the petty behavior or the sort-of-disappointing twist at the end. If you don’t like this genre, it might just end up on your Did Not Finish pile.

 

Have you read The Circle? What did you think? Will you go see the movie? Leave a comment below!

 

4 tips for reaching your 2017 reading goals

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I am a firm believer in New Year’s Resolutions.

Sure, we could technically make new resolutions any time, but let’s be honest: who really does?

The turning of the new year signals the turning over of a new leaf. There’s something good and fresh about taking stock of the previous year and making the conscious decision to start something new.

Maybe you have a goal to read more this year, but do you have a plan of action?

Here are a few tips to make your 2017 reading goals a reality:

Make it official with a Goodreads Reading Challenge

A little friendly accountability never hurt anyone, and this one is a lot less painful than blasting your weight loss goals all over Facebook.

On your Goodreads.com account, you can create reading challenge goal and track your progress. Plus when you sync to your social media, you can see your friend’s reading goals and cheer them on. Goodreads also does a cool end-of-year recap that shows your book stats for the year.

Here’s mine from 2016:

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Note: Goodreads did not pay for/endorse this shoutout. I’m just legitimately obsessed.

Hit up your local library

Don’t be like me and buy tons books off the Internet that won’t fit in your tiny apartment.

Throw on your adulting pants and make a trip to your local library instead!

If you haven’t visited the library since you were in elementary school, you’ll probably be surprised at the amazing resources your library has available (like eBooks you can borrow for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad).

My library is pretty small in size, but is connected to a huge network that gives me access to almost any book I want. My online library account even allows me to place a book on hold and sends me an email when it’s arrived and ready for pickup (talk about enabling my laziness). Many libraries will also email you when your book is almost overdue.

If you’re not a book hoarder and don’t have tons of book options lying around (kudos to yo minimalist self), using your library is a budget-friendly way to add variety to your 2017 book list.

Two words: Audio. Books.

Ok, technically audiobook is one word.

But let’s not be held back by minor technicalities.

Audiobooks are, in a word, wondrous. Every time I’m in my car, I’m listening to an audiobook. When I’m cleaning my house, I’m listening to an audiobook. Basically, audiobooks make mundane tasks less mundane, and you’re chipping away at your reading list while you work. Or drive. Or just lay around.

Another library plug: Some offer subscriptions to online streaming services like Hoopla that allow you to borrow audiobooks and play them through an app on your phone.

Borrowing regular old books on CD from your library is another option, and it’s cheaper than Audible. But hey, if you have $14.95 to throw around every month, more power to ya.

Listening to audiobooks is a great way to power through your reading challenge and mark more books off your list. Besides, if you have to be in the car, why not make that time productive?

Don’t set yourself up to fail

Do you have a full time job? Are you a full time student?

Do you have a social life?

Does your body require petty things like food and sleep?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’re probably not going to read 150 books in 2017. If you read at the pace of drying paint, you’re probably not going to read 70 books.

Whatever your goal, don’t plan to read the entire Game of Thrones series, five Stephen King books, and the entire Charles Dickens canon. Mix things up. Read a short novel and then tackle the 1,000-page monster. Give yourself mental breaks and avoid being too rigid.

In a nutshell: Be realistic with yourself about your free time. If accomplishing your reading goal makes your friends wonder if you got abducted, your resolution has stopped being positive.

 

I believe the reason many people scoff at resolutions is this: At some point, they committed to a resolution that failed miserably.

And failing is a sucky feeling.

You can avoid feeling sucky by doing yourself a solid and making a realistic goal. You can even undershoot a little and feel amazing when you surpass your goal.

Whatever your reading resolution is for 2017, you can achieve it if you plan well. Reading is one of the most productive and enriching experiences you can give yourself.

So get out there and conquer the world! (Or at least that book you’ve been putting off reading)

 

What are your reading goals for 2017? Leave a comment below!