As I was settling in to work one morning this week I had a brilliant idea for a discussion or opinion type post. I didn’t write it down or jot some notes as I should have (it would be much better if I had done this) but I’m going to go for it anyway. In a nutshell, I wanted to share my thoughts on how the format of a book can affect the reading experience. I’ve recently listened to some audiobooks and felt that I would have enjoyed them to different degrees had I tried them in print format, one of these being Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell.
I really enjoyed the series opener and read it pretty quickly (always a good sign). I read the ebook version, which for my purposes here is the same as a physical book. I continued on to Knight’s Shadow, but this time in audio format. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much and I’m not 100% sure it wasn’t just the story but I think the format did have some impact. I think Joe Jameson is a talented narrator, but I didn’t particularly care for his voice for these characters vs. the voice I had in my head reading the physical first book. Maybe it was too soon after him voicing Girton Clubfoot, everyone’s newest favorite assassin. I don’t really know, but will try the next book in print and see how that goes.
This isn’t the only time I’ve felt differently about books depending on the format. One of the most notable examples for me was Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series. This is one of my ALL TIME favorite series of books – I can’t get enough of them and have re-read the first two books several times. I originally listened to the audio versions of Red Rising and Golden Son. Tim Gerard Reynolds is fantastic and he makes the best Sevro. He can impart such feeling and such sarcasm into his work. With Morningstar I switched between the physical book and the audio book and found that I much prefer the audio version. It was such an immersive experience and I loved the narration, plus it had the added benefit of slowing me down – I get excited, read very quickly, and sometimes miss things. I feel much the same of TGR’s narration of Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria books. They’re absolutely stellar in audio format, though I haven’t had the chance to sit down and read the physical books to compare the experience. I do have some issues switching from Darrow and Sevro’s antics to Royce and Hadrian’s when I begin the books though, particularly if I listen to them soon after one another. It’s slightly perturbing when you realize Royce isn’t equipped with Pulse armor and can’t pull out a razor and behead someone, he’ll have to use Alverstone and Hadrian will probably stop him before he gets the chance.
This feeling seems to vary between books and narrators. For instance, Ralph Lister’s narration of Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates, and Memories of Ice were superb – I could listen to that man’s voice all day – but the narrator changed when House of Chains came around. I liked that narrator for other books like The Lies of Locke Lamora, but could not get sucked back into the audio version of the Malazan world once it was switched. I preferred the physical book- mind you, I had read the physical books before ever trying the audiobooks. They were a method for re-reading with limited time. Now with The Name of the Wind, I love both formats equally and it’s the same for Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. I could go with either format and be equally happy. If the narrator changed I would be seriously heartbroken and probably wouldn’t like either series as much.
In all honesty, it really seems to come down to the narrator. The story definitely has to be good – I’ve listened to audiobooks with great narrators and awful stories and the narrator certainly didn’t save the day. The books were still awful. Some narrators take a great book and make it come alive – the reader’s experience goes to another level entirely. Other books can be great either way – format has no effect and other books are great one way but merely mediocre the other. I just wanted to share my thoughts and experiences here – I’m not trying to solve a problem or anything. Has anyone else had a similar experience? If so, what book and who was the narrator?