Bookwyrm’s Hoard: Music to My Ears-The Art of a Good Audiobook

September 26th, 2014 Kimberly Guest Post 43 Comments

26th Sep


Caffeinated is being taken over by other bloggers and today we have Lark from The Bookwyrm’s Hoard. Grab a mocha latte and check out her thoughts on my new passion aduiobooks. The Bookwyrm’s Hoard offers a unique array of adult and young adult reads from cozy mysteries to fantasy in all genres. Enjoy Lark’s discussion and share what you think about audiobooks.Be sure and visit her blog and stalk her:) Thanks Lark for sharing with us today….


Guest Post
Music to My Ears: The Art of a Good Audiobook

why-listen-to-audiobooks-300x300I’ve noticed that Kimba is listening to more audiobooks these days (yay!), so I thought we could have some fun talking about them while she’s away – and leave her with a nice batch of recommendations when she gets back!

My own introduction to audiobooks came very young, when I was about four. I was given an LP of Maurice Evans reading the first chapter of Winnie the Pooh. Of course, the playing time of a vinyl record was pretty limited, so one chapter was all I got, but it was nice to listen to during naptime or when I was playing in my room. (My mom had to put the record on for me, of course, until I got old enough to do it myself – by which time I had mostly grown out of it.)

Fast forward more than 30 years. My sister’s family had discovered the joys of audiobooks when traveling with small children, and began showering us with them as gifts. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Ella Enchanted. The Westing Game. And we were hooked.

Well over a decade later, with our daughter Robin in college, we’re still listening to them. And over the years, I’ve started classifying them not just by how good or bad they are, but also by the narrative style. I think I’ve identified four types. There’s the single reader, the author-as-reader, the multiple-narrator, and the full-cast audio. Within each of those four, of course, there are books that are well-read and books that are, well, not. But the narrative types each have their strengths, and tend to work well for different kinds of books.

The single reader is probably the most common, and it’s the one most people think of when they think of audiobooks: one person, reading the book to you, the listener. It’s the obvious choice for nonfiction, but it can work well for fiction, too, whether the book is in third person or in first. A reader with a monotone delivery can be deadly dull; good narrators use their acting skills to enliven the story. One of the best examples is the Harry Potter novels read by the incomparable Jim Dale, with his gift for giving each and every character a unique voice and accent. And Nicholas Podehl has done a wonderful job with Patrick Rothfuss’s picaresque fantasy epic, The Name of the Wind, a first-person narrative that nonetheless captures the voices, accents, and personalities of the other characters.

Harry Potter images
Name of the Wind

The author-as-reader could actually function as a subcategory of any of the other three types, though I personally have only experienced two (single reader and full cast.) Having the author read his or her own work can be a delight – Neil Gaiman reading Stardust jumps to mind, as well as Bill Bryson reading some of his books, from At Home to One Summer. It only works, though, if the author is able to read aloud fluently and with good interpretation — and has a pleasant voice, of course! One of my favorites isn’t an entire book, though – it’s J. R. R. Tolkien reading the riddle chapter from The Hobbit. (Obviously those examples are all the single-reader type. I’ll get to the other example later.)


The multiple-narrator approach is sometimes used for books told in the first person by more than one character. Think of it as single-reader squared: a different actor is chosen to voice each narrator in the text. The actors have to work together if they will be imitating each other’s voices, and they need to be at least moderately good mimics. Kevin R. Free and Katherine Kellgren make a good pairing as Carter and Sadie Kane in Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicle books, each narrating the portions “told” by that character. The dual-narrator format works particularly well in this case because the books are written as if they were audio recordings by the siblings.

Kane Chronicle books

The full-cast audiobook is less common than the single or multiple narrator types, probably because it requires so many actors. It’s more like producing a radio play than reading a book — although not a single word is omitted. One person serves as the narrator, while each character is voiced by a different actor. Not many recording companies are willing to put the time, effort, and money into this, but one that consistently produces terrific audiobooks is called, fittingly enough, Full Cast Audio. They focus on children’s and YA books. Their production of Katherine Karr’s Gilbert and Sullivan Set Me Free is terrific, both because all the actors are both good and well-cast, and because the story depends so much on music, which can be inserted wherever necessary. The full-cast type is also the other place where I’ve seen the author participate effectively: Tamora Pierce serves as the narrator for all the Full Cast Audio productions of her books; so far, they’ve done the Immortals series and some of the Circle of Magic series. (Unfortunately, several of these are out-of-stock.) And Brian Jacques narrates at least a few of his full-cast audiobooks beginning with Redwall; he also provides the voice for the moles.


