Good audiobook narrators

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Vance

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Do you remember "Bits of Fry and Laurie"?

It was the skit show they had before they both got onto bigger things.

What really annoys me is that Hugh Laurie took on an American accent for his new TV show. I am not sure why this bothers me, but it is kind of like Mel Gibson purposefully taking on an American accent at a certain point in his career in his everyday speech. It makes no sense. British and Australian accents sell in the US.
 

moriond

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arsolot said:
But, I'm a fan of Stephen Fry. I enjoyed him in the Jeeves & Wooster TV series.
Agreed, the Jeeves & Wooster TV series is excellent. If you haven't already come across it, let me point you to this web site for the Granada TV series. They used to have sound samples from a CD, "The World of Jeeves and Wooster", that was issued in the early days of the series and immediately disappeared. Alas, these have long since been removed, so you you will not be able to hear Fry and Laurie do separate songs from the television series (Minnie the Moocher, etc.) but there is still a lot of good content there.

My favorite narrator for Wodehouse is Alexander Spencer, but his recordings are not available from Audible, or through NetLibrary, either. If these are not available through your library, the easiest way to get these (in the U.S.) is through Borders -- not through Recorded Books. Most of these titles are still only sold as audio tapes, although Recorded Books has just started offering these for sale as CDs to libraries.
 
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arsolot

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moriond said:
My favorite narrator for Wodehouse is Alexander Spencer, but his recordings are not available from Audible, or through NetLibrary, either.
I've listened to quite a few Wodehouse books from Audible. They've got Jonathan Cecil, Frederick Davidson and Ian Carmichael as narrators. I like them all, and lean to J. Cecil as the best, but the others are really just as good. I've never had the pleasure of any Wodehouse books narrated by Alexander Spencer. If he's better than Cecil, Davidson and Carmichael, he's really, really good.
 

moriond

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arsolot said:
I've listened to quite a few Wodehouse books from Audible. They've got Jonathan Cecil, Frederick Davidson and Ian Carmichael as narrators.
I've listened to all of these narrators, and several others -- some of whom are on the Audible site, but others of whom (Timothy Carlton, Martin Jarvis, Simon Cadell, etc.) are not. Of the Audible readers, I prefer Jonathan Cecil, but I do like Alexander Spencer's rendition better. This is probably individual preference. Certainly this Washington Post article writer seems to have a different opinion. (And I can't detect a "faint Scottishness" about Spencer's accent -- not even when he renders Jeeves speaking about "the poet Burns" who wrote in "the North British dialect".)

The one limitation is that Alexander Spencer only reads the Jeeves and Wooster stories. My favorites among the other short stories are probably the Talking Tape Company cassettes by Timothy Carlton reading "Anselm Gets His Chance", "Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo", and "Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend". ("The Clicking of Cuthbert" is not bad, either). (This is/was a UK company, and the tapes are now out of print). Simon Cadell's reading of various "Golf Stories" (on the BBC label) are also quite good.

We should probably have another thread -- about which audiobooks you replay the most. This is not necessarily the same as the audiobooks you recommend, because there are many great audiobooks that you don't want to revisit frequently. Call it the "Play It Again, Sam" (PIAS) index. :) Some of these will be like "comfort food". And just to show that not all of these entries will be P.G. Wodehouse, I'll list a completely different title that fits into this category -- the L.A. Theatreworks production of "The Odd Couple" with Nathan Lane and David Paymer. This is available on Audible, and does bear repeat listening. YMMV
 

Hrothgar

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Vance said:
Do you remember "Bits of Fry and Laurie"?

It was the skit show they had before they both got onto bigger things.

What really annoys me is that Hugh Laurie took on an American accent for his new TV show. I am not sure why this bothers me, but it is kind of like Mel Gibson purposefully taking on an American accent at a certain point in his career in his everyday speech. It makes no sense. British and Australian accents sell in the US.
And how...On Monday, Laurie won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a TV Drama. Though, to be fair, the GGs are voted upon by members of the Hollywood Foreign Press, who aren't exactly Americans. ;)

I've only watched the show a couple of times and I find his American accent to be glib and irritating. It approximates the goofy voice Brits do when they're attempting a deliberately condescending imitation of us Yanks. Contrast that with, say, Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain," who you never for one second doubt is anything but 100% redblooded American. Rachel Griffiths did a similarly effective job during her run on "Six Feet Under."
 
