This is a guest post from Zoe Dickinson. Zoe is a poet and lover of language. Her two favourite places are the beach and the library. Follow her on Twitter @zoeidadickinson.
Reading is an act of collaboration. I transform the words when I read, and my experience might be very different than the author imagined. That’s one of the great things about reading, but there is also something appealing about getting closer to an author’s original intentions.
My new favourite way to do this is listening to audiobooks narrated by their own authors. I love the idea of being able to listen to books exactly the way their authors imagined them. Every pause, every rise and fall of cadence, reflects the author’s own interpretation of their work. While authors narrating for their own audiobooks is not exactly common, there are more of these gems out there than one might think. Of course, not all authors would necessarily do a good job reading their own books out loud; some people just operate better in text. But many author-narrated audiobooks are stunning.
Here are a few to get started with. I’m sure this list, which is based on my own experience and friends’ recommendations, barely scratches the surface. If you know of any amazing author-narrated books I’ve missed, I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below.
Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman is one of the better-known self-narrating authors. His reading voice perfectly suits the rich and slyly magical worlds he creates. The audio version of Ocean at the End of the Lane, narrated by Neil, is deliciously chilling.
As a side note, and further proof that Neil Gaiman is a lovely human being, some friends and I went to see him read in Vancouver a few years ago. My friend Tam MacNeil (@TamMacNeil) loved his audiobook version of Ocean at the End of the Lane but didn’t have a hard copy. At her request, he “signed” her audiobook by speaking into her cellphone’s microphone. She may be the only person out there with an audio-signed audiobook.
Tamora Pierce is one of the all-time greats of young adult fantasy fiction. She is one of those childhood authors I always come back to, and never get tired of re-reading. Her world, Tortall, is classic high fantasy laced with gender-bending feminism. What I didn’t know until recently is that Tamora Pierce actually narrates quite a few of her own books on audio, and does an amazing job. It turns out she used to be a radio actress, which may explain her ability to bring her own books to life.
Jenny Lawson – Furiously Happy
Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy is a hilarious and heartbreakingly honest exploration of mental illness. I discovered this audiobook in my library’s Overdrive collection just when I needed to hear it. In one chapter, Jenny talks about how important it is to her to narrate her own books, and how difficult it was for her to step out of her comfort zone and do so. Because there is often silence and stigma surrounding mental illness, it is particularly courageous and meaningful that Jenny Lawson used her own voice to narrate Furiously Happy.
Christopher Hitchens – Hitch 22
This one is on my to-listen list, at a friend’s recommendation (thanks, Ron Canning). I am including it in this list because it’s so poignant that Christopher Hitchens was able to tell the story of his life in his own voice not long before he passed away. This is why audiobooks are miracles of modern technology! I only wish more great authors had had this opportunity (next up, my list of authors who I wish had narrated their own audiobooks, including Jane Austen, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Plato – I bet he would have done all the voices).
Seamus Heaney – Beowulf
Beowulf isn’t the easiest read, but Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s translation brings out the poetry in this Old English classic. Beowulf was never meant to be read in silence. It’s an epic, and was meant to be heard. Seamus Heaney reads an abridged version of his translation, and according to my friend William Chaddock, listening to Heaney get his tongue around all those twisty Old English names is a “phonological brain massage.” Even though Heaney is the translator, not the original author of this work, I would argue that translation is also an act of creation. Besides, the original author is long-gone; it’s good of Heaney to step up and breathe life into his interpretation of these ancient words.