“Read for you by the author” is a six-word sentence that I dread hearing at the beginning of an audiobook. More times than not I listen to author-read books and am annoyed by their reading style. While they may be good writers, they are not professionally trained voice-actors and it shows. Unfortunately, their lack of skill is often a detriment to the audiobook and sometimes leads me to become disinterested and stop listening. In these cases, reading the book rather than listening to the audio would be beneficial.
There are exceptions to every rule though and some authors are great at reading their own work. Their vocal skills enhance their books so much that I vastly prefer picking up the audio rather than the print version. I was reminded of this when I heard that David Sedaris is coming to town to perform his work at Benaroya Hall. Sedaris is my favorite audiobook performer and I never read his work anymore in favor of the audio.
Me Talk Pretty One Day is a hilarious read, but after listening to the audio, I’ve never looked back. I revisit about once a year. Hearing Sedaris read his story of French lessons makes me cry laugh-tears. When I read it to myself, I only LOL. His dry sense of humor is captured perfectly in his audiobooks and he is good at accents and does an impeccable Billie Holiday impression. Sedaris audiobooks are not to be missed.
Here are five other authors whose audiobooks are superior to reading the print book because of their voice-acting prowess.
It comes as no surprise that Fey would be fantastic at reading her book Bossypants. She’s a professional writer and actor after all. She’s practiced and trained at her craft for years and the audiobook is polished. I find hearing jokes so much more funny than reading them and Fey’s memoir is filled with jokes and doesn’t have the overwrought sentimentality that a lot of autobiographies possess. Like Sedaris, this book is a must listen.
I read a few of Vowell’s books before picking up the audio of Assassination Vacation. Vowell serves as the main narrator here with other performers including Stephen King and Conan O’Brien reading bit parts throughout. This vibrant performance makes the historical content, where she explores the assassination of American presidents, come alive. What could become boring and weighed down by pounds of facts is light and interesting under Vowell’s and the other actors’ care. Although an author first, Vowell was also the voice of Violet in the Incredibles so she has voice-acting in her skill-set that maybe other authors do not.
In my experience, non-fiction self-help style authors are the worst at reading their own audiobooks. This category is where I most often turn off the book in frustration. Poor reading abounds. On the flipside of this, a shining example in good reading is David Allen, a productivity guru, who recorded his popular book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. While not a trained actor, like the others, Allen is a professional speaker and possesses speaking acumen. This certainly helps when recording an audiobook. His voice is strong and he uses good inflection. I did read this book before picking up the audio and I revisit the audiobook whenever I need reminders on how to use his system.
Tales of the City has been my favorite book series since I picked up the first volume when I was in high school. The series was more than 20-years-old at that time, so I had many books to read to catch up to the current day. By the time I was ready to read book seven, Michael Tolliver Lives, Maupin had begun recording his own work. He excels at performing because his main character is based upon himself. He is the natural choice as his understanding of the character is deep. Listening to the audio feels like eavesdropping on a conversation with Michael Tolliver and Maupin is the rare fiction author that is accomplished at performing his own work.
This choice shouldn’t be a big surprise either. Gaffigan is a very successful stand-up comic. He has performance down-pat, so listening to his audiobook, Dad is Fat is just like hearing a long-form stand-up routine. He delivers his book in the dead-pan and funny voices style that he uses in his live act. The book format lets him add more detail to his stories. To me that makes it the most delicious kind of memoir rife with nuggets from his life at home. Speaking of delicious, Gaffigan just published a new audiobook of his latest work Food: A Love Story. I’m looking forward to devouring that on an upcoming trip.
These are my favorite authors/audiobook performers of late. Authors with acting and performing experience make the best audiobooks and I’m looking forward to picking up other memoirs by funny people including new titles by Lena Dunham, Neil Patrick Harris and Amy Poehler. Luckily these actors all performed their own audiobook. I’m always looking for new audio gems.
Have you listened to any good books lately?