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Vance

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Right, Brits tend to make their American accent to nasal and high pitched, kind of a stereotype. I can usually spot a Brit doing American. I wonder if American actors do any better with British accents.

I think Jude Law did a pretty good job as well in Cold Mountain. I think if they are given the chance to do a "stronger" American dialect such as one of the southern accents, it is easier than doing a fairly flat "mid-American".
 

moriond

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Vance said:
Another great "character" reader is Barbara Rosenblat doing the Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters (mysteries with archealogists in Egypt in the early 1900's). I heard an interview with both the reader and the author which was VERY interesting. Peters said that she had Rosenblat's voice characterizations in her head as she was writing the subsequent books ever since the first recording, and that the characters had become a kind of joint creation between reader and author.
Barbara Rosenblat and George Guidall were written up in a NY Times article about audiobook narrators: "Actors You've Never Heard of Are Becoming the Ones Heard Most" (Jan. 15, 2005). (Last year was a good year for audiobook press coverage). The point of the article was that the qualities required of a good audiobook narrator are often not ones that excellent -- even Oscar winning- -- actors possess. Here's an excerpt:

Excerpted from NY Times (Jan. 15, 2005) Actors You've Never Heard of Are Becoming the Ones Heard Most

She's earned 27 Golden Earphone awards from AudioFile magazine, the recorded-books industry barometer, and five Audies from the Audio Publishers Association, the most awarded to a single narrator. She's recorded more than 400 titles.

Watch Ms. Rosenblat work at the Chelsea studios of Recorded Books, and you get the sense that even an Oscar winner might not be able to pull this off. What screenplay, after all, would require an actress to do what she did during a recent afternoon's recording of ''The Serpent on the Crown,'' the 17th installment of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody Mysteries series?

Ms. Rosenblat was delivering the dialogue of a handful of characters, most of them men, and was shifting quickly between characters with British, Indian, Arabic, Egyptian, Irish, Austro-Hungarian and Texan accents. Those distinct roles interacted with incredulity, shock, anguish and sarcasm. It was emotion layered on dialect layered on perfect enunciation.
Rosenblat mentions that the difficulty for actors who are reading is that every nuance that they convey with gesture, expression, etc. has to go into the voice. Guidall remarks that many actors tend to overact when reading. The director of operations at Recorded Books, David Markowitz, commented that, "The odds are probably 50-to-1 against a talented actor being a talented reader," with many of them coming alive during dialogue but falling flat during straight narration.

The other reality is that when relatively prominent actors, like Scott Brick, make the cut of accomplished narrators, outfits like Recorded Books, LLC and Books-On-Tape often can't afford to hire them for really lengthy audiobooks. Sometimes publishers will hire one actor for the abridged version and a second (less expensive) actor to read the unabridged version. (I think this may be changing with the increasing popularity and profitability of audiobooks, at least in the view of the big commercial book publishers.)

And yes, it's true that Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters) was very taken with Rosenblat's reading, and has written into her contract that Rosenblat read her books.
She also has Ms. Rosenblat, speaking in the British-accented voice of Amelia Peabody, suggesting that callers ''please do'' leave a message on the outgoing message of her answering machine at home.
Just for your background light reading.
 
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arsolot

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jemm said:
Well I mostly only have the regular stuff. But I find Stephen Fry excellent at the Harry Potter series. I don't like the Jim Dale (US) versions so much - although I've only heard clips of them. That might be because I'm not american.
My son is playing a Harry Potter video game and I just remembered that Stephen Fry is the "narrator" in those games.
 

Vance

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That is very interesting about the actors and readers phenomenon. It really is worth the time to listen to any of the Amelia Peabody books just to hear Rosenblat at work, and most libraries carry at least one of them. The interview with the two of them was at the end of one of the RB, LLC recordings, but I do not remember which one.

I had not heard about the phone message or the bit about Peter's contract, thanks!

On George Guidall, my other favorites from him are the Iliad and the Epic of Gilgamesh.
 

BigD

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An excellent "cast" reading is the "His Dark Materials" series by Phillip Pullman. Young Adult it may be, but wonderfully read/acted. My husband and I rank in up in our top 3 audio books.
 

meyerhaus

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George Guidall is amazing. I have "read" many an audiobook because he was the narrator. It has turned me into a much broader-read individual. His reading of "Jack & Jill" by James Patterson is great.
 

