Not to cast aspersions on your sanity, dear reader, but in all likelihood you often hear a voice in your head. I’m not talking about a sinister whisper suggesting unspeakable acts, like eating that jelly-filled donut or calling in sick to watch every cut of Blade Runner back-to-back. No, I’m thinking of the voice you hear when you read a book. The words are on the page, but you have to provide the inflection, tone and, occasionally, sound effects.
When you listen to an audiobook, however, all of that narration is provided for you. And therein lies the rub. No matter how good a book is, if you can’t stand the narrator’s voice or presentation, the experience is not going to be a pleasant one. In order to avoid bad narrators, one of the rules I’ve learned is to always be wary of audiobooks that are read by the author. Good writing doesn’t always translate into good narration alas.
There is one case, though, when you absolutely want the writer to be the narrator: comedic books. To prove my point here are a few titles where it is essential that the author reads his or her work. In fact, even if you have read the book already, you might want to check out the audio version for an enhanced “reading” experience.
America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert
This irony drenched reaffirmation, or is that affirmation, of all things America is best heard rather than read. The material is tailor-made for the author and he deftly delivers. If you were to read the book you would just insert the star of the Colbert Report’s voice anyway so why not give it a listen? Enjoy all the truthiness.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
While this book is technically a memoir, it reads, or listens as the case may be, like a series of comic vignettes from Fey’s life. Her delivery while telling these stories is spot on and her many impersonations are all here including, of course, Sarah Palin. Also included are plenty of anecdotes from her Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock days for TV fans and those just wanting to know what working with Alec Baldwin is like.
I Drink for a Reason by David Cross
First of all, great title. Secondly this is a great series of riffs on a myriad of topics that enter David Cross’ wonderfully deviant brain starting with his observations on seeing the bumper sticker “Don’t Abandon Your Baby.” Cross proves the point of this blog piece by having another narrator attempt to start reading the book and failing miserably. Clearly you need Cross’ narration to get the full impact of the material, though I must admit it was hard not to imagine Tobias Fünke while listening.
When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
I just chose one representative title, maybe because of the gruesome cover art, but any of Sedaris’ audiobooks are excellent. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great writer, but once you have heard him read his material you will demand to listen to his books from then on. Luckily we have a great selection of his work on audio from which to choose, so you can get your fix.
God, No! by Penn Jillette
What fun would it be to simply read a rant by Penn Jillette? You need to hear the slow buildup in his voice and then the eventual thundering denunciation of one hypocrisy after another. The topic here is religion, or lack thereof, so be prepared to be offended. But really, what else would you expect from one half of Penn &Teller, a duo dedicated to demystifying and debunking everyone’s sacred cows in a raucous way?
So there you have it. Just a few examples to whet your appetite. Now go out there and listen!