Of Narrators and Narration

microphoneAs I’ve said before, I love audio books.  And it seems to me that one of the big reasons to love an audio book is the narrator reading you the story.

It’s been my experience that a bad narrator can ruin the whole book.  Reading an audio book goes beyond just doing the voices – the narrator has to give the characters life and individuality without the visual clues available to other actors.  Because of this, I’ve found some pretty good movie actors are not good audio book narrators.  In fact, some of the worst books I’ve listened to have big name actors as narrators.  It’s just a whole different animal.

It’s also important that the voice and acting of the narrator fit the book they are narrating.  One of the most disappointing audio books I’ve listened to was Madeleine L’Engle reading “A Wrinkle In Time”.  Hearing an elderly woman narrate that book – even though she read it with enthusiasm and love – just took me out of the story.

Conversely, if an audio book narrator is good, they can make the entire book live inside your imagination.

Because I know you want to know, here are a few of my favorite audio book narrators:

Barbara Rosenblat – she narrates many things, but is probably best known for the Amelia Peabody series of mysteries by Elizabeth Peters.  Those books are prime examples of well-acted audio books.  I have to admit that I would MUCH rather listen to them narrated by Ms. Rosenblat than try to read them myself.

Jim Dale – he IS Harry Potter.  Again, his narration made those book for me.  This might be sacrilege, but I really wasn’t on the whole Harry Potter bandwagon until I listened to them read by Mr. Dale.

Susan Erickson – she is best known for narrating the J. D. Robb books.  She’s done all of them and never fails to bring Eve and Roarke to life for me.

Joe Mantegna – here’s an example of a movie actor who actually can do voice narration.  He reads Robert Parker’s Spenser books and he’s just terrific.  He has some trouble with finding the right pitch for female voices sometimes, but he’s always dead on with characterization.

These are just a few terrific audio book narrators.  There are many more, and I love it when I find someone new to listen to.

Hmmm…I wonder what the narrator of “Fifty Shades of Grey” was thinking about when she acted out that book.

I probably don’t want to know.



  1. SO true, the narrator can make or break the book! I think I’ve got a pretty terrific guy narrating my soon-to-be-released audio book but wow, I had to listen to a lot of auditions to get there. Enjoyed your post!

    • Betsy Horvath says

      @Veronica Scott: It’s just amazing how much of a difference the reader can make…especially since the narrator’s take on the book is a layer on top of the author’s. Good luck with your new audio book!!!!! 🙂

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