When I was a child, my mother would read to me. Most often when I was home sick with a cold or the flu. She’d sit next to me, crack open a book and take me to unexplored worlds. Pirates. Cowboys. Super heroes. Fairy tales.
There was nothing better than lying back on my bed, listening to the gentle sound of my mother’s voice as she read from a favorite book.
I grew of out of that, of course. As an older child, I discovered Maxwell Grant and The Shadow, and the hilarious caper comedies of Donald Westlake. The thought of anyone reading these to me was ridiculous. I was a grown-up now, no longer interested in such childish activity.
When I heard my first audio book, many, many years later, I couldn’t quite understand why anyone who had a choice would want to be read to like this. When listening, I’d find my mind starting to wander, losing important story points. And, frankly, the reader just didn’t do it for me. Was laughably bad, in fact.
Traffic jams changed me. Working in the movie and television business required me to take frequent trips to Los Angeles, about a ninety minute drive from my home. Listening to talk radio got old – very old, very fast. Most of the time what the callers and host were blathering on about was more frustrating to me than the traffic itself and I’d usually wind up at my destination in a foul, foul mood.
Music is wonderful, but after awhile, I found myself overloaded by sound and couldn’t concentrate on anything, let alone the road or the music itself. I’ve always been a lie-back-with-headphones kind of guy. Headphones allow me to hear the nuances of the music, the various tones and subtle phrasings that can’t be heard when you’re rattling down the highway.
Audio books saved me. I was in the library one day and noticed that they had a huge collection of audio book CDs, many of them unabridged. (Why anyone would ever want to listen to an abridged audio book is beyond me.)
Why not give them another try? I thought, and picked one up by one of my favorite writers, Michael Connelly, narrated by a guy named Dick Hill.
Well, I wasn’t disappointed. We all know what a wonderful storyteller and stylist Michael Connelly is, but what surprised me was how beautifully Dick Hill read the story. He is, to my mind, one of the shining examples of how to do an audio book right. Because, believe me, the only thing worse than a bad book, is a bad audio book reader destroying a GOOD book.
A note to any current or future audio book readers. Do yourself a huge favor and listen to Dick Hill or Scott Brick or Richard Ferrone when learning your craft. And keep these things in mind:
If you’re reading a child’s dialog, don’t modulate your pitch by six octaves and imitate a squeaky cartoon character version of a kid.
If you’re a man reading a woman’s voice or vice versa, don’t modulate your pitch by two or three octaves in some pathetic effort to imitate the opposite sex.
Read in your natural voice. Keep the pitch modulation light and not cartoonish, utilizing inflection and phrasing to get the point across.
Read dramatically, yes, but don’t do it as if you’re projecting for the guy at the back of the theater. Audio is a very intimate medium. Treat it as such.
Take it slow, let us savor the words. You don’t have to rush.
One of the most amazing readers I’ve ever heard is William Hurt. I listened to his rendition of Stephen King’s HEARTS OF ATLANTIS and was blown away by his unusual yet compelling reading of the work. One of my all-time favorite audio books.
I’m now hooked by them, of course. If the reader violates any of the above “rules,” however, I immediately shut it off.
And I know that audio books aren’t for everyone. I tried to get my wife to listen to THE LINCOLN LAWYER during a flight once, but she had a hard time with it. Didn’t like the narrator (although I think he did a fine job) and couldn’t concentrate on the story.
Sounds a lot like my first experience.
But when you find one narrated by a true pro like Hill or Brick or Ferrone or Hurt, even a mediocre story sounds much better than it actually is.
It ain’t mom, but it works.
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