It is a truism in the audiobook world that authors do not make the best narrators. Audiobooks have come a long way since Dylan Thomas sing-songed some of his poems in what is considered to be the first audiobook, produced in 1952 by Caedmon Records.
Audiobooks in the 21st century are more performance than reading, and performance requires different skills than reading aloud. Hence the hesitation about having authors read their own works. At the same time, no one is more familiar with a book than its author, and familiarity can bring out aspects of a story that a professional narrator might overlook. Some authors are memorably bad (unnamed here, click through for a book you should NOT listen to!), but some are surprisingly good, even excellent. Here are a few authors I’d be glad to listen to again:
Neil Gaiman. Absolutely the best author/narrator, his quiet English accent and subtle characterizations make for an entertaining visit to a haunted graveyard (The Graveyard Book) to an alternate London (Neverwhere), or perhaps down at the end of the lane (I’m still waiting for this one!).
Khalid Hosseini. The author reads his debut novel, The Kite Runner, with a sensitivity and emotion that makes it clear that this is a very personal story.
Barbara Kingsolver. With exception of her early books, Kingsolver has read all her work since. Prodigal Summer (2000). Her gentle Southern-tinged voice, along with her clear identification with her female heroines, brings out the humor and pathos of their stories.
Susan Orlean. This writer narrates her most recent book, Rin Tin Tin, in a conversational fashion that makes the listener feel like she’s enjoying a chat with a friend who wants to impart some very interesting information.
Simon Winchester. This prolific master of narrative nonfiction is an excellent reader of his own work, as he delivers a hint of British reserve and irony, fused
with absolute authority and command of his subjects. I enjoyed Krakatoa.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three author/narrators of books for young adults that are well worth listening to:
Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a revelation into the mind of his alter-ego, Arnold Spirit, Junior.
Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens is a hilarious romp.
Philip Pullman expertly guides the full-cast performances of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Don’t miss them!
It’s easy to find most of the audiobooks read by the author at MCL. At the Advanced Search page, type “read by the author” (use quotes) and click Search.