Books News & Features
2:02 am
Wed December 18, 2013

Hear, Here: Four Audiobooks With A Brand-New Sound

Originally published on Thu December 19, 2013 10:08 am

If your holiday shopping trip includes a stop at the bookstore, you might consider adding audiobooks to your gift list. And this year, as you slip on headphones to sample the offerings, what you hear might surprise you.

According to Robin Whitten, the founder and editor of AudioFile magazine, the genre has far surpassed the conventions of the taped readings of yore.

An emphasis on theatrical elements, she says, "expands what audio listening can be, so that we can't just think of it as a single narrator who sort of takes you through a literary novel or a fabulous mystery," Whitten says. "Audio publishers are really expanding the envelope in the way they look — with multiple narrators, sound effects and sound design, as well as a single voice just telling you a great story."

Whitten gives NPR's Linda Wertheimer her recommendations for some of the most notable audiobooks released in 2013. On Morning Edition, she talks up a music-filled collection, a superhero story and a compellingly narrated novel; for NPR.org, she includes a book with a bevy of narrators.


"Toshi," from Pete Seeger: The Storm King, produced by Jeff Haynes and published by Hachette Audio. Copyright 2013 by Jeff Haynes, Komunyaka Productions, LLC.
Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

As you do your holiday book shopping, you might want to think about audio books. We have some suggestions for great audio books this year. Robin Whitten is the editor and founder of Audio File magazine, which has a little list. Robin, thanks for joining us.

ROBIN WHITTEN: I'm so glad to be here and to talk about some things to listen to.

WERTHEIMER: Now, a number of books on this year's list are really quite different from the audio books many of us are used to. Let's start with one of the new ones, where "The Storm King" is read by someone we generally hear singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO RECORDING)

PETE SEEGER: I met my wife, Toshi, when she was still a teenager because I went to sing for a little square dance club in New York. She was a member of it.

WERTHEIMER: Now, that of course is Pete Seeger - in case you didn't recognize him. But Robin, tell us about this book. This is not an audio version of a novel. This is a whole series of spoken word performances.

WHITTEN: That's right. It's really a production of a program that was written to be recorded with Pete talking about stories and the music is all integrated into the program. It's really a very exciting and special program.

WERTHEIMER: And the recording itself is full of music, almost everything has music underneath it. Now, here's another real change of pace. "Civil War," which is based on a Marvel comics series about super humans, I gather that this is to reach out to a younger audience. Maybe these are not people who are listening to audio books 'cause they can't see to read.

WHITTEN: Oh, not at all. And this is the sort of audio theater and drama taken to a new level, with a real soundscape written underneath the story and the acting, the theater of the production.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen to a bit of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Energy tingled across his skin, dancing along the millimeter thick sheath covering his body. Wireless sensors reached out, touched matching circuits on boots, chest plate, leggings...

WERTHEIMER: So what do you think? Do you think we're headed in the direction of audio theater? Has Marvel got the right sort of thing going on here?

WHITTEN: It expands what audio listening can be, so that we can't just think of it as a single narrator who sort of takes you through a literary novel or a fabulous mystery. But you know, there's more to it and the audio publishers are really expanding the envelope in the way they look with multiple narrators, sound effects and sound design, as well as a single voice just telling you a great story.

WERTHEIMER: We do have one of those single narrator books. This one is called "The Good Lord Bird." It's written by James McBride and narrated by the actor Michael Boatman. It's about a slave child who joins John Brown's crusade against slavery and dresses as a little girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO RECORDING)

MICHAEL BOATMAN: I was born a colored man and don't you forget it. But I lived as a colored woman for 17 years.

WERTHEIMER: Now, how do you feel about the traditional single narrator book? Does it sound like we're not getting our money's worth after listening to some of these others?

(LAUGHTER)

WHITTEN: No, I think you're getting something very special in Michael Boatman's narration there. You get the accent and the dialogue and the dialect that was written into the book. And yet, you know, it comes alive in his voice.

WERTHEIMER: Thank so much for this, Robin.

WHITTEN: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Robin Whitten is the editor of Audio File magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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