I don’t prefer any of these audiobook types over another; instead, I have my favorites in each type. And least favorites, too, of course! For instance, I hate it when the publisher switches readers on me mid-series. (The Maisie Dobbs series is horrible for this; there have been at least three so far. I like the books themselves, but the narrator switch is seriously annoying.) Or when the reader is all wrong for the book, like the woman with a southern accent who read one of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. Her voice would have been fine for some books, but it just didn’t sound right for Pern.

So what about you – do you listen to audiobooks? Do you have a favorite narrative style, a favorite reader, a favorite audiobook series? Are there narrators whose books you will listen to, just because they’re so good? (Jim Dale comes close for me.) Do you prefer male or female readers for third-person books, or doesn’t it matter to you? C’mon, dish – I’m always looking for more good audiobooks to listen to!

About Lark and Bookwyrm’s Hoard

The Bookwyrm's HoardLark has been blogging since 2009 and her blog Bookwyrm’s Hoard offers mainly adult and YA fantasy, mysteries, and romance, with some historical fiction, general fiction, and nonfiction thrown in for variety. Lark does a News & Notes post every Saturday keeping us up to date and bookish news and happens.Lark’s reviews are honest, fair and her wide reading range provides many new fines for me. Β  She is always ready to chat I encourage you to follow, stalk and get to know Bookwyrm’s Hoard.


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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw, Howler and proud Nonna. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

43 Responses to “Bookwyrm’s Hoard: Music to My Ears-The Art of a Good Audiobook”

  1. Lark

    Stephen Fry reading Hitchhiker?! Oh, I’ve got to track that one down!

    Perhaps single narrator feels more like the experience of reading from a page. I think many people “hear” the text in their heads as they read, possibly in their own voice (but faster than you could actually read it aloud.) Even if you don’t, you’re still getting the text in a single stream, from a single source, as it were. I don’t know; I’m just reaching here! I do enjoy all three (or four) types of narration, but only if they’re done well. πŸ™‚

  2. Stephanie

    I am a voracious consumer of audiobooks mostly in the car and when doing housework. One of the best I’ve listened to recently is A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy read by Stephen Fry – he was literally the perfect narrator for this book. For whatever reason, I’m not sure why, I prefer single narrator books though they can of course go horribly wrong if you have the wrong person doing the reading.

  3. Katherine

    I’ve just started listening to audio books and am still feeling my way to figuring what I like. This is a really helpful guide to the different types! Great topic! I think more and more people are listening to audio books now because it’s becoming so much easier and definitely more affordable.

    • Lark

      I agree – and also because the stigma is going away. I think many people used to see audiobooks as “cheating”, in a way – as not really reading. There’s still some of that, but it has become much more accepted as a way of consuming the same content.

  4. Michelle

    I listen to audiobooks and really enjoy them, but I just can’t get into the habit of it for some reason. I’ve tried, but I’m not a auditory type of person so I process things slower. I generally try to have a copy of the actual book with me, just in case I feel like I’m not ‘getting’ it. I read much faster than an audiobook. ;P I do love the Harry Potter books on audio, both Stephen Fry and Jim Dale do an amazing job. The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann is another fantastic audio and so is Enchanted by Alethia Kontis.

    • Lark

      I read faster than an audiobook, too, and sometimes that’s frustrating – I feel like the book is going slowly. But since it allows me to have some “storytime” when my eyes and hands are otherwise occupied, it’s worth it. I do find that I don’t remember details as well, and especially not for nonfiction. I think that’s because like you, I’m not an auditory learner. Thanks for the recommendations – I will definitely check those out! Both are books I’ve wanted to read. If our library has them, I’ll put them on hold. πŸ™‚

  5. Nereyda

    I looooove audiobooks! Listen to about 3 or 4 a week. A narrator can make or break a book so I really wish they would focus more on picking a narrator that fits the book. One of my biggest pet peeves is when the narrators sound like they are 30 and the book is YA…

    • Lark

      Three or four a week! Wow! Either you have a heck of a long commute, or you are much better at multi-tasking than I am. πŸ˜‰ I think I’m envious!

