Tell Me A Story: The Art and Joy of Audiobooks

Do you find cleaning the bathroom or weeding the garden dreary? Try listening to an audiobook and make your chores something to look forward to. They're also great for commuters and running errands -- you don't feel quite so helpless in traffic jams when you're listening to a great mystery or compelling biography. And family road trips are even better with a well-narrated book that everyone can listen to and discuss.

I've heard lots of books that I would probably never read -- the Harry Potter series, for example, or classics I never got around to reading, such as Frankenstein. The reader, of course, is critical. Most are actors who happen to love reading. They typically read the book beforehand, determine if it's a good fit, and then start researching accents and pronunciations.

A skilled reader creates voices that are so distinctive that the listener knows immediately who's speaking. Veteran narrator Simon Vance explains how he determines what voice to use for a given character: "My first anchor will be the information given in the text by the author -- Dickens is particularly good at painting the picture of a character, giving me some idea of his/her physical characteristics and social status even before they open their mouth. Often, if there's nothing spelled out I use my intuition based on who the person is, what they want and how they interact with the other characters. There's usually something I can hook onto."

2014 marks the 19th year for the Audie Awards, given by the Audio Publishers Association for distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment. The list of finalists shows a mix of books in diverse categories including solo narration, mystery and history. Several were narrated by A-list actors, including Forest Whitaker, Kate Winslet, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Lyle Lovett.

Below is a selection of some of this year's finalists - listen for yourself and see who's Audie-worthy:

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence; Narrated by Simon Vance (Biography, Memoir)

The Everything Store by Brad Stone; Narrated by Peter Larkin (Business, Educational)

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt; Narrated by Lyle Lovett (Children's Titles for Ages 8-12)

Hooray for Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke; Narrated by Mutiyat Ade-Salu (Children's Titles up to age 8)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez; Narrated by Armando Duran (Classic)

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal; Narrated by W. Morgan Sheppard (Teens)

The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer; Narrated by Scott Brick (Thriller, Suspense)

The Martian by Andy Weir; Narrated by R.C. Bray (Science Fiction)

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson; Narrated by Michael Kramer (Fantasy)

The Good House by Ann Leary; Narrated by Mary Beth Hurt (Fiction)

Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King; Narrated by Peter Francis James (History)

How I Slept My Way to the Middle by Kevin Pollak with Alan Goldsher; Narrated by Kevin Pollak (Humor)

Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett; Narrated by Amy McFadden (Literary Fiction)

The Wanderer by Robyn Carr; Narrated by Therese Plummer (Romance)

Unleashed by David Rosenfelt;  Narrated by Grover Gardner (Mystery)

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel; Narrated by Arthur Bishop (Nonfiction)

Written by Lisa on April 23, 2014


FrankW on April 24, 2014


I definitely should try more audio books... sometimes I wish my bike ride to work and home was a bit longer. I've done one audiobook - Fahrenheit 451 - and it was narrated by either Christopher Hurt or Stephen Hoye (not sure which one I got). Whoever it was, I don't know anything about him, but his voice was definitely really distinctive. Thanks for the great post!

Kate B. on April 24, 2014


Audiobooks help me get through my work day and commute home. I highly recommend "City of Thieves" by David Benioff, narrated by Ron Perlman. I also highly recommend "Room" by Emma Donoghue, multiple narrators. Also, all "The Hunger Games" books are great on audio!

Thanks for the post, Lisa at DPL!


Thanks for those suggestions, Kate. Another one that I loved was of the cult classic "Confederacy of Dunces."

Elaine C. on April 24, 2014


Thank you! You've said what I have so often thought, only so much better. I love audio e-books, and particularly enjoy the thought that someone is actually reading me a story. Sometimes readings by the author themselves makes it all the more engaging. Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country" really brought Australia to life for me.

I listened to "Precious" twice on my rides to and from work. It's a work of intensity and passion, and extremely well done. The narrator is the brilliant Bahni Turpin, of the Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. She has also read "The Mighty Miss Malone", by Christopher Paul Curtis. And you can find more of her work here:

I weeded my garden while listening to Anderson Cooper's "Dispatches From the Edge." I'm sure it gave me extra oomph to yank away on those weeds.

Great blog, Lisa!


Thanks, Elaine! It's not always a good idea for an author to read their own book, however. One author, who shall remain nameless, whistled her S's and I had to stop listening. I'll try "Precious."


In my opinion, novelists don't usually read well, but when it's a celebrity memoir spoken by the celebrity, it can be fascinating. Rob Lowe's "Stories I Only Tell My Friends" was a fun listen, as was "When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead" by Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub.

what-ho on April 25, 2014


I am fond of the snappy geezer who reads the Bernie Wooster novels by that Wodehouse bloke. He's a bit of a lark on toast.

DebraT on April 25, 2014


My all time favorite audio book is Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. It was read by Christopher Evan Welch, who just sounds like an old dog. Laughter and tears in this one!

extra medium on April 25, 2014


I used to think audiobooks counted as cheating and now I really enjoy them. I recently listened to Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (read by Daniel Weyman) and thought it was brilliant. I love Harkaway's work but couldn't get into his newest- tried listening and it was so much better. Give it a whirl if only to hear the voice of a homicidal one-toothed terrier!

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