Sunday, April 6

The Blunders of Audio Book Narrators

It is no secret that I am an avid fan of audio books. Since my rediscovery of them in 2011 they have come to serve as a large chunk of my book consumption. Yet there are many factors to take into account when choosing an audio book. One of the greatest is the narrator. A narrator can elevate the experience of the listener, but there are also a few peeves and blunders than can turn potential listeners away.

1. Mispronouncing Words

Whether it is a word in another language, a common mispronunciation (I'm looking at you "mischievous") or a word that is pronounced with different inflections in different places, a lot of narrators drop the ball. This is particularly a problem when dealing with accented words. Even those with a good hold on an English accent can give themselves away with an American pronunciation.

2. Accents

Poor execution of accents does happen, but a common failing is when a narrator switches a character's accent between instalments. A Scotsman in book one may mysteriously turn into an Englishman in the sequel. Sometimes it has been a year since they narrated the last book, other times a decade. It's understandably hard to keep so many accents in mind over a vast period of time, but it does tend to throw the listener.

3. Name Pronunciations

It is one thing to switch the pronunciation of a character’s name between instalments. Perhaps the narrator has been enlightened as to the correct pronunciation, and is now simply executing it as it should be. However, it's another thing entirely to switch the pronunciation of a character's name within the same novel, let alone the same chapter. It's a rare occurrence that this happens, but it does.

4. Characters of the Opposite Sex

One of my biggest peeves is when narrators overcompensate for their gender. Some men use really high pitched voices for female characters, and some women over-exaggerate male voices, so that they sound like they are voicing a cartoon character. It's a little off-putting and subtracts from what really matters: the emotion and inflections.

5. Monotone, Monotone, Monotone

This is one of the most popular turn-offs to audio book listeners. Someone may have a "nice voice" but that doesn't mean they will be a good audio book narrator. It is not simple dictation, but acting out every single role. A great narrator will heighten the tension, not bore the listener with a droll delivery.

These shortcomings can serve to turn someone off of an audio book, yet they are all things which I have encountered with some of my favourite audio book narrators. The greatest will slip up, but their incredible aptitudes – which produce amazing audio books that enthrall me for hours – overpower any flaws. I can't fathom attempting it myself, let alone without fault.

As listeners, it's important to remember that for every narrative no-no, there are plenty of narrators who soar above the stumbles. When it comes to audio books, it's too easy to shy away from them by nit-picking the negative. Yet I can assure you that audio books are a brilliant way to experience incredible books, and it's tremendously talented narrators who make that possible.

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