      Seriously, I don’t commute (I work at or very near home) so I can only listen to audiobooks when I’m exercising, knitting, or doing housework, or driving to a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store or library. I wish I could listen while doing stuff like answering email, but I just can’t. So it takes me several weeks to get through most audiobooks. (My daughter is amazing, though; she can listen to an audiobook and do something else mental at the same time.)

  6. Melissa (Books and Things)

    I have been really enjoying audiobooks lately. I think my fave is the Charley Davidson series. I’ve done them all in audio and will continue in that format. I just started the Kate Daniels series in audio and have been enjoying that one as well. My biggest problem usually stems from male narrators doing female characters. My ears have a hard time adjusting to their falsetto harder than a female narrator doing male voices. Eventually, if they are skilled, I’ll get used to it though. πŸ™‚

    • Lark

      I don’t think I’ve listened to (or read) either series – thanks for the recommendation, Melissa! As for male vs. female narrators, I agree that some male narrators just don’t do a great job with women’s voices. Occasionally, I find the same thing with a female reader, but in reverse: her male characters don’t come across as well. It’s one of the challenges of single-reader audiobooks. But a good narrator of either gender can make you believe even as you know that’s not really a woman’s (or man’s) voice.

  7. Sophia

    Sadly I’m not a fan of audio. For Court Reporting we have to do audio tapes sometimes and despite the fact we can make it slow down, it’s SOOO annoying.

    I do think I’ll love full-cast audio books though. It’s like a movie without sound. πŸ™‚

    • Lark

      It didn’t occur to me that some jobs would make audiobooks less appealing, but I can see that it could. Interesting!

      When you listen to a full-cast audiobook, there’s still a narrator reading everything but the dialog (and maybe the bits of narration like “she said fearfully”, which may get left out because you can hear it in the actor’s performance.) But yes, having the actors’ voices doing all the dialog adds an extra dimension. Only a few “single reader” narrators come close to matching that experience, and only because they are incredible with voices and accents.

    • Lark

      I think they first came about as recorded books for the blind. Then some company or other must have realized there was a market. I should look up the history sometime – I’m always interested in things like that!

  8. Candace

    I grew up on audiobooks. We traveled a lot and my parents would stock up on audiobooks from the library. Because there were kids they had to be kid appropriate. Our favorites were Hank the Cowdog and all of Judy Blumes books (well at the Fudge ones). Our whole family just adored them. My whole family still listens to audiobooks a lot but I went through a period where I listened less. That happened after I had got some from the library for a road trip and got totally involved in a story only for the CD to stop working. It happened with every one I had got for the trip and I swore off library CD’s after that.
    Now I get them from audible on my phone and I listen when I clean house, walk the dog or run errands in the car. I have only listened to a couple of full cast audios and then it was only partially. I found it was a bit too much for me. But they had a HUGE cast. So I think that might be the issue.
    I usually sample the audibooks before I buy but sometimes I think I don’t like one and it turns out after listening awhile that I actually do like them. So it can take some adjustment.
    Great post!

    • Lark

      Your experience with audiobooks as a child sounds like my daughter’s, except I think she came along a little after you, and was much more into fantasy than Judy Blume or Hank the Cowdog. (My nephew and niece loved Hank, though.) I can only imagine how frustrating the experience of having all your books stop working in the middle must have been. It’s a hazard with library CDs; I’ve run into that myself, and had to borrow the print book to finish the story.

      It’s nice when you can sample ahead of time. Sometimes I’ll borrow from the library to see if it’s a book I want to buy or give someone, if I can’t get a sample any other way (and if the library has it. Then again, if I only want to listen once, I’ll just borrow it anyway.)

  9. Rita H DuffyGal

    I love this post, Lark! It is the most comprehensive essay on audiobooks that I have read yet, and now I understand much more about them. I don’t listen to audiobooks because I love to read printed words and get more understanding and enjoyment that way. I’m a visual learner. When I tried listening to a couple of audiobooks, my attention wandered.

