One of the great things about audio books is the added dimension the narrator brings to the book. I find this is true for both fiction and non-fiction, but it is especially true for fiction. When I started listening to audio books back in 2013, I didn’t always pay attention to the names of the narrators, but I quickly learned to do this, in the same way that I learned to read the bylines in newspaper articles, or look for who wrote episodes of television shows I’ve enjoyed.
The very first audio book narrator I listened to back in 2013 was Lindsey Crouse, who narrated the first two audio books I listened to, Misery and Gerald’s Game both by Stephen King. In the years since, I’ve listened to more than 500 audio books. Here then, are some of my favorite audio book narrators.
- Craig Wasson: Wasson narrated Stephen King’s 11/22/63. I’d read the novel once before I listened to the audio book version. Craig Wasson’s narration helped make that novel one of my all-time favorites. His performance was so good that it has an unexpected negative result: I can’t listen to other performance by Craig Wasson. Usually, when I find a narrator I like, I will look for more books they’ve narrated. I’ve discovered a lot of books in this manner. But Wasson became Jake Epping to me, and I can’t imagine him in any other role.
- George Guidall: Guidall’s voice took some getting used to for me. The first thing I listened to him narrate was Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. But where George Guidall really captured my heart was when I heard him narrating the Walt Longmire books by Craig Johnson. These books are all told in first person and like Wasson, George Guidall has become Walt Longmire in my mind, even more than Robert Taylor, who portrayed Longmire in the television series. Strangely, I can listen to Guidall narrate other books, and I look forward to those narrations as well.
- Will Patton: Will Patton has narrated many books that I’ve listened to but the one that stands out most in my mind is his performance narrating Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. He does an incredible job with that book, making it, my mind, a better book in the audio edition than it is in the print edition alone.
- Malcolmn Hilgartner: I discovered Hilgartner through his narration of E. B. White’s One Man’s Meat, one of my favorite collections of essays. I know what E. B. White sounds like, of course, and Hilgartner sounds nothing like him, but his style of narration makes me believe that White is talking to me when I listen to him. He’s also done narrations of a biography of Ty Cobb and Bob Hope that I enjoyed.
- Grover Gardner: Gardner’s voice took me some getting used to. But he narrated at least half of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books, and those are among my favorite histories, even though they are somewhat dated now. He is a reliable narrator that I’ve grown used to and versatile in both fiction (The Stand) and nonfiction alike. He narrated all of Robert A. Caro’s volumes on Lyndon Johnson so far.
- Simon Winchester: Winchester narrates his own books, but I sometimes wish he narrated others as well. His is a voice I could listen to for just about anything.
At last, here is a list of some authors who also narrate their own books. No every writer is a good narrator, but these are a few that have really caught my attention and blown me away with their performances:
- Harlan Ellison (the first person I ever heard give a “dramatic” reading)
- John Le Carré (another writer who could have narrated other people’s books to great effect)
- Bruce Springsteen (hid understated narration of his memoir was pitch perfect)
- Simon Winchester (mentioned above)
- Mary Robinette Kowal (she gave a marvelous performance of her novel The Calculating Stars)
- Carl Reiner (because I love how he sounds like he is casually chatting with me)
Looking over this list, I note that it is alarmingly void of women. Mary is the only one. I took a second look at the list of audio books I’ve read and it turns out that while many are written by women, they are not as often narrated by women. Take Doris Kearns Goodwin, for example. I really enjoy her books, especially books like No Ordinary Time and The Bully Pulpit, the former of which was narrated by Nelson Runger, and the latter by Edward Hermann, both men.
When I occasionally browse for books on Audible, in addition to searching for writers I enjoy, I also search for narrators that I enjoy, hoping to discover new things that I might have missed. This above list are the people I most often search for when it comes to narrations.
I completely agree with picking out books based on narrators…especially with a long running series. I absolutely hate when I’m listening to a series and they change the narrator in different book featuring the same characters.
I especially love Susan Ericksen’s reading of the long running JD Robb In Death Series. I’ll listen to anything by Cassandra Campbell (The Help, among many others), Carol Monda (who I first found reading a Jodi Picoult novel) and Jennifer Ikeda (Love Walked In.)
I think the women narrators read what is marketed as women’s fiction (I love it, by the way!)
Anything that’s geared towards men or “neutral” like history is probably more likely read by a man. I just recently listened to an interview with Candace Millard (with your love of history I’m sure you know her work) and she said that an early editor told her she “wrote like a man.” And I’ve read JK Rowling (or her publisher, maybe) didn’t want to use her female first name on the Harry Potter books and “scare away” boys from reading. Silly but you do what you’ve gotta do to get readers, I suppose!
Unless they’re a big media personality, I generally shy away from recordings by the authors. Reading an audiobook is a definite art that most writers seem to lack.
And on the Stephen King front, the guy who read Under the Dome was divine. That was one of the best audiobook experiences I’ve ever had — great long book with a great narrator that kept me entertained on my commute for nearly a month.
One of my favourites is actor Jake Weber who read Ghostman and Vanishing Games (both by Roger Hobbs). Those were two of the three audiobooks my Dad ever listened to in English. (The third one was Around the World in 80 Days, narrated by Jim Dale – some kind of a record holder for the most voices in an audiobook…)
Thanks for the recommendation, Jeff. I think Jim Dale narrated the George R. R. Martin books. I remember he did a lot of different voices in those books.
I have heard lot of Bosch (by author Michael Connelly) and Jack Reacher (by author Lee Child) books on Audible. They are narrated by Dick Hill, whose voice I find very comforting. I know you like Bosch so please give Dick Hill a listen.
I’ve listened to all of the Jack Reacher books on audible. I agree that Dick Hill makes for a good Reacher, but Hill retired and the Reacher series was taken over by Scott Brick, who is capable, but takes some getting used to when you’ve imagined Dick Hill as the voice of Reacher for so long.