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So You Want to Review Audiobooks…

This post is for Day #2 of Listen Up! Audiobook Week June 25–28 hosted by Jen of Devourer of Books, with help from Jen of A Book and a Latte. Today’s discussion topic:

Discuss the essentials of audiobook reviewing. What do you make sure to include? What do you want to see when you read other people’s reviews?

Badge for Listen Up! Audiobook Week 2012One of the most basic pieces of writing advice is, “Read it out loud and hear how it sounds.” Poor writing is much more noticeable when read aloud; you notice extraneous details and unnecessary conversations much more easily because you can’t hurry past them as you might if you were reading to yourself and not out loud. I tried to listen to a John Grisham book a few years ago (The Street Lawyer) so I could get an idea of why he is so popular, but couldn’t get through the first few chapters in the audiobook edition. The writing was just not strong enough to stand up to being read aloud.
On the other hand, sometimes an excellent audiobook narrator can carry a book with a strong storyline through any clunky spots in the writing so skillfully that you hardly notice them (e.g. The Help).
I find it hard to review audiobooks because I can’t flip back through them easily to refresh my memory of what I wanted to be sure to mention, so I often end up never writing the review. Also, I haven’t figured out how to highlight quotes or favorite parts, especially since I’m usually driving as I listen.
When I read audiobook reviews, I like to know primarily if the narrator was a good fit, doing real justice to the book or even enhancing it. (Accents can be tricky; I don’t know if I’ve heard an authentic Boston accent yet in books that are set in the Boston area. But a true Boston accent could be pretty annoying for the length of a whole book, so it’s probably best that most audiobook narrators tread lightly when it comes to accents.)
The other main thing I try to glean from an audiobook review is whether the reviewer recommends the audio edition as a superior format for the book. That is, does the narration do more than just provide a read-aloud version of the book, actually adding a layer of appeal through a stand-out performance? A prime example of narrators embodying the characters’ voices and nailing the sound of the story as the author intended it to be heard would be Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell’s narration of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Please let me know what you think, and keep the recommendations coming!

13 Responses

  1. I agree it’s tricky that you can’t take notes or flip back as easily with audiobooks. And accents and character voices are tough too – and that’s where I rely on blogger reviews to see if the narrator gets those things right. The Help is one of the audiobooks that got me interested in listening more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on audiobook reviews!

    • I saw on another blogger’s site (forgotten who right now) that she keeps a print copy on hand while she’s listening to the audiobook edition and finds it a big help when writing reviews. I never thought of that!

  2. Great point about whether the audio or print version is the better read–I find that some books are very well suited to audio format, whereas others (such as those that include extra material such as footnotes or illustrations) are much better to read in print format.

    • I don’t notice illustrations that much, anyway, and I don’t even mind listening to footnotes if the narrator can convey that they are asides. But I did notice that there was a whole index to Drop Dead Healthy that (of course) didn’t get read aloud in the audiobook edition. I wouldn’t have known the audiobook was missing anything if I hadn’t wanted to look up the name of a gym the author had mentioned and used Google Books to find out the spelling.

  3. I don’t think that there is much of a difference between reading and audio. Aren’t books meant to be read out loud?


    • You must not be a skimmer! I don’t mind skimming over passages if the writing isn’t that great but the story is good, but audio forces you to give equal weight to every word, don’t you think?

      • LOL, I skim here and there, depends on the book of course. Being a man I also have selective hearing so that might count as skimming for audio books.

        I don’t think audio forces you to give equal weight to every word, that depends on the reader and what they would like to emphasize.


      • You could be right, but I skimmed while reading your comment, so I’m not sure! 😉

  4. You make excellent points. Especially the part about how good narrators can carry a book through rough patches. So very very true.

  5. Yes, I always like to know if the audio is the same as, less than, or greater than the print.

  6. Readability – oh my yes! As a narrator, I can usually tell immediately if an author has read their work aloud, because when they haven’t, it can be very difficult to get the language to simply flow aloud. Thank you for mentioning that 🙂

  7. You listened to Oscar Wao? All those footnotes! Maybe this is the best time to suggest (to myself) an audio is a great idea when I want to reread a book. For example, I really want to listen to Lolita – I hear Jeremy Irons is fabulous.

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