    I can understand the great appeal of listening when running, walking, doing chores, driving…I feel like that is how other bloggers are able to keep up with their heaping TBR pile…they multitask while listening. I’m at a disadvantage there. As far as on long car rides like the one I just took cross-country, we have Sirius radio in our car, so we don’t get interrupted from fave stations while driving along, and my family prefers music. It would be different if I worked and had the need to drive or take public transportation by myself. I rarely have the luxury of being all by myself lately πŸ™‚

    Thank you so much– a great, enjoyable guest post!

    • Lark

      Thank you so much, Rita! As much as I enjoy them, I know that audiobooks aren’t for everyone. I’ve come to love listening to stories, and even some nonfiction, but if I need to really learn something, I have to read it.

  10. Judy

    Several years ago I started listening to audiobooks during the hour and half commute I had to do twice a week for my job. At first I started with what my library had available, then started trading them through I found they made a great backdrop for when I was doing the monotonous tasks on my gaming account. I now have a job where I have over an hour commute every day. Audiobooks have become a staple. I even broke down an purchased a special device to download Audible books to. I find that I am much more likely to try something new and different in audio version than actually reading it. I have discovered some fabulous narrators, some great new authors. However I have also been assaulted by some truly heinous narrators and horrific writing. Of course there have been some crazy combinations of the two. I have only listened to one author read his own work and that was Nathan Lowell and his Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, and I listened to that via free podcast. Frankly, it was amazing.

    • Lark

      Audiobooks rock for commuting! My husband’s commute isn’t nearly as long as yours – probably 20 to 25 minutes – but he enjoys audiobooks while he goes back and forth to work. (Also podcasts.)

      I’m sorry you’ve run into some bad audiobooks. There are a few really awful ones out there, I know. Mostly, though, the worst I’ve run into have been merely mediocre. And then there are the amazing ones that just knock it out of the park. πŸ™‚

  11. Lark

    Thank you for the lovely intro, Kimba! *ducks head to hide blushes* I hope your week has been awesome! I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the tent going up (on Twitter). Best wishes to the bride and groom!

  12. Selah at A Bibliophile's Style

    I mostly listen to children’s audiobooks, because I don’t want my kids to overhear more adult books (and I dislike headphones). The kids and I like to listen to audiobooks while we eat breakfast and lunch. Both of my children listen to audiobooks while they play or draw, just like you did! I don’t remember listening to audiobooks as a child, but my mom bought me The Adventures in Odyssey radio show on cassette, and I wore them out. πŸ™‚

    • Lark

      Hi, Selah! There are some terrific children’s audiobooks out there, that are great for family listening like you describe. I don’t have little ones at home anymore, and I don’t mind headphones when I’m doing something like working out or doing housework. (I’m not a fan of earpods, though – I don’t really like sticking things in my ears!) But I can completely understand not wanting to use headphones, especially as a mother with children at home – you want to be able to hear if they need you!

  13. Carmel

    I’m still fairly new to audiobooks, but I’ve taken a real shine to them, and am enjoying discovering the wide range of performers. Multiple narrators are my favourite, but I have yet to experience any of the full-cast variety, so it’s hard to say for sure. Thanks, Lark! I’ll be adding your blog to my stalking list. πŸ™‚

    Hi Kimberly! *waves* Keep the wedding pics coming on IG. πŸ˜€

    • Lark

      I’m glad you’re enjoying audiobooks so much! And I hope you get a chance to try full-cast books; they’re a lot of fun. Thanks for the follow!

  14. Stormi

    The first time I tried an audiobook I was eighteen and I think I must have tried the wrong one or they just were as good back then (not saying how long ago that, but it was so boring. I didn’t try another one until a few years ago and I got a James Patterson book and it was so awesome..gun shots and glass breaking, I was hooked. Then I tried a MG book that was narrated by Jim Dale and OMG, I love him. He is so funny, he had me laughing with his voices..he is the best example of a storyteller as he doesn’t just read you a story he immerses you into a story.

