Some Authors Should Not Read Their Own Audiobooks

I checked out an audiobook from my local library: Lafayette and the Somewhat United States, by one Sarah Vowell.

She allegedly works for radio.

She does not have a voice for radio.

I make allowances for the Northern Cities dialect, as heard by someone like myself, who speaks Midlands and hears a lot of Southern accents. I really do make allowances. There are plenty of people who are from New York or Chicago or Milwaukee who use their accent and vocal qualities pleasantly.

So trust me when I say that this woman has the whiniest, most annoying voice I have ever heard. When she’s not whining, she sounds flat, but in a whiny way.

Her voice also has that weird little girl quality, which can be a handicap to a middle-aged woman. Most people I’ve met who have that vocal quality strive to have a pleasant and perky personality.  This person is trying to sound snarky and funny. Unfortunately, she sounds like a Halloween movie about evil dolls.

The audiobook publishers really did their best. They had actors read all the quotes. They’ve got a yummy French voice for Lafayette, a Southern voice for Jefferson, etc. But the other actors are so good, or at least so reasonably pleasant, that they make Miss Whiny sound even worse.

Listen to a voice sample on Audible. (This section is actually not as bad as the beginning chapter, to which I briefly subjected myself.)

I can listen to some pretty crappy narrators. Material and storytelling ability can overcome vocal problems or awkwardness.

What makes this audiobook so special is that she calls the Fathers of Our Country “terrorists.”

In the first paragraph or so. And she is proud enough to do it in her own whiny voice. Ugggggh.

On the dark side, my taxpayer money paid for this piece of library audiobook crap. But on the bright side, it was on Overdrive; so the county library system is only renting the crap temporarily. Someday, it will be gone!

There’s a better, recent biography out there: The Marquis, by Laura Auricchio.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Some Authors Should Not Read Their Own Audiobooks

  1. *shudder* I’m pretty sure I know exactly what she sounds like, without listening– me!

    (it’s bad enough that I avoid voice chat if at all possible- my voice ain’t great in person, but it SUCKS in recordings)

    As much as I am glad it didn’t hurt a good book, I do wish she had the sense to listen to warnings, if they were offered.

    • The reason I’m being so harsh is that, if you are around people doing radio, you can take voice classes to learn to make your own voice mellifluous. The main exceptions to the rule are people with hearing problems (which is why Sarah Hoyt’s voice sounds weird) or people with voice production problems. It can be a big pain in the butt, though.

      But she works at NPR! I mean, sure, that isn’t Hollywood, but…!

      Anyway, that’s why you always hear people who do college radio practicing their DJ voices. 🙂

      The weird thing about recording audio is that pretty much everybody hates the sound of their own voice, at least at first. Inside our heads, we hear a lot of resonance that isn’t recorded. The other thing to watch is that people in certain ranges don’t record well, particularly if the recording chops off highs and lows. Julia Ecklar’s lovely voice sounded so crappy on her first album that she nearly swore off singing — but it was the recording engineer who sucked.

  2. Didn’t she do the voice of Violet in The Incredibles?

  3. johnfkennedy63

    At one time I had an audio cassette of Issac Asimov’s “Foundation”, read by him. I thought it fine work but I’m bias. A co-worker couldn’t stand it, as he thought he was too nasal, and couldn’t finish it.

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