Books, General

A Love for Narration

If you have followed my blog for a while then you will probably realise that I acquire and consume books at a very fast rate. I love to read and immerse myself in a good story, and will do so in anyway whether it’s graphic novels or audiobook, tomes or e-books, if I can read it then I’ll probably give it a go.

Over the last 18 months, I have embraced the audio-book in a way that I previously thought would never be possible. My local library has a great audio-book service via the app Overdrive that allows me to borrow books for up to 21 days, and listen to them at my own pace and speed. They have a great variety of books, read by a whole host of narrators, in addition to a huge e-library too. Years and years of will power have stopped me from signing up, but last year I finally gave in and signed up for an Audible account, and gained access to a huge amount of audio-books that I could purchase and enjoy over and over again.

My current job means that I commute for at least 30mins each way a day, and I had a realisation around 18months ago that this time could be spent listening to more than just Disney tunes and the Hamilton soundtrack (although these were pretty awesome to sing along to on the motorway at 5am!) She had also sold me on the idea that they would be invaluable as aids for readathons, and just for listening to books around the house while doing chores too. So I listened to my housemate’s advice and signed up to the local library service and to Overdrive, and began browsing the books that they had on offer. My verdict: there were loads, how could I ever choose? Throw in the whole catalogue on Audible, and I was lost!

I could remember listening to Harry Potter as read by Stephen Fry when I was a child, and absolutely adoring the voices and depth he put into the characters and the story. I wanted to try and recapture that, but with books that wouldn’t appeal to me or that I would struggle to read if I just picked up a paper copy.

Classics

I really struggle with reading many of the books that are classified as Classics. I don’t know if it’s the old fashioned wording, or the authors themselves, but I really struggle engaging with some Classics that are considered to be must reads. So, classics was where I decided to start my Audio-book journey, will Dracula no less. I have tried to read it once before, and if I am honest, I really struggled. I wouldn’t classify it as a DNF because I never really started it, but I really wanted to read it and so found a copy on Overdrive. This introduced me to Simon Prebble (more on him later!).

I loved it. The narration brought the story to life, and the story made sense when spoken in a way that the few words I had read really didn’t. Yes, knowing the story of Dracula definitely hampered the enjoyment to some degree, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it on the way to and from work.

In the following months, I checked out the range of classics that Overdrive and my library had to offer and began downloading titles I was interested in. I love Sherlock Holmes, but I have been hesitant to read the nice versions I treated myself to for fear I would damage them, so I have read a few more of his novels, and re-read some of his short stories. I have also (finally) listened to Great Expectations. My opinions on the Dicken’s classic differ to pretty much everybody I know, but it is just nice to have an opinion of the book, and have actually finished the story in novel and not just TV form.

Memoirs/Autobiographies

Everyone likes to know more about people that have interesting lives or interesting stories. If those people are famous, we seem to be drawn in even more. The market for celebrity memoirs is large, and there are lots of people that have dabbled in telling their life story. I have enjoyed some written memoirs, Steven Gerrard’s and Anna Kendrick’s to be most specific, but often find that reading someone’s life isn’t actually that interesting.

I discovered through investigating what audiobooks were on Overdrive, that many memoirs are actually narrated by the author themselves. I decided to Trevor Noah’s book about his childhood. The book is brought to life by the narrator, it feels like they are just telling you a story about their life while sat around together rather than reading a story. It was funny, emotional, and you got a bigger sense of what it meant to them by hearing them tell you the story, rather than applying your own emotions and judgements.

Since then, I have sought out other people’s memoirs that I would like to read, whose life stories sound interesting and who I like. I’ve enjoyed a varied amount of books, from Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist to David Attenborough’s memoir Life on Air. There is a power in listening to, rather than reading, someone’s life story that I can’t recommend highly enough.


Narrators of memoirs are, naturally, usually the author themselves, but for fiction, there is a multitude of different narrators than can be used. A narrator can completely change the way the book impacts upon you, the way you perceive the story, and can affect the likelihood of you listening to another book in the future. A few narrators have made a big impression on me and have greatly influenced books that I have listened to that have been narrated by the,

Simon Prebble

I’ve never been that engaged with any form of classic before, but Prebble has a narrating style that fits perfectly for such stories and writing styles. The first book I heard him narrate was Dracula and he brought the story to life in such a way that I started to look based on narrators rather than titles, because I was sure I would enjoy books he narrated regardless of whether I wanted to listen to it before I heard him narrate.

His narrating style is very smooth and almost gentlemanly, which I have found to be a perfect fit with the older words and classic characters. He does a great range of voices that identify the characters clearly, and he has a great way of building suspense and drama.

If you get a chance to listen to any of his narrations, then I would highly recommend it!

Neil Gaiman

I accidentally stumbled across Coraline on Overdrive, and as it was short and I wanted something small to listen to, I decided to give it a go. I wanted to try and read some of Gaiman’s longer adult works, but wasn’t sure how I’d adapt to his writing style, so I thought that this was an ideal opportunity.

Neil Gaiman speaks with an ebb and a flow that perfectly fits his otherworldly stories. Coraline was incredibly unusual and weird in the best kind of way, and I think that listening to Gaiman narrate his own story really highlighted the bits of the story that he likes and thinks are important, and brilliantly shows the unusual parts of his fantasy stories through a completely normal voice and viewpoint. I struggled for a long time with the idea of reading Gaiman’s fantasy, until I heard him narrate his own works. As soon as I heard his voice and his story read by him, I knew that they would be books I would enjoy, and have done immensely since. I ended up devouring The Graveyard Book, Stardust, and Good Omens over the next couple of months.

Stephen Fry

Fry was the first narrator that I really enjoyed listening to. His magical portrayal of a magical story really hooked me into reading at a young age (well, the first time I read Harry Potter did, his narration made me realise that you can appreciate the same story a number of times in different ways). He showed me that different people experience a story in a different way, and listening to his narration definitely made me see and hear different bits of the story that I have previously missed.

I have branched out recently to splurge on the complete Sherlock Holmes collection. I haven’t listened to anyone other than Prebble narrate them, but when I found out I could buy and have the full collection, I thought he would provide and enjoyable yet different take on the mysteries that I love so much.

Listening to audio-books completely changes the reading experience. For some books, it adds to the narrative, or increases the understanding of events. For others, it makes you see a well known tale in a new light. And the best ones, well they’re the ones you would never have enjoyed at all if it wasn’t for the voice of another. Hearing a story told out loud is something we enjoy from a very young age and that many of us lose as we get older, so I am pleased that I have rediscovered that magic.


Do you listen to audio-books?

What are the best books you have listened to? Who are you favourite narrators?

Any comments or recommendations? Please pop them below, I’d love to hear from you!

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