    • Lark

      Hi, Stormi! I agree; Jim Dale is awesome, an amazing talent. I love his audiobooks. In fact, I just put one on hold from the library – Peter Pan. It’s ages since I read it.

      The Patterson book sounds good, too. I love it when they add just the right amount of sound effects, or use music effectively.

    • Lark

      They’re really ideal for long car trips! My husband and I listened to A History of the World in Six Glasses on our last cross-country trip. It was an interesting book, although the narrator’s voice was a little too bland and soothing.

  15. Debbie Haupt

    HI Lark, Great Guest Post!!
    I have two audiobooks on my nook HD right now and I’ve Never Listened to one yet. LOL
    I know.
    I will have to break into the reading mode because I’ve promised a fave author that I would review her e-book. So my first read will be The Rogue by Claire Delacroix

  16. Valeria

    This was a very interesting post! I recently discovered the wonderful world of audiobooks and became absolutely hooked. Now, I’m always listening to one. I listen to them with an app for my cell so I always have one with me.

    So far I have only experience the single reader narrator and the multiple narrator. But I do wish I get the chance to experience a full cast audiobook, because that sounds wonderful.

    Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell has a good team of multiple narrator, I think it’s the best I’ve heard, although I felt the pacing was a bit slow.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I think I’ll definitely try audibooks on them whenever they come. Seems like a good way to foster their love for books.

    Great post!

    • Lark

      Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve been meaning to read Eleanor & Park; I’m glad to know the narrators are good. I’ll see if my library has it to borrow.

      Audiobooks are great for kids, and really great if the whole family can listen – for instance, on road trips. That way, you are all experiencing it together, and you can talk about the story. But I also read aloud to my daughter practically from her birth right through leaving for college, and I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. But she loved listening to audiobooks alone in her room, especially while falling asleep (she used books she knew well for that.)

  17. kindlemom1

    I am trying my hardest to listen to more books but I admit, it is still hard for me. I frequently walk out of the room and forget I was listening to something and have to back it up and start again LOL. It might be easier if I used an iPod and earbuds I think.

    • Lark

      I always use my iPod for audiobooks, except when I’m in the car. Then I put it on the speakers. (We connect the iPod to the sound system and play it as “auxiliary.”) I like the portability of it – great for going to the gym or going out for a walk.

  18. Mary

    I still haven’t made it through an audiobook. I think it’s because I read too fast so I get impatient, no matter how good the reader is. I’ve been thinking I need to give them another chance, though!

    • Lark

      I read pretty fast, too – certainly faster than someone reading aloud. That was one of the reasons it took me a few audiobooks to really get into them, when my sister started giving them to us. But once I realized I could listen while I was doing mindless things — like washing dishes or folding laundry, and especially while I was exercising — well, that was another story, if you’ll pardon the pun. I don’t just sit and listen; it’s what I do to entertain my mind while I’m doing stuff that doesn’t need concentration. So I usually have at least two books going – a print or ebook for reading, and an audiobook for when I’m doing boring daily tasks.

  19. Melliane

    I only tried one audibook as I was really curious to try that. But I realized that I wasn’t enough patient and I need to be very aware to understand everything so not doing many things at once and only listen to that. It took me a little more than a month to finish it even if it was interesting so I’m not sure I’ll try more.

    • Lark

      Some audiobooks do need more concentration than others, I find. And while I enjoy listening to nonfiction, I realize that my retention of facts isn’t as good as when I read it on the page. But that varies from person to person. I’m a visual learner. My daughter, who is a kinesthetic and aural learner, remembers books she listens to better than what she reads.

  20. Emma

    Interesting post. I have always struggled with audiobooks but recently got a biography of Mary Bolyen out of the library on audiobook and I’m really enjoying it. It has encouraged me to try more. Will be interesting to consider the narrator as I do. Never gave how many types of narration there were much thought before. Emma

    • Lark

      It took me a little while to warm up to audiobooks as an adult, but now I love them — and the freedom they give me to enjoy a book even when my hands and eyes are busy elsewhere.

    • Lark

      I still listen to children’s books on audio, but now I enjoy adult books as well. Great for long drives (and out here in the country, almost any trip is a long-ish drive) and while doing housework.