Read By The Author: Yay or Nay?
After several long days in a row of socializing with out of town visitors, I finally had a day to myself yesterday. While tackling my household To Do List, I started an audio book that I’d been looking forward to for a while, Something in the Water.
When barely ten seconds in, the voice announced “This is the author, Catherine Steadman,” I threw my head back and groaned. Fiction read by the author can be a mixed bag. Sometimes it’s great to hear the text read as the author intended. Other times it’s an affirmation of why said author is exactly that, and NOT a voice actor.
As I’ve discussed before, audio books are hit or miss for me in general. There’s a lot riding on the narrator, and a great one can make a mediocre book worth listening to. And so of course the opposite is true; a poor narrator can ruin an excellent book.
I only had to listen to the first chapter or Something in the Water to know the author is going to crush it narrating, as she’s super talented. I looked her up on Goodreads and it turns out she’s an actress, most famous for a role on Downton Abbey, so there you go…
Celebrity narrators are a whole different beast. I can’t say I’ve ever listened to one who did a poor job with a story, whether it’s fiction or non.
Louise Erdrich is a novelist who chooses to read her own audio books, and seems to breathe life into her characters by reading them aloud. The same goes for Barbara Kingsolver, and Neil Gaiman for sure. There aren’t many fiction writers I have had this experience with though.
Now, “read by the author” when it comes to non-fiction is unique. Sometimes even though the writer is not a professional narrator, that works well when one is telling his/her own story. Although on the flip side, last summer I tried listening to a memoir by a well known photographer and it was such a chore, I quit after 15 minutes. It was slow and monotone, I had absolutely no interest in what was being said.
I’ve listened to a few memoirs which aren’t read by the author and that doesn’t sit well with me. The emotion isn’t quite right, and I can tell something is missing.This was my experience with Educated by Tara Westover, which is one of the most popular books of this year. I listened to a few chapters but couldn’t get into it because I didn’t feel an emotional connection, so I bailed. I’m going to try reading the physical copy some time to see if I respond differently, I have a feeling I will.
The only exception I’ve encountered so far is Bronson Pinchot reading Alligator Candy by David Kushner. There were many moments throughout the book where I forgot I wasn’t listening to the reader telling his own story, it was so powerful and well done.
So I guess I don’t have a straightforward answer to my title question. There are instances when read by the author is the perfect fit, and others when voice actors are a better choice to do the book justice.
What do you think? Which books did you love read by the author or hate? I think this question could spark a great discussion, so let’s get to it!