Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Get Judge-y About Audiobooks, Vol. I

The Audies Awards for awesome audiobooks will be announced anon (I have very little impulse control, sorry.) My Armchair Audies work has proceeded apace. By that I mean that I listened to the Teen & Narration by Author or Authors categories, and had a chance to hear a few titles from several other categories as well. I have thoughts. And opinions. And recommendations. So, here is the list of nominees for Narration by Author or Authors:

Narration by the Author or Authors
To Category List

Read by Rob Lowe
(Macmillan Audio)
Read the review 

Read by Libba Bray
(Scholastic Audiobooks)
Read the review 

DRAMA: An Actor's EducationJohn Lithgow
Read by John Lithgow
(Harper Audio)
Read the review 

SERIOUSLY . . . I'M KIDDINGEllen DeGeneres
Read by Ellen DeGeneres
(Hachette Audio)
Read the review 

Read by Tina Fey
(Hachette Audio)
Read the review 
Okay, let's talk criteria. The Audies site says only that the awards recognize "distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment," which is a pretty broad basis for judging. Production values, narrative technique, ability to engage the listener, preferably in a way that makes listening to a title even better than reading it would be - it's all part of the package, in my opinion.

Balancing that, particularly in this category, is just that ephemeral thing: what I like. So, given all of that, it was easy to pick the two books that wouldn't be my top choice. 

Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends is a good book. He has a distinctive and often engaging voice, and I'm glad this project pushed me into listening, because not a chance would I have otherwise. But his tendency to give odd or effete voices based, it seemed, on his personal feelings was unappealing. In addition, his text is great for anyone who loves Rob Lowe, but it has a certain tabloid-y lack of depth that did nothing to leave this book stuck in my gut afterwards.

Ellen DeGeneres's Seriously... I'm Kidding is funny. Her narration is great - she can deliver a punch line like nobody's business (well, like it's her business, which it is), and she's so conversational, friendly, and wry. But this book is sketches, not a narrative. I didn't feel it gave me anything, as a product, I couldn't get from hearing her do stand-up, and I'm not a big fan of listening to stand-up comedy. I'm a big fan of books, with story arcs and themes and forward momentum. If you like anecdotes, and Ellen DeGeneres, you'll love this, I'm sure. But it just didn't do much for me. 

Now, about the other three. I wouldn't be shocked or disappointed if John Lithgow's Drama: An Actor's Education won. It's not my favorite, which comes down to a lack of much interest in the subject (I mean, he's a nice guy, and I got a ton of flavor from his tales, but the acting profession is so far away from my realm that seeing his journey across the boards just wasn't my thing.) I'll tell you what all of those years on stage and screen and in acting classes did, though, and that is to create a brilliant storyteller. John Lithgow can really draw in the listener, and the book itself is well-written.

Rounding out the celebrity portion of this category is Tina Fey's Bossypants. Now this is a witty, interesting book and Tina Fey reads the heck out of it. She has excellent comic timing and a far better use of narrative elements than the other three Hollywood types in this bunch. I pretty much think everyone should listen to this book, because Fey has something to say, and an excellent way of saying it. This title was nominated in an amazing four categories (Humor, Biography/Memoir, and Audiobook of the Year in addition to this one) and I totally get that. It's bound to win something. It's an ambassador of audiobooks - if you are foolish enough not to love listening to books as much as I do, I dare you to listen to this and still feel the same. 

But my pick to win this category is to Libba Bray's Beauty Queens. The production is a great deal of fun, and the story is hilarious and goofy and brilliant. Plus, Libba Bray does amazing work with voices, even what should be grating teeny-girl-airhead voices. She strands a handful of teenage beauty queens from various American regions on an island to face horrors and enemies and each other, with interjections from The Corporation's advertorials, and it ought to be enough to confuse the listener. Too many talkative characters for one narrator is one of the bigger pitfalls for audiobooks not narrated well. Libba Bray's command of everyone in her book makes that a non-issue. 

So perhaps my bias towards fiction is informing this choice overmuch, but I really feel that the clear winner in this category is Libba Bray's Beauty Queens. Can't wait to see if I'm right!

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