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BigD said:
An excellent "cast" reading is the "His Dark Materials" series by Phillip Pullman. Young Adult it may be, but wonderfully read/acted. My husband and I rank in up in our top 3 audio books.
Yes I thought that was great as well. I actually saw a play in london a few weeks ago where the actor playing Will in the series was in it! He's very good on stage as well, but his voice was so recognizable.

The BBC Lord of the Rings Production is another example of an excellent cast, although it does get confusing with Ian holm playing Frodo (he plays Bilbo in the film versions).
 

Vance

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Yes, I had that problem with Ian Holm as well. I have seen him in many movies and Shakespeare, and my image of him is as an older man, not a "young" hobbit (yes, I know that Frodo was not meant to be that young by Tolkien, but I WANT him to be young!).
 

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Sorry, can't agree!

I actually find Jim Dale's readings of the Harry Potter books to be superb. He doesn't so much read them as perform them. He establishes a particular voice and inflection for every character and is amazingly consistent in going back to that voice every time the character speaks (if you've ever had an enthusiastic parent try and read you a bedtime story in this manner, or tried to do it yourself, you'll know how hard this is to pull off). I especially like his voices for Hagrid and Hermione. I'm not sure what being American has to do with enjoying it, as Jim Dale himself is British. Why they use different narrators on either side of the pond is a mystery to me. I've never heard Stephen Fry's readings, but I'm sure he's excellent as well.

Jim Dale's penchant for voices reminds me of Peter Dennis' excellent performance of A.A. Milne's ("Winnie the Pooh," "The House at Pooh Corner," etc.) books. He also assigns wonderful voices to all the characters and sticks with them throughout. When readers do this, you start to forget it's one person reading and can easily begin imagining these characters actually talking to each other and to you (especially invaluable when it is something that will be enjoyed by children). It's an amazing talent.

I'd also like to recommend Martin Shaw's unabridged reading of "The Silmarillion." The mere ability to successfully pronounce the littany of people, places, and things in Tolkien's mythology deserves a medal. But Shaw also successfully speaks Elvish and generally delivers a compelling reading of dense material as well.
I have great respect for opinions, however much I may disagree with them. I don't mean to cast doubt on the above quoted post, so keep in mind that this is just my own humble opinion, with a sprinkling of past opinione that have been expressed to me.

In short, if Stephen Fry had not provided his own version of J K Rowling's wonderful series, I would still be casting this first viewpoint. Keeping it simple, Jim Dale has an extremely annoying impediment. He reads the books as though he is in some kind of hurry to get to the end. This is not just about the speed at which he reads, in fact it's more about the mono toned manner that uses, which shows a total lack of interest in the passages he reads.

Okay, now for a more direct comparison to Stephen Fry. In Britain Stephen Fry is recognised as one of our absolute best orators. He is an actor, a director, a TV presenter, a documentary narrator, a gifted MC, and an incredibly popular chat show guest and all round personality. I'm sure he is also in great demand as an after dinner speaker. His diction and general knowledge is second to none, and is globally very underated. All of this will probably have some bearing on his ability to read a story, and read it well. I have heard it said that people in the US enjoy Dale's characterisations, and has even received awards for his Harry Potter work. I would say, however, that this is going to be largely because of the high profile nature of the books, and the lack of competition n the US reading this series. I'm not saying he's bad, I'm just saying that he's absolutely, without any doubt, not a patch on Stephen Fry. Some of Dale's characterisation's are good, but ALL of Stephen Fry's are first class. The Weasley twins are an ideal example. Jim Dale gives them a London accent, that takes away some of the extremely witty dryness that Stephen Fry gives them. It's as if Jim Dale was oblivious to the fact that the Weasley family are from the West Country! They are just so much funnier when Stephen Fry brings them to life. In fact, all the characters come to life in much the same way. One final note, Stephen Fry is J K Rowling's personal favourite reader. By the way, I wonder if anyone noticed Stephen Fry's role in the US TV series 'Bones? For a really good example of his acting skills, see him take on the title role in the movie, 'Wilde'...which is of course a movie biography of Oscar Wilde!

I absolutely urge anyone who is wanting to listen to an audiobook version of this series, to go with Mr Fry's reading. If you've already listened to Jim Dale's reading, and plan to reread the books, try out Stephen Fry. I can't promise that all of you will be converted, as everyone has their own opinion, but I can say that about 95% of people who I know who have listened to both readers, prefer Stephen Fry!
 
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